Tag Archives: peter pan

“I’ve been to London to visit the queen”

I’ve been absent from this favourite space of mine for too long, and I’m reminded of the humble tone in the letters I used to write to my grandparents too many weeks after Christmas had passed. “I’m sorry I haven’t written sooner, but thank you for new nightgown, I do like blue.”

Truth be told, I’ve been busy. I’ve just returned from a research trip to London, England, and I am now sorting through the maze of information found there, and hopefully figuring out how to make it into a story.

I went on the trip with my sister and co-author, Tracy Kasaboski (our first collaboration was The Occupied Garden), and my mom and our sister Heidi came along as research assistants.

It was the first time we’d really traveled together just the four of us since our childhoods, and we had an amazing time. The city is a dizzying mix of old and new — you can still find the cramped courts and alleys that will feature in our story, set in late Victorian and Edwardian times, but everywhere you turn there’s something that gives the city a playground quality: the Eye, the Shard, the Millennium Dome. Along with the beautiful bridges that stretch over the Thames, there are cable cars soaring back and forth. At night, the skyline has a neon sparkle.

The last time I was in London was when I was pregnant with N. I didn’t yet know how many of our most treasured books would take us there, but I’ve been thinking about it today, and have compiled a sampling:

Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been?

I’ve been to London to visit the Queen.

Pussy cat, pussy cat, what did you there?

I frightened a mouse under a chair.

N loved this book of old nursery rhymes, with its patchwork imagery and picture-words.

“At last they came to St Paul’s Cathedral, which was built a long time ago by a man with a bird’s name. Wren it was, but he was no relation to Jenny. That is why so many birds live near Sir Christopher Wren’s Cathedral, which also belongs to St Paul, and that is why the Bird Woman lives there too…. All round her flew the birds, circling and leaping and swooping and rising…. They flew round and round the head of the Bird Woman as the children approached, and then, as though to tease her, they suddenly rushed away through the air and sat on the top of St Paul’s, laughing and turning their heads away and pretending they didn’t know her.”

A 2009 original Quentin Blake knock off by N

“Sophie and the BFG came at last to a large place full of trees. There was a road running through it, and a lake. There were no people in this place and the BFG stopped for the first time since they had set out from his cave many hours before.

‘What’s the matter?’ Sophie whispered in her under-the-breath voice.

‘I is in a bit of a puddle,’ he said.

‘You’re doing marvellously,’ Sophie whispered.

‘No I isn’t,’ he said. ‘I is now completely boggled. I is lost.’

‘But why?’

‘Because we is meant to be in the middle of London and suddenly we is in green pastures.’

‘Don’t be silly,’ Sophie whispered. ‘This is the middle of London. It’s called Hyde Park. I know exactly where we are.'”

“‘Wendy, I ran away the day I was born….

It was because I heard father and mother,’ he explained in a low voice, ‘talking about what I was to be when I became a man.’

He was extraordinarily agitated now.

‘I don’t ever want to be a man,’ he said with passion. ‘I want always to be a little boy and to have fun. So I ran away to Kensington Gardens and lived a long time among the fairies.'”

“Ron pressed a tiny silver button on the dashboard. The car around them vanished — and so did they. Harry could feel the seat vibrating beneath him, hear the engine, feel his hands on his knees and his glasses on his nose, but for all he could see, he had become a pair of eyeballs, floating a few feet above the ground in a dingy street full of parked cars.

‘Let’s go,’ said Ron’s voice from his right.

The ground and the dirty buildings on either side fell away, dropping out of sight as the car rose; in seconds, the whole of London lay, smoky and glittering, below them.”

“This is a story about something that happened long ago when your grandfather was a child. It is a very important story because it shows how all the comings and goings between our own world and Narnia first began. In those days Mr Sherlock Holmes was still living in Baker Street and the Bastables were looking for treasure in Lewisham Road. In those days, if you were a boy you had to wear a stiff Eton collar every day, and schools were usually nastier than now. But meals were nicer; and as for sweets, I won’t tell you how cheap and good they were, because it would only make your mouth water in vain. And in those days there lived in London a girl called Polly Plummer.”

Last but not least, A Christmas Carol comes to mind.

“They scarcely seemed to enter the city; for the city rather seemed to spring up about them, and encompass them of its own act. But there they were, in the heart of it; on ‘Change, amongst the merchants; who hurried up and down, and chinked the money in their pockets, and conversed in groups, and looked at their watches, and trifled thoughtfully with their great gold seals; and so forth, as Scrooge had often seen them.”

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Finding Neverland via Buzzzbeemobile

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.

