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Review: The Real Peter Pan

Piers Dudgeon - The Real Peter Pan: The Tragic Life of Michael Llewelyn Davies
Published: July 12, 2016 by Thomas Dunne Books
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 416
Find on: Amazon, Book Depository, Goodreads
Rating: 2.5/5

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.


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The cover is insanely freaky, or is it just me?

Prior to reading The Real Peter Pan, my knowledge on J.M. Barrie and the grand tale of Peter Pan and The Lost Boys was not too extensive. I've watched the Disney film (and a few of the Tinker Bells!), been intensely absorbed in the "Pan" arc in Once Upon A Time, and I own a Tinker Bell snowglobe. In a book about Peter Pan, I wonder if it's okay to mention Sassy Miss Tinker Bell? I mean, come on. (By the way, apparently Alice - as in, Alice in Wonderland - was based on a real-life person, too. Who knew?)

This book introduces us to Michael Llewelyn Davies and his relationship with J.M. Barrie, who wrote the infamous Peter Pan. Appropriately, Michael and his brothers (aka: The Lost Boys) inspired Barrie to write Peter Pan. It's interesting and I'm sure a few fanatics will devour this like a real-life Disney tale...since, well, it is. After the tragic passing of their parents, the Davies' brothers are taken in by Barrie, who decides to financially support them. It analyzes the relationships Barrie had with his wife, Mary, Michael with his mother, Sylvia, and the du Mauriers, who were cousins of another famous writer in that era, Daphne. There are a few childhood photos included as well.

But there's something that irked me. J.M. Barrie is portrayed as evil in some points of the book. At one point, his sexuality is questioned as well. Numerous letters belonging to J.M. Barrie are shown, and I seriously felt inappropriate for reading them, but not in the way you think. I think it's rude as fucking hell to sell someone's personal letters. I hate when someone dies, and they're automatically given this bad rap. People say things they would never tell the person upfront.
This was the other side to the game-playing, avuncular Barrie that the children loved. Mackail recalled that he would meet your conversation with an expression 'horribly like a sneer ... Oh, yes, we have suffered. No, don't let's remember ... the faint, Caledonian grunt with which our desperate observations are received.'

(...)

But what really got to people was a sense they had of something dark about him. Interviewd by Andrew Birkin in 1978, George and Jack's friend, Norma Douglas Henry, had this to say: 'I think one or two people were rather disturbed about Barrie, though of course, it was never talked about openly. There was something sinister about him, rather shivery.'
I feel like they were trying to portray J.M. Barrie as this ugly character who didn't like people, but whatever. He wrote a Disney classic. In a way, this reminds me of The Great Gatsby. Gatsby threw these lavish extravaganzas, brought a room full of flowers for a girl he loved, and in the end, no one cared. J.M. Barrie financially supported a group of kids, providing them their education, after their parents passed away and based a book off them, and his personal letters to others were sold and people were interviewed solely to insult him. Not fond of this at all.

Whilst reading this, I begun Wikipedia'ing further information on J.M. Barrie and the Davies. Before Barrie passed, he gave the rights to Peter Pan to Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London, which continues to benefit from them. Eat that, #haters.

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