Lucie Sutherland’s pocket sized book on J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan explores the versatility of the play; offering insight into the historical, material and cultural contexts of the play. In 66 short pages it covers the period of the creation of the play as well as critiquing stage and screen adaptations which have come afterwards.
Sutherland notes that Peter Pan is ‘both thematically complex and commercially astute, with an enduring interest for audiences.’ In her work she addresses both of these aspects in as much detail as the short form allows.
Her work does not (often) seek to stray into the realms of meta-textual analysis, but rather to focus on the play’s construction, reconstruction and reception. As such it offers much information and food for thought.
The three main chapters consider the development of the play, the first performances and subsequent adaptations. All of these are interesting and engaging, covering new as well as familiar ground.
The Introduction suffers from one biographical inaccuracy, where Dumfries Academy is air-brushed out, to be replaced by Forfar Academy. It’s a small but significant slip (especially if you have either Forfar or Dumfries connections)because of the impact of Dumfries Theatre Royal on the schoolboy. To correct the factual error it should be noted that Barrie’s schooling is as follows: Glasgow Academy 1869-1871, Forfar Academy,1871-1873 and Dumfries Academy 1873-1878.
This aside, the book offers much to engage. It is particularly strong on the production process. For example, there is discussion of the pantomime aspect of the play. I had not considered this before, but it helped me draw a contextual connection with the short play Pantaloon which was performed for the first time in April 1905, shortly after the initial performances of Peter Pan.
Considerations of the origins and contextual significances of ‘Never Land’ might have been further developed had space allowed, though of course this is both a vast and mined field for appraisal.
The chapter on stage and screen adaptations offers review and overview, and the section ‘Appropriating Peter Pan’ tantalisingly moves towards meta-textual analysis through consideration of Finding Neverland and the 2003 film version of Peter Pan. Again, the deeper argument here is only constrained by space but is certainly interesting and thought provoking. And other works are given their relative due, providing breadth of comparision.
Peter Pan is a difficult play in so many ways. Consequently, it is a difficult play to write about and Lucie Sutherland is to be applauded for presenting this short work, which brings so much information into one place and which offers a good start point for deeper discussion and further scholarship.
J.M.Barrie's Peter Pan by Lucie Sutherland is published by Routledge in The Fourth Wall series.
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It is great to see that Barrie merits three specific chapters in the new publication ‘The Land of Story-Books’.
It seems there has been a dearth of critical writing on Barrie published since the 2014 volume ‘Gateway to the Modern’, which perhaps reflects that Barrie is still something of a side-line in academic study both in Scotland and the UK. But a volume on Scottish children’s writing of the ‘Long’ Nineteenth Century could hardly miss him out, could it?
Notably, in this volume, the three chapters featuring Barrie all come from American institutions. Make of that what you will. It is perhaps less surprising that they all to a greater or lesser degree take colonialism as part of their argument. While this fits in with the overall theme of the volume, I find it affords a rather too simplistic perspective. Barrie is becoming acknowledged as a ‘writer of complexity and contradiction’ and at times I feel that this complexity and contradiction escapes all of the chapter authors. In the process of their struggle, perhaps it is inevitable that within what appear to be quite sophisticated academic arguments, they reduce Barrie to some of the old, well-worn myths(dare I say clichés)from which those of us who appreciate Barrie ‘beyond’ Peter Pan, strive to build a more nuanced approach.
That said, all three arguments have plenty to recommend them as positions for debate. In Chapter Nine Hayes avows his desire to ‘move the debate on’ from the Kailyard school, paying due credit to the work done by Nash in this regard, but his argument is limited, not least by non-inclusion of S.R.Crockett as central to his theme, and by a few rather dubious claims. While questioning whether Peter Pan was for children at all, Hayes notes that Barrie’s choices: ‘largely fit with our understanding of Barrie, especially in looking backward to earlier parts of his career - his creation of his ‘Tommy’ character and a series of highly sentimental tales around 1890 that were clearly built for a youthful audience’. That he mis-attributes the ‘Kailyard’ to 1880s I could overlook, but suggesting that the Thrums stories were ‘clearly built for a youthful audience’ potentially lays him bare to a form of intellectual colonialism of his own.
