Sir James Matthew (J.M.) Barrie, born in Kirriemuir, Angus, Scotland, was one of 10 children. The loss of his eldest brother when Barrie was 6 years old deeply affected his mother, and the aftermath of that family grief informed much of his writing later in life. A fierce reader, he began telling stories at an early age, making up pirate stories and games with friends and producing a school play in his teenage years.
Barrie attended the University of Edinburgh studying literature, often writing drama reviews for a local newspaper, and graduated in 1882. After graduation he worked as a freelance writer, writing short stories for newspapers, many of which were inspired by his mother and growing up in Scotland. This work and the novels that soon followed tended to lean towards pathos and sentimentality, with a bit of whimsy throughout. After his early work in novels, Barrie began to write for the theatre, with minor success until 1901 and 1902 when he had back-to-back hits with the plays Quality Street and The Admirable Chrichton.
But it was Peter Pan and the stories, books, and plays about that character for which Barrie is most remembered. Barrie lived near Kensington Gardens in London after his marriage to actress Mary Ansell. There he would tell stories to two youngsters that were out with their nanny and infant brother, named Peter. The Llewellyn Davies family --parents Arthur and Sylvia and ultimately 5 boys-- would become an integral part of Barrie’s world, not just in the inspiration of Peter Pan, but as his extended family as his own childless marriage failed and he became a surrogate uncle and ultimately, the guardian to the boys after their parents’ deaths. This story is fictionalized in the 2004 film and 2012 stage musical Finding Neverland.
Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Would Never Grow Up debuted in London in December 1904, establishing a legacy of adaptations in additional books and on stage, film, and television, including the 1954 musical version, made popular by Mary Martin on stage and in live television broadcasts. The copyright for the original Peter Pan was given by Barrie in 1929 to the Great Ormond Street Hospital, a children’s facility, in London.
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