This Day In Literary History
On December 27th, 1904, Peter Pan, the classic play by the legendary Scottish playwright and novelist J.M. Barrie, opened in London at the Duke of York's Theatre.
The play, whose full title was Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, a beloved fairy tale which the author would novelize seven years after its stage premiere, actually had its roots in tragedy.
In 1866, when James M. Barrie was six years old, his 13-year-old brother David died suddenly. He was killed in an ice skating accident, leaving their mother devastated, as David had been her favorite son.
To ease his mother's grief, (and finally get some attention from her) James took to wearing David's clothes in her presence and whistling the way David always did. His mother was able to come to terms with her grief.
She took comfort in knowing that David would be a boy forever, and never grow up to leave her. James took similar comfort in dealing with his own grief over his brother's death.
Although the character wasn't named after him, it would be David that Barrie was thinking of when he conceived the character of Peter Pan - another boy who would never grow up. Peter Pan was named after Peter Llewelyn Davies, one of the five Llewelyn Davies boys.
Barrie was a close friend of the Llewelyn Davies family; the boys - Peter, George, John, Michael, and Nicholas - called him Uncle Jim. After the sudden deaths of their parents, Barrie was named one of their guardians in their mother's will.
The play opens with Peter Pan making another of his secret nighttime visits to the Darling family of Kensington, London, to listen to Mrs. Darling tell her children a bedtime story.
Peter is a boy of about twelve years old. He never grew up, and doesn't want to. He has become an immortal child who can fly. He lives in a magical place called Neverland.
On this particular visit, Peter is accidentally spotted. He flees, but loses his shadow. When he returns later to get it back, he wakes Mrs. Darling's oldest child, Wendy - a girl of about Peter's age.
After she reattaches Peter's shadow to him, he invites Wendy and her two brothers, John (about ten years old) and Michael (about five) to Neverland. To get there, he teaches them how to fly.
In Neverland, the Darling children have many adventures. They meet the Lost Boys - whom Peter rescued after they got lost in Kensington Gardens - and Peter's fairy friend, Tinker Bell, who seethes with jealousy when Wendy falls in love with Peter and he begins to have romantic feelings for her.
Soon, however, Peter Pan finds himself once again battling his archenemy, the murderous pirate Captain James Hook, who blames Peter for his hand being bitten off by a crocodile.
First, Peter saves Indian (Native American) princess Tiger Lily from Captain Hook and his pirate crew, then he must save Wendy, John, and Michael when they're captured by Hook.
The most famous scene in the play finds Peter, not realizing she's been kidnapped, deciding to take his medicine to please Wendy. After kidnapping Wendy and her brothers, Captain Hook had poisoned the medicine. Tinker Bell, having no time to warn Peter, drinks the medicine herself.
As she lies near death, Tinker Bell tells Peter that her life could be saved if children believed in fairies. So, Peter turns to the audience and pleads with the children watching to clap their hands if they believe in fairies. This always results in an explosion of applause, and Tinker Bell is saved.
In the end, Peter saves Wendy and her brothers and feeds Captain Hook to the crocodile who bit off his hand. Then he sails Hook's ship back to London. Peter wants Wendy to stay with him in Neverland, but she knows that her place is at her home in London. She, like all children, must grow up.
Not wanting to lose Wendy, Peter decides to trick her into thinking that her mother has forgotten about her, but when he realizes how much Mrs. Darling misses her children, he reconsiders.
In a surprise twist, it's hinted that Mrs. Darling was Peter's friend before she decided to grow up. Peter promises to visit Wendy every spring. The play ends with Wendy looking out her window and calling to him, "You won't forget to come for me, Peter? Please, please don't forget!"
When Peter Pan premiered in London in 1904, Peter was played by a woman - Nina Boucicault, the daughter of playwright Dion Boucicault. When the play opened on Broadway the following year, Maude Adams was cast as Peter Pan. It became a tradition for Peter to be played by a woman.
In 1954, a new Broadway musical version of Peter Pan opened, featuring Mary Martin in the title role. She would become the most famous actress to play Peter Pan on stage. Other notable Peters include Sandy Duncan and Cathy Rigby.
Peter Pan would also be adapted several times as a feature film, including the famous 1953 Disney animated musical, with Peter voiced by Disney child star Bobby Driscoll.
Hook, a 1991 adaptation, was an unusual sequel that found Peter Pan (Robin Williams) finally grown up. Now a middle aged husband and father, Peter must return to Neverland to battle Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman), who has kidnapped his two children.
In 2003, Peter Pan, a lavish, big budget live action feature film adaptation of the play, was released. The acclaimed film featured Jeremy Sumpter as Peter, Rachel Hurd-Wood as Wendy, and Jason Issacs in a dual role as Captain Hook and Mr. Darling. (It was also traditional for Hook and Mr. Darling to be played by the same actor.)
Twelve years later in 2015, another movie, Pan, was released. A prequel to Barrie's play, Pan tells the story of how Peter Pan (Levi Miller) first came to Neverland and battled the murderous pirate Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman).
Pan received sharply mixed reviews, as some filmgoers failed to understand that it was intended to be a prequel, and parents complained about the PG rated film's dark tone and violence.
Seven years after his play debuted in London, J.M. Barrie published a novelization of Peter Pan called Peter and Wendy. It would be somewhat different from the original play script, as Barrie would continually revise the play. He would publish another novel, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens in 1906.
Throughout his literary career, J.M. Barrie authored many novels and plays. He died of pneumonia in June of 1937 at the age of 77. In his will, Barrie left all the rights to Peter Pan to the Great Ormond Street Hospital - England's leading chidren's hospital.
Quote Of The Day
"All the world is made of faith and trust and pixie dust." - J.M. Barrie
Today's video features a complete live performance of the Broadway musical adaptation of J.M. Barrie's classic play, Peter Pan, featuring Cathy Rigby in the title role. Enjoy!