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Flying and forgetting: the magic of Peter Pan

We’ll be returning to Roald Dahl soon, and the autobiographies tacked on to our Dahl list, but for the last while we’ve been immersed in JM Barrie’s Peter Pan, a book that’s sat on N’s shelf for some time. We tried it last year, but the writing was difficult, and N didn’t seem engaged, so I tucked it away again, knowing in my gut it was a good one, and that the time should be right for it.

Then a couple of weeks ago, we watched Walt Disney’s 1953 animated version, and N enjoyed it so much it got three viewings in a couple of days. She was taken with the fairies and the mermaids, and also with Wendy (who is a bit sweet for my tastes, but I can see the draw for an 8-year-old girl).

Margaret Henley, immortalized by "fwendy"

Barrie’s choice of the name Wendy was apparently inspired by a little girl named Margaret, whose father was the poet and critic William Ernest Henley. She used to call Barrie “fwendy” for “friendy,” the story goes, because she couldn’t pronounce her r’s.

She died in 1894, just five years old, of cerebral meningitis, but she must have made an impression on Barrie, since another ten years passed before his play, Peter Pan or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, first debuted in London in 1904.

It’s interesting to trace Barrie’s invention of Peter Pan, and his involvement with the Llewellyn Davies boys (George, Jack, and baby Peter) to whom he first told these stories. He used to see the children with their nanny in Kensington Gardens, and later befriended their mother, Sylvia. By the time Sylvia died, in 1910, Barrie was “Uncle Jim,” and would go on to become the children’s guardian.

The fictional Peter Pan first appears in Barrie’s 1902 adult novel, The Little White Bird, the story of a childless man who befriends a young working-class boy and embarks on a series of adventures with him. The chapters in the middle of this book show us the secret world of Kensington Gardens, which comes alive after “Lock-Out Time,” with magical creatures that conceal themselves during the day. One of these is Peter, who can fly without wings, and “escaped from being a human when he was seven days’ old.”

This was the part of the novel that resonated most with readers, and in 1906, it was repackaged as a picture book, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, with whimsical illustrations by Arthur Rackham, who depicted Peter as a chubby naked baby being lifted into the air by fairies.

“It is frightfully difficult to know much about the fairies, and almost the only thing known for certain is that there are fairies wherever there are children. Long ago children were forbidden the Gardens, and at that time there was not a fairy in the place; then the children were admitted, and the fairies came trooping in that very evening. They can’t resist following the children, but you seldom see them, partly because they live in the daytime behind the railings, where you are not allowed to go, and also partly because they are so cunning. They are not a bit cunning after Lock-out, but until Lock-out, my word!”

But Barrie was not finished with Peter. By the time of the stage play and the 1911 novel, Peter has grown into an older boy — mischievous, cocky, and wild — who lives on Neverland with a gang of Lost Boys who don’t remember having mothers but who crave a mother’s stories. Peter flies regularly to London and listens at the Darling family’s window, and takes the bedtime stories he hears back to his boys. Eventually he takes Wendy and her brothers there too, and learning to fly is only the beginning of their many adventures.

N and I are both loving this story. Peter and Tinker Bell are especially wonderful creations, a beautiful mix of light and dark. Because neither are fully part of the human world, they can’t ever connect to  their human friends in a lasting way. They are like bubbles or snowflakes, impossible to keep; but they have a special bond with each other.

Tinker Bell — who mends pots and kettles and is brighter than a thousand nightlights — has a ferocious temper. Madly jealous of Wendy, she tricks the Lost Boys into shooting her with arrows — the intention is certainly to kill her. But Tink also drinks Hook’s deadly poison to save Peter’s life. Barrie describes her character this way: “Tink was not all bad; or, rather, she was all bad just now, but, on the other hand, sometimes she was all good. Fairies have to be one thing or the other, because being so small, they unfortunately have room for only one feeling at a time.”

Tinker Bell’s love for Peter is constant, right from the beginning of the story, though he forgets her in a drawer in Wendy’s room. But Peter forgets everything — his mother; the lost boys who’ve left Neverland; the pirates he’s killed; the fairies who’ve died. When he first teaches Wendy and her brothers to fly, he keeps zooming off ahead “to have adventures in which they had no share. He would come down laughing over something fearfully funny he had been saying to a star, but he had already forgotten what it was.” Wendy worries that if he forgets the stars so quickly, he’ll forget his new friends as well, and indeed, “when he returned he did not remember them, at least not well. … ‘I say Wendy, always if you see me forgetting you, just keep on saying “I’m Wendy,” and then I’ll sure remember.'”

But will he? Forgetting is an essential part of Peter’s character, in that it keeps him from ever growing old.

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