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FINDING NEVERLAND

J.M. Barrie's Life And Times
In 1904, when it first hit the London stage, "Peter Pan” took audiences' breath away. In part, this was because no one had ever seen anything quite like it before – a thrilling, uninhibited celebration of the sword-rattling fantasies and unlimited hopes of childhood. It was the height of Edwardian England, the so-called golden age of elegance and formality, yet J.M. Barrie's story captured the mood of a young century on the cusp of radical change. Barrie's "Peter Pan” became the symbol of a key change in how society viewed childhood. No longer did the Victorian concept of children as icons of simple moral purity seem to work. In its place came the notion of children as fun-loving, mischief-making heroes and heroines of their own questing adventures. Barrie hoped to keep this view of childhood foremost in the eyes of the world.

Yet, as the 20th Century raged on, the world became a place in which children would often be forced to grow up far too quickly, or never truly experience childhood at all. Against this grim backdrop, "Peter Pan” also struck a chord, serving as a poignant warning to a society rushing headlong into maturity – providing a welcome reminder of the importance of never losing the child-like ability to dream, to imagine and to escape, no matter the complexities and violence of a new age.

J.M. Barrie always yearned for a world in which playfulness and whimsy would always triumph over seriousness and propriety. (In his memoir about his mother, Margaret Ogilvy, he wrote: "Nothing that happens after we are twelve matters very much.”) Perhaps this is because he himself had a chaotic and interrupted childhood, which sparked his fascination with just why and how people grow up. Born a weaver's son in Scotland in 1860, Barrie was forever shaken by the death of his brilliant older brother David in a skating accident when Barrie was only six and his brother 13. To comfort his grief-stricken mother, Barrie tried to take his brother's place, even imitating David's posture and whistling habit -- and, most eerily, wearing his brother's clothes. Remarkably, the diminutive Barrie claimed that as soon as he reached the age at which his brother died, he himself stopped growing.

Indeed, throughout his life, Barrie seemed perpetually caught in the limbo between childhood and adulthood. Even in appearance, he was slight and boyish with a whispery, youthful voice. Nonetheless, until he wrote "Peter Pan,” Barrie was considered a consummately adult author, known for his biting satire and sharp observations of a class-riven society. Part of a celebrated circle of writers that included Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy, H.G. Wells and Robert Louis Stevenson, this childlike man was one of the leading intellectuals of his day. He was also the most successful and richest playwrights of his generation, publishing over forty plays – many of which were major hits on the London stage – as well as six novels, seven works of non-fiction and numerous collections.

There is little doubt that Barrie was more comfortable around children than adults, and in our post-Freudian world, Barrie's interest in other people's children has occasionally been misconstrued. However, Michael Emrys, president of the J.M Barrie Society, notes: "Historians and biographers of J.M Barrie agree that nothing improper ever occurred." Andrew Birkin, Barrie's primary biographer (J.M Barrie and The Lost Boys) believes Barrie's relationship with the Llewelyn Davies boys was sparked by Barrie's longing to be an authentic father figure to the boys and to win the love of Sylvia.

The most persuasive repudiation of these questions about Barrie came from the youngest of the five Llewelyn Davis boys, Nico Davies, who eventually came to live with Barrie and regard him as a father. As Andrew Birkin notes in his biography of Barrie, Nico was quite unequivocal

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