Thursday, July 21, 2016

Review: The Real Peter Pan by Piers Dudgeon

"...fascinating...a valuable contribution to the Barrie literature"--Booklist

The Real Peter Pan

by Piers Dudgeon

Release Date: July 12, 2016
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press
ISBN: 1-250-087799
Hardcover: Biography & Autobiography
$27.95 * 416 pages

The world has long been captivated by the story of Peter Pan, and its popularity continues as evidenced by the hit Broadway show, Finding Neverland, and new television and film adaptations of the classic produced recently. But few know the real story behind Peter Pan, which is a different and darker version than the one portrayed in film and on stage. Now, in his revealing new book, THE REAL PETER PAN: THE TRAGIC LIFE OF MICHAEL LLEWELYN DAVIS, author Piers Dudgeon examines the fascinating and complex relationships between Peter Pan's creator, J.M. Barrie, and the family of boys who inspired his work, particularly young Michael Llewelyn Davies. 

PIERS DUDGEON is a writer, editor, and photographer. He is the author of bestselling biographies of Catherine Cookson, Edward de Bono, the composer Sir John Tavener, and the novelists Barbara Taylor Bradford, Josephine Cox, J.M. Barrie, and Daphne du Maurier. He is the author of Maeve Binchy, a biography of the Irish writer

Hit the Jump for the Review

Being an English major, the story of Peter Pan has long since been beloved by me. Who can resist the tale of everlasting innocence? Though I will admit, as I have grown older, that same innocence does not seem as reachable as before. Perhaps Peter Pan realized that too, or at least Michael Llewelyn Davies may have. Peter Pan is one of those universal stories of childlike innocence and heroism, of escaping the real world and going to Neverland, where you never grow old. That is the story we know, but there is another story that we are not so familiar with. Dudgeon paints a picture of Pan in a way that I never imagined.  

Dudgeon begins by illustrating the Llewelyn family in a way that it is impossible not to see the connection to the Pan story, specifically that of Michael, who maintains his innocence much longer than his brothers. Barrie is fascinated with Michael's aura that he paints him into the Pan mythology in such a way that you would never know without reading this book or knowing the history beforehand. Watching the boys in Kensington Gardens, Barrie is able to create Peter Pan and Neverland much like an artist observing his/her muse. That same artistry appears in Dudgeon's language as the history of Llewelyns and Barrie spills onto the page in brief chapters. Barrie was a strange person, there's no doubt about that, but Dudgeon suggests that the love that Barrie had for the Llewelyn boys was as pure as Neverland itself. 

Dudgeon presents the history of Barrie's persona as well, especially his fascination with things otherworldly, and that may be why Peter Pan is still so beloved today. Readers crave the unknown, and Dudgeon portrays Barrie's passion for spirituality in a way that makes the writer even more captivating. 

Like children who grow up and leave their innocence behind, the story of Barrie and the tragedy of Michael's life has dark turns; however, in the end, Dudgeon shows us that we always remember what it felt like to be completely free, to be a child looking at the world with ingenuous eyes.

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