Fierce’s chapter offers a deliberately socio-political appraisal, drawing links between domesticity and colonialism, but again I find areas of surprise (and weakness) in his developing argument regarding the Scottish/English aspects of Barrie and his work. He seems to misunderstand Barrie’s use of ‘Scots humour’ and in the process his argument also becomes reductive. The warning is: If you take Barrie at face value you miss the point.
As Hugh Walpole noted in 1938,‘Barrie tricked nine-tenths of us, and knew well that he was tricking us.’
In Chapter Fourteen, Hansen affords Barrie the honour of being compared alongside Shakespeare. While in some respects more nuanced than the previous two chapters, it still seems to get caught up in a reductive guddle, debating dualities and ‘oppositions’ rather than developing the argument into more productive areas concerning complexity of method, purpose and textual outcome. Still, it is good to see Barrie is being taken seriously and her attempt to explore beyond the modern pejorative stance on ‘sentiment’ is appreciated.
There is much to disagree with in all three chapters, but at least there is the hope that such disagreement will lead to some healthy debate!
Taken in all, these chapters do at least begin to open not just a window for Peter Pan to fly back in, but a door through which we might step to begin to debate Barrie’s works more seriously ‘beyond Peter Pan’, taking him out of the critical prison he has been held in for too long.
In the introduction, Sarah Dunnigan is clear that ‘this book is seen as a beginning. Rather than being seen as a comprehensive or all-encompassing account of nineteenth-century Scottish literature for, and about children,’ but it will be of interest to those who are looking for a scholarly approach to the emerging academic thrust to have the study of Scottish children’s literature given due credence and attention.
 ‘Scottish Children’s Literature in the Long Nineteenth Century’ edited by Sarah Dunnigan and Shu-Fang Li, published by ASLS 2019 and available HERE
 To me at least, and I do spend a reasonable amount of time trawling academic databases for such writings.
 ‘Gateway to the Modern: Resituating J.M.Barrie,’ ed Valentina Bold and Andrew Nash, ASLS 2014
 Andrew Nash, 2015 (‘Better Dead…’ in Scottish Literary Review) and Sarah Dunnigan, 2017 (‘J.M.Barrie’s Gothic…’ in Scottish Gothic: An Edinburgh Companion) are the exceptions,… please feel free to email me with others!
 Sadly the same cannot be said for his contemporary S.R.Crockett, a man with an equal claim to significance in Scottish literature for adults and children, yet a man still shrouded in the cloak of invisibility as far as academia is concerned.
 Sarah Dunnigan, 2017 in ‘Scottish Gothic: An Edinburgh Companion, 2017.
 Referencing Hollindale is all well and good but all their arguments might be strengthened with more reference to Jack’s later work.
 Chapter 9, Timothy S.Hayes, The Darkening Island: Stevenson, Barrie, and the Perils of Childhood.’
 Nash, 2007 Kailyard and Scottish Literature.
 I presented a conference paper on a similar theme at ASLS in 2017 (you can find a version of it here)
 Chapter Ten, Rodney M.D. Fierce, ‘Colonising Neverland: British Motherhood as Imaginative Play in J.M.Barrie’s Peter and Wendy.’
 Hugh Walpole, 1938 preface to ‘McConnechie and J.M.Barrie.
 Chapter 14, Caitlin, R.Hansen, ‘Betwixt-and-Between: Barrie, Shakespeare, and Playing at Childhood.’
 Which it by no means is. I suppose should manage my expectations (and disappointment) about S.R.Crockett’s non-inclusion. A re-evaluation of his work is as long overdue in children’s literature as it is in the adult world, and his inclusion would have added some depth (and no little controversy) to many of the chapters in which he is overlooked.
The place for people to find out more and exchange their thoughts about Barrie's work