This tale is definitely for the little ones. It is the prequel to the more
Peter Pan novel and play. I am not a fan of Peter Pan, nor of J.M. Barrie, however, I am
a huge fan of Arthur Rackham who did the exquisite illustrations for this story. Though Rackham's works are distinctive—he had a style and stuck with
it—one never ceases to be fascinated with his beautiful female fairies and grotesque male ones. In fact, grotesqueness was his specialty and charm for
both humans and non-humans. Along with plants and animals that take on human personalities. More on that later, but first, let's deal with Peter Pan, who
evolved, actually, from an adult story called
The Little White Bird, published in 1902.
The character of Peter Pan was introduced here, in fact, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens was extracted from chapters 13-18 and published as a children's tale in 1906, illustrated by Rackham. Prior to that, Barrie wrote a play, Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up in 1904. The novel Peter Pan and Wendy, followed in 1911, so Barrie got a lot of mileage from a couple stories! In fact, a lot of people made a lot of money from Peter Pan and variations! As stated above, I am not a fan of any of this, and there are some aspects of both this story and the novel that I find a bit inappropriate for children and even a little perverted. In fact, though nothing I've read has given credence to my suspicion, it seems Barrie might have been a little perverted, too. The whole obsession with a boy who couldn't grow up is not, in my opinion, a good role model for children. And he seemed to also have an obsession for little boys, and even naked little boys. His Wikipedia page mentions that there have been questions concerning Barrie that he was a pedophile, and also it states that his marriage to Mary Ansell was reportedly unconsummated. Whatever. As long as he kept his tendencies under control without harming anyone, especially a child.
And as for Peter Pan, he was modeled after Michael Llewelyn Davies, one of five sons of Arthur and Sylvia. Barrie first met George and Jack (and baby Peter) with their nanny Mary Hodgson in London's Kensington Gardens. He was to become close to the family, and after both parents were dead, he and Hodgson, with whom he did not get along, became surrogate parents to the children. Hmm. He actually changed something in Sylvia's will to put him in that position . . .
When copying the will informally for Sylvia's family a few months later, Barrie inserted himself elsewhere: Sylvia had written that she would like Mary Hodgson, the boys' nurse, to continue taking care of them, and for "Jenny" (referring to Hodgson's sister) to come and help her; Barrie instead wrote, "Jimmy" (Sylvia's nickname for him). Barrie and Hodgson did not get along well but served together as surrogate parents until the boys were grown.
So, again, I'm not so sure about Barrie, but he certainly was well-loved by many well-known people of the time. Below is a picture of Michael Llewelyn Davies as Peter Pan, and Barrie's St. Bernard Porthos, who is also a character in this story.
By the way,
Project Gutenberg has this book available with illustrations, from 1906, including some that are not in my book, but is also missing others that are
in my book, such as the map, so I have downloaded the eBook to have both copies.
Here is the other version from
1911, (there are two which are on both Barrie's and Rackham's Project Gutenberg pages) that has some missing illustrations from the first one. My book has none
of the uncolored drawings. You can also access Barrie's other works from that page. I didn't realize that Arthur Rackham had a
Project Gutenberg page, but there it is and this book and many others are available for free. Here is his
Wikipedia page. Here is my
Index Page for him, where you can read my reviews of his books and view
his some of his gorgeous illustrations. I do not have one for Barrie yet, but will at some point. Here is the Wikipedia page for
Barrie. And last, here is
the Wikipedia page for the beautiful
And now, a bit about the story and some illustrations from the books. It begins with a map, so I decided to include a real map of Kensington, which includes the Gardens, then the one drawn by Rackham for the story. Actually I just wanted to compare them. In the map on the left, the green section is the Gardens, and they are similar.
Below: Map of Kensington and Map of Peter Pan's Kensington Gardens.
And so we begin our tour and learn that Peter Pan lived in the Gardens.
