The Blue Bird Critical Context (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series) - Essay

Maurice Maeterlinck

Critical Context (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series)

The Blue Bird belongs in the long tradition of fairy tales, placed there deliberately by Maurice Maeterlinck, who believed that children and the literature created by and for them had a closer touch with inner reality than did adults and their literature. This play and his earlier work, Pelleas and Melisande (1892), are responsible for his international reputation and his being awarded the 1911 Nobel Prize in Literature. As the leader of a group of writers and artists known as the Symbolists, Maeterlinck offered The Blue Bird as a counterpoint to the Naturalists’ emphasis on surface realism. He was convinced that deeper realities remained shrouded in mystery and could only be approached obliquely as in fairy tales, not through realistic illusion. So persuasive was his work that an early twentieth century master of Naturalism, Constantine Stanislavski, premiered The Blue Bird at the Moscow Art Theatre in 1908. The work has been produced worldwide and has inspired several film versions. While James M. Barrie’s Peter Pan (1904) is perhaps generally better known, The Blue Bird has been influential in the serious use of the fairy tale as drama in such works as Karel Capek’s R.U.R. (1920) and The Insect Comedy (1921), George Bernard Shaw’s Androcles and the Lion (1913), and Stephen Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods (1987), as well as countless films both in animated and in conventional form, such as The Wizard of Oz (1939) and the Broadway musical The Wiz (1975).