David Barrie was The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. In the winter of 1866, two days before his fourteenth birthday, the elder brother of J. M Barrie went skating. Accidentally colliding with another skater, he fell on the ice, fractured his skull and died. When news of the tragedy reached his mother, Margaret Barrie, she resolved to ‘get between death and her boy’. Of course, she failed, and David Barrie’s death overwhelmed the family. He had been his mother’s favourite, and she became obsessed with the boy who could never grow up. James Barrie remembered how he tried to fill the emotional void by dressing up in his older brother’s clothes. In a bestselling biography of his mother, he wrote that once, when he came into her room, she said, ‘“Is that you?” I thought it was the dead boy she was speaking to, and I said in a little, lonely voice, “No, it’s no’ him, it’s just me”.’
James Barrie was born in 1860 in the Angus town of Kirriemuir, one of ten siblings. His education was peripatetic but rich. Two of Barrie’s elder siblings, Alexander and Mary Ann, had qualified as teachers, and at the age of eight, he followed them to Glasgow Academy, where they taught, and they looked after their little brother. Later they went to Dumfries Academy. It was there that the story of The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up began to stir into life. Barrie befriended Hal and Stuart Gordon, whose home and wooded garden at Moat Brae House was close to the school. He remembered it well.
‘When the shades of night began to fall, certain young mathematicians shed their triangles, crept up walls and down trees, and became pirates in a sort of Odyssey that was long afterwards to become the play of Peter Pan. For our escapades in a certain Dumfries garden, which is enchanted land to me, were certainly the genesis of that nefarious work. We lived in the tree-tops, on coconuts attached thereto, and that were in a bad condition; we were buccaneers and I kept the log-book of our depredations, an eerie journal, without a triangle in it to mar the beauty of its page. That log-book I trust is no longer extant, though I should like one last look at it, to see if Captain Hook is in it.’
Barrie was determined to become a writer, and after three novels and some journalism he began to write plays. Having moved to London, he found success with the productions of Quality Street and The Admirable Crichton in 1901 and 1902. Most days, Barrie took Porthos, his big Saint Bernard, for walks in Kensington Gardens, where he struck up a friendship with the Llewelyn Davies family, and in particular, their children, George, Jack and Baby Peter, as well as their nanny, Mary Hodgson. The boys enjoyed playing with his big, cuddly dog, and Barrie entertained them by waggling his ears and moving his eyebrows up and down, and by telling them stories. The cast of Peter Pan was slowly coming together.