Fun facts about Peter Pan and his creator, J. M. Barrie
1. Peter Pan first appeared in a novel for adults. The boy who wouldn’t grow up made his debut, ironically, in a book for adults, a little-known 1902 novel called The Little White Bird. However, it was the stage play Barrie produced two years later which really brought the character to a wider audience, and Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up was a huge hit in theatres in 1904. ‘The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up’ wasn’t Barrie’s first choice of subtitle for the book: among the others he considered was ‘The Boy Who Hated Mothers’, but his publisher disliked this suggestion. All royalties from productions of the play go towards helping children at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, after Barrie gave them the rights in 1929.
2. His creator J. M. Barrie set up a celebrity cricket team featuring G. K. Chesterton, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jerome K. Jerome, A. A. Milne, and H. G. Wells. Barrie was an eccentric figure in some respects – one story has it that he liked to order Brussels sprouts for lunch every day purely because he enjoyed saying the words, and another anecdote concerns his advice to an actor on a particular role in one of Barrie’s plays: ‘Try to look as if you had a younger brother in Shropshire.’
3. The girls’ name Wendy was popularised – but not invented – by Barrie. Although it became far more popular after Barrie used it for the character Wendy Darling in Peter Pan, the name Wendy had been used as a girls’ name since the nineteenth century (as a pet form of Gwendolyn) and there is even some evidence that, before Barrie popularised it as a female given name, it was used as a boys’ name.
4. Barrie didn’t come up with ‘Neverland’ either. The word’s first use is credited in the OED to a Sydney newspaper in 1892, twelve years before Barrie put together his play and invented the idea of a mystical world beyond the ‘Mainland’ of the normal world. Never-Never Land is also an Australian coinage, dating from 1884 as a term for the remote outback, or ‘Never-Never’. The term ‘Never-Never Land’ as used to refer to ‘an imaginary, illusory, or Utopian place’ also predates Barrie, first appearing in the Cornhill Magazine in 1900.
5. The real-life Peter Pan published Mary Poppins. The original ‘Peter Pan’ was Peter Llewellyn Davies, Barrie’s adopted son and the grandson of another fascinating Victorian literary figure, as we’ve discussed in this previous post. That said, some biographers and scholars (such as Andrew Birkin in Peter Pan and the Lost Boys) have identified another of the Llewellyn Davies siblings, David, as the primary inspiration for the character of Peter Pan; David had died in a skating accident aged fourteen. Llewellyn Davies would grow up (unlike the literary creation he inspired) to be a publisher and was the man who published P. L. Travers’ book Mary Poppins, the novel that inspired the hugely popular film musical. Unfortunately, Llewellyn Davies’ adult life was plagued by depression and he took his life in 1960 by throwing himself in front of a train at Sloane Square tube station in London.
If you enjoyed these Peter Pan facts, we’ve examined Barrie’s other work in a related post, where we delve into the curious history of the quip, ‘I am not young enough to know everything’.