Loved by adults as much as by children, Peter Pan portrays the joys of perpetual childhood. Even in a realistic age, few can resist the mischievous Peter and his followers, for through them adults can live again those carefree childhood days filled with dreams and play. The special magic of Sir James Barrie’s writing is in its ability to make dreams seem real, and for that reason this charming, whimsical play marks a high point of pure fantasy in the modern theater.
Barrie insisted that he did not recall having written Peter Pan, his most famous work and probably the greatest of all children’s plays. In fact, the final stage version grew over a number of years in a haphazard fashion. It began as a six-chapter segment in a novel for adults, The Little White Bird (1902), then became, in turn, a three-act stage play (1904); a novel based on the earlier prose version (1906); a longer novel, titled Peter and Wendy (1911), taken from the play and with an extra chapter, “When Wendy Grew Up”; and finally the well-known stage version in 1928. In spite of all these versions and revisions, Barrie may have been right in saying that he was not the primary author of Peter Pan. As he explains in his dedication, the real genesis of Peter Pan was a series of stories he made up and told to five young brothers, the sons of close friends, in the late 1890’s and the summer of 1901: “I made Peter by rubbing the five of you violently together, as savages with two sticks produce a fire. That is all he is, the spark I got from you.”
One of the primary reasons for the popularity of Peter Pan is that in this work Barrie, one of the shrewdest judges of public taste ever to write drama, takes the two most basic elements of popular children’s literature—the fairy tale and the...
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