Sir James Matthew Barrie (May 9, 1860 – June 19, 1937) was a Scottish novelist and dramatist. In our house, we know him as the man who wrote Peter Pan, the classic tale about the boy who never grows up. The story was first presented as a play in 1904, and in 1911 he turned it into the book, Peter Pan and Wendy (now referred to simply as Peter Pan). This is considered a timeless story about childhood. The Peter Pan tale seems to have something for every kid and many age levels – flying to faraway places, magic, adventure, pirates, mermaids, fairies, ships, Indians, bravery, friendship, and bedtime stories.
When my boys were turning three, our world changed from a toddler house into a house of make believe. The boys acted out their everyday life (with and without costumes) or pretended to be characters from their favorite stories. Watching my kids believe they can be anything they dream up is often inspiring and sometimes exhausting (especially if it requires multiple costume changes).
My son E became obsessed with Peter Pan when he was about three and a half. After we read Walt Disney’s adaptation of the story many times, he announced that he would never grow up, and he dreamed every night about being Peter. It was not long before he found green clothes to look more like the character. (All it took was green sweatpants and a green T-shirt. Later I sewed felt leaves around the collar.) The summer before he turned four, he wore his costume almost every day (whether it was ninety degrees or not). Luckily, by October 31, his costume was still in good enough shape to wear for Halloween. It is falling apart now but it can still be worn by his brother and many of his friends.
My boys are now five and a half, and they are still huge Peter Pan fans. We honor J.M. Barrie today for giving us his story about the boy who refused to grow up. His original text is a bit advanced for a five year old, but with some parental editing and many nights of bedtime reading, we have made our way through most of it. The boys have seen many movie adaptations, listened to the soundtracks, and heard many of the abridged audiobook variations. Peter Pan has been re-enacted many times in our home with the boys adding their own variations to the story.
J.M. Barrie started something big when he wrote Peter Pan, from stage, to movies, to music, to books. He has affected the lives of many kids (although I may technically be a grown-up, I hope to always stay a kid at heart). He also made a strong commitment to helping children. He gave the copyright to Peter Pan and all the royalties from its derivatives to the Great Ormand Street Hospital in London, which is world-renowned for its pioneering work in children’s medicine.
We will write more about pirates, fairies and mermaids later.
Peter Pan reference guide:
– Peter Pan -A classic Illustrated edition by J.M. Barrie and compiled by Cooper Edens. This book has the unabridged text by Barrie along with beautiful illustrations collected from the early twentieth century. My boys love to look at how differently the characters have been interpreted depending on the illustrator. We first discovered this book at the library. It quickly became a favorite. Our local independent bookstore on Wayland Square, Books on the Square, special-ordered it for us. We had a copy just a few days later.
– Peter Pan by Sir J.M. Barrie. Read by Dawn French. DK Publishing. Abridged story. Includes a softcover book and 60-minute CD. Great to read and share with preschoolers.
– Peter Pan: Original 1954 Broadway cast recording featuring Mary Martin.
– Peter Pan: 1997 studio cast starring Cathy Rigby.
– Peter Pan: Soundtrack from the Walt Disney film.
– Peter Pan (1924) — Black-and-white silent film from Paramount. First Peter Pan film ever made.
– Peter Pan (1960) — A filmed version of the musical starring Mary Martin as Peter Pan. Available at Netflix or your local library.
– Peter Pan (2000) — A filmed version of the musical starring Cathy Rigby as Peter. Available at Netflix or your local library. This is a great version because it really gives you the feeling of being at the theater. Captain Hook is terrific and not overly scary for young kids. He and the pirates tango together — quite entertaining.
– Walt Disney’s Peter Pan (first released in 1953 and now available as a 2-disc platinum edition) — This version is significant because it’s the first time Peter Pan was played by a boy. Pure Disney (good or bad, depending on how you feel about Disney).
– Finding Neverland (2004) — This film, starring Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet, tells the story of J.M. Barrie and his inspiration for writing his Peter Pan play. Not for kids; I needed Kleenex to watch it.
Click on comments below and tell us your Peter Pan favorites.