It’s been a busy time at our place the last while, as I have been away on a work-related mission, and am going away again for another soon. I’m just home long enough to administer some TLC to my family. Happily, I received some as well, by way of a homemade book by N and her dad J, called The Bee and the Jar of Honey; a sock puppet, with button eyes and a feather hairdo; a book about keeping a green home; and the movie Finding Neverland, based on the story of Peter Pan author JM Barrie. These things, among others, were waiting for me on my return, and it occurs to me now that they all have to do with storytelling.
I’ll share The Bee and the Jar of Honey because in an odd way it relates to Finding Neverland — at least in my mind. Each couple of sentences is a page in the actual book, and there are lovely illustrations throughout.
Once upon a time, there was a little bee named Buzzzbee. He loved to fly around and collect pollen to make honey. Buzzzbee was such a good pollen collector and he made so much honey he didn’t know what to do with it all. He was a busy bee! One day Buzzzbee realized he had so much honey, six big jars of it! He sat in the middle of his honey wondering what to do with it all. He needed to do something good with his honey so it wouldn’t go to waste. Buzzzbee decided to fly around with his honey in his Buzzzbeemobile and try to find a good home for it. Then he noticed a poor woman who was hungry in her ramshackle house. Buzzzbee flew in through the broken window of the woman’s house. He introduced himself, being a very polite little bee, and gave the woman a jar of fresh warm honey. She was surprised but also very happy. Yay! Buzzzbee found a home for his honey with a woman named Yoma. Yoma was poor but now that she had Buzzzbee’s honey she felt RICH! Buzzzbee’s honey made her stale bread soft and sweet. Yay!!!!!
In Finding Neverland, playwright JM Barrie is our Buzzzbee. Despite an abundance of honey, he’s trapped in an unhappy marriage, and when the story begins, he’s just presented a play that was poorly received. With his big St Bernard, he begins to take walks in Kensington Gardens, and there meets a widow (Buzzzbee’s Yoma) and her four sons, who inspire him to tell magical stories that will become Peter Pan. Tragically, the widow falls ill, but the power of Barrie’s stories bring her, in a sense, to Neverland, and when she dies (sorry if I’m spoiling the movie), Barrie becomes guardian to her children.
I thought the movie was beautifully done, and especially enjoyed the way the writer’s process was conveyed — for instance, Barrie watching the boys jumping on their beds, and suddenly seeing them rise in the air and float one by one through the window. “That’s sometimes how it happens for me,” I whispered to J. “How ideas come. You’re just watching something and it transforms to something else in your mind.”
At one point J beside me let loose a big sigh and said “I don’t want either of us to get sick like that.” These kinds of stories remind us of such terrifying possibilities, but also of the beauty bound with the pain of losing someone you love. I thought of something my aunt told me, about spending the night with my grandmother as she was dying. “It was a very, very special night — though it isn’t the kind of thing I’d want to experience often.” It seemed to me she felt the time, with all its intensity, was a kind of gift, even though she was losing her mother.
Having just read Peter Pan with N made the movie about Barrie’s life all the more vivid. I could see which parts were “inspired by true events” and which parts were just plain old “true,” and since my sister and I are at work on another family memoir, it got my wheels turning once more about how such stories should be told, and what “true” really means. The book is about the grandmother mentioned above, and our grandfather too, and while we have a wealth of information about their lives, we have huge holes and few to ask what should go in them. As much as I crave concrete answers, I find myself drawn to the gaps as well. There’s something compelling, even spine-tingling, about knowing only parts of a story, as long as you know enough of it to feel its power. Transferring those tingles to paper, however, is the challenge that stands ahead.