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Life Path of Sir James Matthew Barrie

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Sir James Matthew Barrie (1st Baronet, Order of Merit) was a Scottish author of the Victorian/Edwardian eras. Born in 1860 and living 77 years, he is still famous and influential today. Some of his works revolutionized children’s literature and are still popular. Probably the second most famous of these is The Little White Bird. However, this is overshadowed by what is by far his most famous work, Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up and its sequels. He wrote successfully before and after Peter Pan, and was never poor or destitute. With the popularity of Peter Pan and its many adaptations, Barrie will hopefully be famous for generations.

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Barrie was born in the small town of Kirremuir, County Angus, on May 9th, 1860 to David and Margaret. A middle class family, they had ten children in total (although two died before James’s birth).Even as a child, James was a natural storyteller, entertaining adults with his precocity. In a pivotal event, James adopted his older brother David’s clothes and mannerisms after he passed away to cheer up his devastated mother. While not completely closing, his mother found some solace in the fact that one of her children “would never grow up”- providing inspiration for Peter Pan in the years to follow.

In his teenage years, he attended several boarding academies before enrolling in the University of Edinburgh, where he would attain his Master’s degree in 1882. After university, he worked as a journalist and published novels and plays in his free time. Even though many were poorly reviewed, he improved his writing and grew in fame with English literary communities. He made numerous famous friends such as Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G Wells, A.A Milne, George Bernard Shaw and Thomas Hardy. Production of his play Walker, London introduced him to the actress Mary Ansell in 1892. Two years later, he proposed and they were married. However, he was never truly famous until 1902, when he published The Little White Bird, a book of stories which included one of a permanently young boy who could fly named Peter Pan. His action packed world of Neverland appealed to readers, and Barrie wrote a full length play in 1904 featuring the character. Well received by children and adults alike, his friend George Bernard Shaw described it as “ostensibly a holiday entertainment for children but really a play for grown-up people”

Barrie was a friend of the Llewellyn-Davies family. The children (George, John, Peter, Michael, and Nicholas) referred to him affectionately as “Uncle Jim”. It is said the character of Peter Pan himself was invented as entertainment for the boys. When they became orphans in 1910, Barrie adopted them- he himself never had any children. They provided him inspiration for his works.

As Barrie grew older, his life was marred by several tragedies. His marriage ended in 1909 after his wife was caught in an affair. George Davies was killed in action in 1915, and Michael drowned in 1921. Barrie wrote that Michael’s death was “in a way, the end of me”. In his old age, Barrie continued to write mostly for adults, and died in 1937 of pneumonia.

Barrie’s early life took place during Queen Victoria’s reign, but his most prominent work, Peter Pan was written and popularized while Edward VII was on the throne. He could be referred to as a modern author- Peter Pan especially took Victorian life at the time and mixed it with Neverland’s fantasy. Barrie himself was probably influenced by previous fantasy authors- and in turn, Barrie’s revolution of the fantasy genre has changed it in a way that wouldn’t have been possible without him. Great fantasy authors since like Tolkien, Rowling, Asimov, Clark, Crichton and many, many more were surely exposed to Barrie’s works over the course of their lives- and who knows to what degree the effect was on them? “All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again.” he says in Peter Pan. And in terms of fantasy writing, it’s true. Several authors have come over the years and revolutionized fantasy again and again- but Barrie’s works will always be there. In 2003, a movie based off Peter Pan was released, and another one is in the making for late 2015. More famous however, is Disney’s 1956 animated adaptation-critically acclaimed and still shown today. And in practical application- the book popularized the usage of the name Wendy-it experienced a surge when the original publication became popular.

Peter Pan itself is a fantastical romp through the fictional world of Neverland. Peter is a young boy who can never grow up. Upon one of his excursions to the real world- he alerts the Darling children to his presence and invites them back to his home, under the pretense of the oldest child- Wendy- becoming a mother to his gang of lost boys. As the children adopt his lifestyle, Wendy grows attached to Peter. However, just as she realizes her true place is back home, she is captured by Peter’s arch enemy Captain Hook. Peter risks life and limb to save her, passing many trials and finally dueling Captain Hook on his own pirate ship. Hook is killed by his biggest fear- an alligator who swallowed a clock and therefore is always ticking. Wendy and her brothers return to England, but have made many new friends in the process. Peter himself has also become attached and only lets her go under pressure. But he will always visit them, and the lessons on maturity he has taught them-and by extension the reader-will always be there. Peter says, “The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.”. The book’s message of always being yourself and never losing faith still is relevant.

J.M. Barrie’s work aside from Peter Pan is perhaps not very well known today. However, that only draws attention to his magnum opus. Robert Louis Stevenson said to Barrie-”It looks to me as if you are a man of genius”. A man who can capture morality so well and appeal to both children and adults with one work is certainly a genius. Barrie is what all authors should be-intelligent, moral, and delightfully immature.

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