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Happy Birthday, J.M Barrie. The Boy Who Never Grew Up. ✨

Happy Birthday, J.M Barrie. The Boy Who Never Grew Up. ✨

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly , you cease forever to be able to do it." 

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J.M Barrie, creator of Peter Pan, was born 9th May 1860. We’ve written this blog post to celebrate the writer’s birth; a collection of interesting facts and stories about his life, and the inspiration behind the Boy Who Never Grew Up. Happy Birthday, Sir James Matthew Barrie!

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Growing up in his brother's shadow...

Barrie was born the seventh child in a family of ten. He had a comfortable childhood, with enough money for him and his brothers to be provided with a good education. Life changed for James at age six, when his older brother, who was just thirteen, died in a skating accident. Understandably, the boys’ mother never recovered from such a loss. James spent the remainder of his young years trying to fill the void in his mother’s heart, but had little success. Her Lost Boy remained enshrined in her memory - the perfect child who never grew up.

Boys cannot love...

His ambitions to become a professional writer saw Barrie move from Edinburgh to London shortly after he graduated. Success came quick and he soon found himself moving in the same circles as the likes of Thomas Hardy and Arthur Conan Doyle. It wasn’t long before he turned his hand to writing theatre, a lifelong love of his. It was here that he met the young lady that would become his wife, Mary Ansell.

Unfortunately their marriage was far from smooth sailing, with many believing that it was never actually consummated. Barrie loved his wife, but biographers and friends believe him to have been an asexual man - a subject that was reflected in his writing. Here’s an extract from his novel Tommy & Grazel, which is thought to feature biographical elements of his marriage: “She knew that, despite all he had gone through, he was still a boy. And boys cannot love.”

Despite her best effort to keep up the appearance of a happy and solid marriage, Mary ended up seeking a divorce after falling in love with a young writer named Gilbert Cannam. Barrie reluctantly obliged.

Peter Pan & The Lost Boys

Barrie befriended the Llewelyn Davies, a family with five young sons who would go on to become the inspiration behind Peter Pan. Barrie had a close (platonic) friendship with the boys’ mother and became a permanent figure in all of their lives. “Uncle Jim” would spend his time creating games and telling stories for the children - George, Jack, Peter, Michael and Nico. It seems that they saw and accepted him as an overgrown boy rather than as one of the grown-ups.

Barrie’s interest in the five boys inevitably raised a lot of questions. Terri Windling wrote the following in her brilliant blog post about the author’s life:

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“The question inevitably rises in relation to Barrie's involvement with the Llewelyn Davies boys whether he was a pedophile, or had repressed pedophilic tendencies. Nico Llewelyn Davies, the youngest of the boys, when asked about this after Barrie's death, dismissed the idea categorically. "I don't believe that Uncle Jim ever experienced what one might call 'a stirring in the undergrowth' for anyone -- man, woman, or child," said Nico. "He was an innocent -- which is why he could write Peter Pan."

* You can read Terri Windling’s full blog post right here. It offers an in-depth view of J.M Barrie’s life and is a thoroughly interesting read. *

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Both parents of the Llewelyn Davies boys sadly died from cancer. Having earned a small fortune from Peter Pan’s success, Barrie was able to financially support all five boys - paying for their education and anything else that they needed.

Sadly, tragedy continued to strike the family. George, Jack and Peter signed up to defend their country during WW1. George died in the trenches. Peter came home safely but ended his life many years later through suicide - it’s thought that the horrors he witnessed during the war were a big contributing factor in his death. Jack came home safely as well, but had little to do with his Uncle Jim and moved away to Scotland. Michael was too young to fight but tragically died just before his twenty first birthday; he drowned in a boating accident.

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J.M Barrie, in many ways, seemed to be the boy who couldn’t grow up. He died 19th June 1937 and left all the royalties from Peter Pan to Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.

 

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