The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it.
J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys: a Postmodernist Biography
“All children, except one, grow up,” begins the timeless story of Peter Pan, the boy who refused to grow up. The whimsical play Peter Pan chronicle his adventures with the Darling children, beginning when he wakes them while searching for his rogue shadow. Out of this, the mischievous little boy has evolved from the star character of a beloved play into multiple bestselling novels, popular musical productions, and eventually the star of multiple move adaptations. While the character Peter Pan is widely known and loved, the creator behind the boy has become a mere shadow. Although he was author and playwright of dozens of plays and novels, Peter Pan has become the sole legacy of the Scottish writer, J.M. Barrie. Not only was
The coming of Birkin’s biography was fortuitous, to say the least. In the mid 1970s, Birkin first became acquainted with James Matthew Barrie while working as a co-adaptor for an American version of Peter Pan, the Musical, starring Mia Farrow (Birkin, Introduction to the Yale Edition 1)[i]. His knowledge of
Before I even lifted the cover of J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys, it was clear that I would not be dealing with a traditional biography. The familiar image of a young boy dressed in a primitive and tattered costume, stared defiantly up from the cover in the place where a traditional biography would have showcased a generic picture of its subject. Although the biography begins with the birth and childhood of
“Biographers are not in the business of protecting the cherished image of a cultural hero,” asserts Martin Stannard, “They are concerned with the truth” (Stannard 33). Unlike many contemporary biographers who aim to “sleuth out” revelations by which they can garner acclaim and fortune, Birkin’s motivation was merely to share the story he had unearthed, and to add to the portrait of
Notwithstanding my own evident partiality for
(Birkin, Introduction 1)
Nevertheless, Birkin’s portrayal of
Due to the fact that
As previously mentioned, J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys is not a typical biography, nor does it pretend to be one. Originally published for general audiences, the publishing company restricted Birkin’s page count, which resulted in over 100 pages being removed from the initial manuscript, mostly chronicling the story of Barrie and the Llewelyn Davies boys following the death of Michael, who was
Within Birkin’s focus on the relationship between Barrie and the Llewelyn Davies boys is the creation of Peter Pan. The story of the little boy who refused to grow up and instead ran away to be with the fairies was just as magical to the five young brothers as it is to children today.
The story itself is fascinating. Barrie, childless and supposedly asexual husband to actress Mary Ansell, met and immediately became friends with the Llewelyn Davies boys by chance in 1897. In
This is not a biography of
(Birkin, Introduction 1)
Birkin’s retelling of the events between Barrie and the Llewelyn Davies boys has drawn criticism, which is to be expected when the subject is such an odd character and the story is so unlike what modern society is used to. “Obviously, there are shadows and not a few sinister implications lurking behind this curious story,” states John Tibbetts in a book review for the American Historical Review. “While … Birkin concludes that
In the twenty years which elapsed between the 1979 edition and the Yale University Press edition in 2003, Birkin’s life changed drastically. He became a husband and also a father to his son, Anno, just a few weeks after the death of Nico Llewelyn Davies. Birkin continued as a screenwriter, never again foraying into the field of written biography. Birkin recounts in his introduction that as he watched Anno grow and mature, he found himself comparing his own son to
The approach taken in creating J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys ensured that the research done by Birkin and his assistant, Sharon Goode, is still relevant and impeccable today. Their work with oral history, organization of the extensive collection of papers, and even the transcribing of Barrie’s journals, opened doors for future Barrie scholars. Out of personal interest, Birkin bought Nico’s collection of family papers and memorabilia before his death “for the princely sum of a few cases of malt whiskey” (Birkin, Introduction to the Yale Edition 4). Other interesting mementos and papers surfaced concerning Barrie, including the long-lost original notes for Peter Pan, which he discovered in the Beinecke Library in the 1980s (3). In a personal email with Birkin, he explained that following the 2003 edition of his biography, the bulk of his assortment of Barrie papers were sold to the Beinecke Library through Sotheby’s (Birkin, “Re:JMB”). At the same time, Birkin donated the copyright of his biography to the
J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys is an exceptional example of what the genre of biography can put forth under the right circumstances. When not limited to crumbling papers and the scholarship of those who came first, works like Birkin’s interpretation of the relationship between Barrie and the Llewelyn Davies family can come to life. Birkin continues to be a ‘keeper of the flame’ for Barrie, Nico, and Anno. In 2004, he began the website JMBarrie.co.uk. He continuously uploads images, film and audio clips, documents, and even original scans of
In some ways, it is better to have a fresh and unassuming biographer, such as Birkin. He easily could have fallen into the trap of painting
[i] Unless otherwise noted, all citations of Birkin’s J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys will be taken from the 2003 Yale University Press edition. Because this is a new edition of an older biography, there are three separate forewords before the actual biography begins. I refer to them by Birkin’s subtitles, in the order in which they appear in the book, as the Introduction to the Yale Edition, the Introduction, and the Prologue – each with their own, independent pagination.
[ii] Michael Llewelyn Davies, a very charismatic and intelligent young man, drowned at the age of 20 in 1921. Birkin suggests that Michael was
[iii] Recent additions to the Peter Pan legacy include but are not limited to the 2004 fictionalized adaptation of