The Llewelyn Davies family and their link with ‘Peter Pan’
Explore – what headstones can tell you about families and relationships
Discuss – the world of Peter Pan and what it might have felt like to be part of it
Discover – how stories can be an imaginative response to real life
- Family History
- Subject areas
- Possible topics
- Suggested activities
- Interesting facts
- Inspirations behind Peter Pan
- Creating a family tree
- Literary and Artistic links
- Further resources
- Note to teachers
English – Writing stories, exploring imaginary worlds, group discussion and presentations
Local History – Enquiry – looking at gravestones and creating a family tree
• Imagine a holiday adventure becoming a play or a story (see below for details of a games played by the Llewelyn Davies boys on holiday with Barrie at Black Lake Cottage)
• Much of the inspiration for ‘Peter Pan’ came from the Llewelyn Davies family; imagine what it might feel like to be the inspiration for a famous book or play
• Act the story, or part of the story, of ‘Peter Pan’ and imagine you are pirates and the Lost Boys.
• Write a story inspired by people, places or games
• Graveyard connections: J M Barrie is not buried in the ABG. However, although they all died in different places, all the Llewelyn Davies boys and their parents and paternal grandparents are buried there. Visit the graveyard and look at the graves and see if you can create a family tree (see below for a list of relevant graves and another clue)
• In the story of ‘Peter Pan’, Peter and the boys build a house for Wendy in Neverland – this is where the name ‘Wendy House’ comes from
• The statue of ‘Peter Pan’ in Kensington Gardens is based on photographs Barrie took of Michael
The story of ‘The Boy Castaways’ evolved into a second story which Barrie used to tell the boys – the story of ‘Peter Pan’, a mischievous boy who never grew up and had lots of adventures. (A summary of the story is available on Wikepedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_and_Wendy#Plot_summary.)
While it has been suggested that the character of Peter Pan is based on Peter Llewelyn Davies, Barrie said “I made Peter by rubbing the five (boys) together, as savages with two sticks produce a flame. That is all Peter is – the spark I got from (the boys)”.
The idea of the boy who never grew up was inspired by a childhood tragedy – Barrie’s elder brother David died at 13. In the programme for the first production of his play, Barrie wrote the following “Of Peter himself you much make what you will. Perhaps he was a little boy who died young, and this is how the author conceived his subsequent adventures….”
In the first production Peter Pan was played by a girl and this has been the tradition in productions of ‘Peter Pan’ ever since. (It allows an older actor to look like a young boy.)
The Llewelyn Davies family were the inspiration for the Darling family and the Lost Boys. Sylvia was a further inspiration. She used to make the boys’ clothes, which had a distinctive style. The style of their clothes was copied in the play for the costumes of the Darling children and the Lost Boys.
Barrie also brought other members of the Llewelyn Davies household into the story of ‘Peter Pan’. During this entire period, the Llewelyn Davies children had been cared for by their stern but devoted nurse, Mary Hodgson. She appears in ‘Peter Pan’ as the character of Nana, the dog/housekeeper who keeps a watchful eye over the Darling family.
What about Wendy? She is based on Margaret Henley, who died at the age of six. She was the daughter of one of Barrie’s friends, W.E. Henley – she called Barrie “my friendy”, but she couldn’t pronounce her r’s and it came out as “my fwendy” or “Wendy”. “Wendy” was a new name invented by Barrie.
The idea for Tinkerbell emerged from the holiday that the Llewelyn Davies’ had at Black Lake Cottage. Barrie recounts how, one evening, he and the boys were taking Michael to show him what the trail in the woods was like by twilight. As the lanterns twinkled among the leaves Michael saw a twinkle stand still for a moment “and he waved his foot gaily to it, thus creating Tink...”
J M Barrie is not buried in the ABG. However, although they all died in different places, all the Llewelyn Davies boys and their parents and paternal grandparents are buried there. Visit the graveyard and see if you can create a family tree. The relevant graves to look at are the Du Maurier family grave in I bay and the Llewelyn Davies graves at J2, J11 and K1. These are all in the same immediate area. You also need to know that Sylvia Llewelyn Davies was born Sylvia Du Maurier, the second daughter of George Busson Du Maurier.
Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, a famous actor/manager who is also buried in the ABG (G Bay) was asked by Barrie to produce ‘Peter Pan’. He turned the play down and said Barrie “must be mad”. Even Barrie was convinced it wouldn’t be a success but he wanted it to be produced. As we know the play was a great success and has been performed around the world.
Sylvia’s brother and the boys’ uncle, Gerald Du Maurier (buried in I Bay), was in the first production and played both Captain Hook and Mr Darling.
In addition to the links in the text, see:
Andrew Birkin (1979). ‘J.M. Barrie and The Lost Boys’, London: Yale University Press.
(Andrew Birkin wrote the script for the BBC trilogy ‘The Lost Boys’. He has done extensive research with the help and support of Nico Llewelyn Davies, who gave him access to the Llewelyn Davies family archive.)
http://www.jmbarrie.co.uk/ This website was put together by Andrew Birkin and includes all his research material and lots of photographs of Barrie and the Llewelyn Davies family.
Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and Peter Pan and Wendy, Penguin Classics [Paperback] – J. M. Barrie (Author), Jack Zipes (Editor)
Barrie’s relationship with the Llewelyn Davies boys was complex. Some writers have tried to suggest it may have been improper. However Nico Llewelyn Davies, who provided a lot of material and personal input into the BBC trilogy and Andrew Birkin’s book, is adamant that it was not. He told Andrew Birkin “I don’t believe that Uncle Jim ever experienced what one might call a stirring in the undergrowth for anyone – man, woman, adult or child…….He was an innocent…. which is why he could write Peter Pan” as a mixture of fantasy and reality.
Apart from Nico the lives of the Llewelyn Davies boys either ended prematurely (George and Michael) or they were unhappy. Jack and Peter resented Barrie’s influence on their lives and the association with ‘Peter Pan’ which followed them. This may ultimately have led to Peter’s suicide – he called ‘Peter Pan’ “that terrible masterpiece”. Even when he died at the age of 63 the newspaper headlines read ‘Peter Pan commits suicide’ and ’Peter Pan’s death leap’.
This page was last updated on May 19th, 2012.