Peter Pan


J.M. Barrie

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Peter Pan Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of J.M. Barrie

James Barrie was born into a working-class religious family, the ninth of ten siblings. When James was 6 years old, his 13-year-old brother David died in a skating accident. James spent the rest of his childhood trying to cheer up his shattered mother – by writing stories, performing plays, and even wearing David’s old clothes. After a bookish adolescence, James Barrie attended the University of Edinburgh and wrote for various Scottish newspapers and magazines. He wrote several novels and plays, but he didn’t find literary fame until the publication of the Peter Pan series (the 1904 play and the 1911 novel). He married the actress Mary Ansell in 1893, but the marriage was unhappy and childless, and they eventually divorced. He died of pneumonia at age 77.
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Historical Context of Peter Pan

Much of the humor and sadness in Barrie’s novel arises from the differences between society’s idea of a child and an actual child. So in a certain way, the novel is founded on adult idealizations of childhood – a category of thought that began to emerge in the 17th and 18th centuries, when many nations first instituted compulsory elementary education (1646 in Scotland, 1763 in Prussia, and 1774 in Hungary, to give a few examples). As compulsory education expanded and spread, childhood became a more distinct period of human life. Compulsory education also coincided with the rise of the middle class, a population who could afford to bear children without putting them to work at an early age. In a sense, Barrie’s novel was made possible by the convergence of these two historical events, which gave rise to many literary debates about children and childhood.

Other Books Related to Peter Pan

Books written expressly for children first appeared in the 17th and 18th centuries; they tended to be religious, moralistic, and didactic, and very bland in style. In the early 19th century, Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm travelled through various parts of Europe and collected traditional folk-tales, which they compiled into collections for children. Unlike the religious books, these stories had few discernible moral lessons but a great deal of darkness, violence, and excitement. They were beloved by children and adults alike. Peter and Wendy brings together the two traditions: it combines a moderate dose of Victorian morality with the wild, dark magic of the old folk tales. Barrie’s popular book has since inspired dozens of cartoons, movies, and retellings, and the boy who didn’t want to grow up has appeared in countless guises in the literature of the 20th century.
Key Facts about Peter Pan
  • Full Title: Peter and Wendy
  • When Written: 1904-1911.
  • Where Written: London.
  • When Published: 1911.
  • Literary Period: late Victorian.
  • Genre: Children’s novel.
  • Setting: London and Neverland.
  • Climax: Peter’s defeat of Hook.
  • Antagonist: Captain Hook.
  • Point of View: First person omniscient.

Extra Credit for Peter Pan

Inspiration. Many of the novel’s characters were likely inspired by the Llewelyn Davies boys. Barrie was friends with the five brothers and often played games with them in the Kensington Gardens. When their parents passed away, Barrie became their legal guardian.

Good works. James Barrie gave the rights to the Peter Pan works to the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in 1929. When the copyright expired 50 years later, the British government granted the hospital the right to collect royalties on the works indefinitely, a rare exception to copyright law. To this day, the royalties comprise a large part of the hospital’s funding.