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Issue 101 - The Boy Who Never Grew Up

Scotland Magazine Issue 101
November 2018

 

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The Boy Who Never Grew Up

Investigating Scotland's enduring fascination with Peter Pan

At the heart of the small Angus town of Kirriemuir, on the High Street, stands a bronze statue of Peter Pan by the artist Alistair Smart. Sir James M Barrie, creator of ‘the boy who never grew up’, was born nearby in 1860 in a traditional weaver's stone-built house. His childhood home is today transformed into a museum which is cared for by the National Trust for Scotland.

Barrie was one of seven brothers and sisters who lived with their parents in two rooms above the weaver's workshop. The washhouse in the yard is said to have inspired the original Wendy House. The charming ‘puckish’ statue in the town square is one of two comissioned works. The first was erected at Glengate in 1966 but, following damage, a replacement by the same artist was unveiled on a red sandstone plinth in the town square in 1994.

Though numerous elements of Barrie’s original story are very problematic for modern audiences (especially his depiction of Native Americans), every year visitors flock to Kirriemuir from all over the world to pay homage to the magical world of the lost boys, Captain Hook, Tinker Bell and the crocodile encountered by the Darling children. The iconic American singer Michael Jackson was so entranced by the story that he named his Santa Barbara, California, ranch after the fictional island of Neverland, where the tales take place.

Such is the international appeal of Barrie's characters therefore that Kirriemuir locals have not held back on transforming the park on Kirrie Hill into a fairy-tale interpretation of Neverland for kids. However, this is not without some competition.

Around 162 miles to the south is Dumfries, where Barrie was sent to school between 1873-1878 and where the Peter Pan Moat Brae House Trust has successfully raised £6.1 million towards a target of £6.5 million for the redevelopment of the Georgian town house and garden where the teenage Barrie played with his friends. On his return visit to Dumfries in 1924, he admitted that it was here that he had first encountered the Native Americans and pirates of his imagination. The first phase of the work has now been completed and is open to the public.

Barrie is believed to have based his character of Peter Pan on his older brother David, who died after being knocked over while watching a friend iceskating in Bothwell, Lanarkshire, the day before his 14th birthday. Their mother always referred to him as a ‘forever’ boy.

Although success inevitably took him to live in London, Kirriemuir was to remain the writer-playwright's spiritual home throughout his life. He gifted a cricket pavilion and camera obscura to the burgh in 1930 and returned for the opening ceremony, when he was granted the freedom of the town. He was back again in 1933 for a town band bazaar and when he died, in 1937, he chose not to be buried at Westminster Abbey, as was his prerogative as a knight of the realm, but in the family plot at the Kirriemuir Cemetery.åç

 

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