24 August 2009

Men: J.M. Barrie

By Jennifer Linforth

"For several days after my first book was published, I carried it about in my pocket and took surreptitious peeps at it to make sure the ink had not faded." ~ J. M. Barrie

When Unusual Historicals asked us to blog on men, my mind went to little boys and the one little boy who unlocked a world every adult should explore. There is no doubt that authors are imaginative creatures, and we must exercise that imagination daily. Every author should, on occasion, crack open a book by J.M. Barrie, a literary giant who turned the 19th century on its ear with his never-ending world of make-believe.

With his enduring and timeless Neverland....

What births imagination? For Barrie I believe it was death. Barrie said that his mother, distraught after the death of his brother just short of age 14, wandered around the house pleased that she would have one son who remained a boy forever. Barrie, in shock as well over losing his brother, would dress as his older sibling in order to comfort his mother. This death shaped Barrie in a way he would never forget--it birthed his imagination as he and his mother entertained each other with stories from her childhood in order to keep his brother's childhood alive.

Like many writers you find, he was not encouraged to write by his family. They wished to have him in the ministry. Following their desires, he enrolled in the University of Edinburgh. As he attempted to follow course, he ended up writing more and more. Short stories based on those he shared with his mother landed him acclaim for local papers, and established him as a respected writer. Eventually his attention turned toward works of the theater, reviewing and writing for the stage.

The ministry was forgotten.

There is a long list of works that found Barrie success in the early 1900’s. But in the United States it was his serial, The Little White Bird, which we should identify with, for in that work first appeared Peter Pan. It was not until 1904 that Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up appeared on stage. Come 1911 his novel, Peter Pan and Wendy, would endure as a timeless classic. His Neverland would become the iconic place where morality is undecided. Peter Pan has long been billed as a book for children, but is in reality more a story for grown ups that, far too often, lose site of the dreams within and forget what it is like to simply--believe.

My imagination is where I would retreat as a girl when I needed a spot to be alone. Now as a writer I offer that retreat to others. I still find far too many people in the world that don't believe in make-believe so I pose this question to the readers of Unusual Historicals. What births imagination? Where in life is your J.M. Barrie?

Remember Barrie's words: "Every time a child says 'I don't believe in fairies' there is a little fairy somewhere that falls down dead..."

I have already discussed this with my two year old and believe me, she claps to bring that fairy back to life.

How will you make imagination endure?