The Real Peter Pan : J. M. Barrie and the Boy Who Inspired Him
by Piers Dudgeon

Overview -

The world has long been captivated by the story of Peter Pan and the countless movies, plays, musicals, and books that retell the story of Peter, Wendy, and the Lost Boys. Now, in this revealing behind-the-scenes book, author Piers Dudgeon examines the fascinating and complex relationships among Peter Pan's creator, J.M.  Read more...

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More About The Real Peter Pan by Piers Dudgeon

The world has long been captivated by the story of Peter Pan and the countless movies, plays, musicals, and books that retell the story of Peter, Wendy, and the Lost Boys. Now, in this revealing behind-the-scenes book, author Piers Dudgeon examines the fascinating and complex relationships among Peter Pan's creator, J.M. Barrie, and the family of boys who inspired his work.

After meeting the Llewelyn Davies family in London's Kensington Garden, Barrie struck up an intense friendship with the children and their parents. The innocence of Michael, the fourth of five brothers, went on to influence the creation of Barrie's most famous character, Peter Pan. Barrie was so close to the Llewelyn Davies family that he became trustee and guardian to the boys following the deaths of their parents. Although the relationship between the boys and Barrie (and particularly between Barrie and Michael) was enduring, it was punctuated by the fiercest of tragedies. Throughout the heart-rending saga of Barrie's involvement with the Llewelyn Davies brothers, it is the figure of Michael, the most original and inspirational of their number, and yet also the one whose fate is most pitiable, that stands out.

"The Real Peter Pan" is a captivating true story of childhood, friendship, war, love, and regret.

  • ISBN-13: 9781250087799
  • ISBN-10: 1250087791
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
  • Publish Date: July 2016
  • Page Count: 416
  • Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds

Related Categories

Books > Biography & Autobiography > Literary
Books > Literary Criticism > English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh
Books > Literary Criticism > Children's & Young Adult Literature

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2016-04-11
  • Reviewer: Staff

Dudgeon’s (Maeve Binchy) newest literary biography is ostensibly about Michael Llewelyn Davies, the young boy beloved by author J.M. Barrie and immortalized as Peter Pan. However, when he declares near the end, “This book is not principally about Barrie,” most readers will be surprised. The book would appear to be very much about Barrie and his excessive, and somewhat seamy, interest in Michael and his brothers, both as sources of inspiration and as the children he never had. Michael, on the other hand, remains a cipher. Part of this may be a lack of sources and the fact that Michael only lived to be 20. But his voice barely registers; readers will see him almost exclusively through other people’s eyes, and very dimly at that. Intelligent and sensitive, Michael was the fourth of five sons born to Sylvia and Arthur Llewelyn Davies. He became the favorite of James Barrie, who inextricably entwined himself in the boys’ lives and insinuated himself into the family as “Uncle Jim.” Even Michael’s death, in 1921, remains an enigma: did he drown accidentally or commit suicide? Either way, he did indeed fulfill the tragic image of the boy who would not grow old. This unsatisfying biography produces few other insights. (July)

BookPage Reviews

Well Read: Finding Peter Pan

Peter Pan is one of the most enduring characters in all of literature. The boy who won’t grow up speaks to children and adults alike, and his story, first given to the world by J.M. Barrie at the beginning of the last century, has been adapted and co-opted innumerable times since. The story of Peter’s origins in Barrie’s real-life relationship with the young Llewelyn Davies brothers has been told before, most famously in the film Finding Neverland. In The Real Peter Pan Piers Dudgeon reveals how sanitized that movie’s version of events was, hinting at a far more complex and disquieting connection between Barrie and the boys, particularly the second youngest, Michael.

Dudgeon, who previously wrote Neverland: J.M. Barrie, the du Mauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan, says this new book isn’t principally about Barrie, but the claim is a weak one. The first half of the book is largely about the author, and in the latter half, when Michael reaches his boarding school and university years, Barrie still dominates much of the narrative. This emphasis is unavoidable, since it is how the writer insinuated himself into this family that fascinates and incites speculation about his motives.

Barrie seems to have fallen in love, at least emotionally, with Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, the daughter of novelist George du Maurier (and aunt to novelist Daphne). His love extended to her five young sons, for whom Barrie became a sort of second nanny, playing vigorous games with them in London’s Kensington Gardens that would provide the impetus for Peter Pan’s fictional adventures. Dudgeon finds no evidence that Barrie and Sylvia were lovers. Her husband, to whom she seemed devoted, was still alive when this unconventional household arrangement began, although he died soon after. The also-married Barrie, Dudgeon suggests, was likely a latent homosexual, although there is no documented proof.

Barrie, wealthy from his writing, was generous with the family, and when Sylvia died, leaving the boys orphans, he stepped in (with no legal decree) as guardian. The older boys seemed largely immune to Barrie’s charms, but the younger ones, particularly Michael, became his special projects. Dudgeon acknowledges, as others have before him, that Barrie’s interest in the prepubescent boys would set off alarm bells today. Reading between the lines of the many letters and recollections quoted here, it is hard not to subscribe to the possibility that untoward feelings were at play. With no indisputable evidence, however, Dudgeon focuses more on the psychic damage done to Michael by Barrie’s intense “love.” As he grew up, Michael seemed inclined to distance himself from Barrie and the Peter Pan legacy. He drowned while at Oxford, and many believed at the time that it was suicide.

There may never be a definitive answer to the true nature of the Barrie-Llewelyn Davies situation, but The Real Peter Pan further opens the window on a compelling literary backstory. Going well beyond a consideration of possible inappropriate behavior, Dudgeon does well in linking the sylvan settings of Peter Pan with Michael’s love of the natural landscape, and he makes strong connections between the Barrie classic and Peter Ibbetson, a novel by Michael’s grandfather. Barrie fans may find The Real Peter Pan somewhat disillusioning, but that does not diminish the book’s value.


This article was originally published in the July 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

BAM Customer Reviews