Actually all babies were hatched as birds, then delivered, as ordered. You can see The Bird's Island on the right border in the Serpentine. Only birds were
allowed there, and no human could reach it. No, it's not on the "real" map. Anyways, here we walk along with little David and the adult with him and the
dog, Porthos. There is an adventure to go with each landmark they pass, beginning with the balloon lady who must hold onto the railing so she won't fly
away, as the former one did.
Below: The lady with the balloons, who sits just outside.
After leaving the Figs, they go down the Broad Walk. They see the Round Pond and Baby's Palace, then run down the hill called the Hump. The Baby Walk is full of perambulators (buggies, here in the U.S.). Here's the tale of St. Govor's Well.
Next comes St. Govor's Well, which was full of water when Malcolm the Bold fell into it. He was his mother's favourite, and he let her put her arm round his neck in public because she was a widow; but he was also partial to adventures, and liked to play with a chimney-sweep who had killed a good many bears. The sweep's name was Sooty, and one day, when they were playing near the well, Malcolm fell in and would have been drowned had not Sooty dived in and rescued him; and the water had washed Sooty clean, and he now stood revealed as Malcolm's long-lost father. So Malcolm would not let his mother put her arm round his neck any more.
They come to the gypsy path where the sheep get their hair cut and reach the
Serpentine. Just before they reach the gate to leave, they come to the Dog's Cemetery, but pretend not to notice because of Porthos.
In the next chapter, we hear the tale of Peter Pan, who one day, when he was a week old, decided to fly out the window and visit The Gardens and The Bird's Island, where he was hatched. But this was after Lock-out Time, when all the humans had to leave the Gardens and the fairies came out. So they were terrified when Peter flew in. He doesn't realize he's not a bird, he has no beak to drink, he's cold and needs someone to blow his nose. He eventually flies to The Bird's Island and consults the wise Solomon Caw, who points out that he indeed is not a bird. Then he realizes he needs to go back to his mother. But the thing about flying is that all babies can do it until they doubt that they can. That's what happened to Peter, and he found himself stuck on the island.
Below: Put his strange case before old Solomon Caw.
Solomon tells him he is neither a bird nor a human, but a Betwixt-and-Between.
So he had to learn to live with the birds who brought him crusts to eat because he refused to eat worms. He made a reed pipe and played so beautifully that the
birds were deceived. Still, he longed to leave the island.
Below: A hundred flew off with the string, and Peter clung to the tail.
Once he found a kite and watched the birds fly with it. He had an idea. He held
onto the tail and thought he could get across the Serpentine, but it broke and some swans had to bring him back to the island and swans are not very friendly.
Eventually, the thrushes built him a huge nest. He actually paid them to do it, because a five-pound note had landed on the island. He paid them all by cutting
the note up in little pieces. The nest was big enough to hold him and he rigged it up as a sailboat. Indeed, it worked, and Peter was able to get back into the
Below: He passed under the bridge and came within full sight of the delectable Gardens.
Now he had to deal with the fairies, but eventually they welcome him, and he
becomes their orchestra by playing his reed pipe. And he learns much and has many adventures. But he misses his mother, and wants to go home, so badly that
the fairies help him to fly again as a special reward. He flies in through the window and sees his mother sleeping and knows he has made her sad. But instead
of remaining, he must go back to the island and say his goodbyes to the birds and all his friends. But there he procrastinates too long. He was told if he
waited, the window might be locked, but he thought his mother would always welcome him. So finally after the last farewells, he flies home and indeed, the
window is locked. And there is his mother with a new baby boy to love.
I dunno. That's one of Peter's adventures that I think is really not appropriate for little children. A mother that would forget a child because she has a new one? Really? Anyways, he is now a permanent resident of the Gardens and has even more adventures, along with getting to meet a human girl, Maimie Mannering, who would later become Wendy. I don't know that I would recommend this for children, one way or another. Certainly it would require careful guidance. However, for adults, I absolutely recommend it for Rackham's artwork alone. Plus, the story contains some sly humor that adults would understand better than children.
Below: Peter Pan is the fairies' orchestra.
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