‘The boy who never grows up’ was originally written to be a far less likeable lad.
According to Jessica Nelson who edited the recent publication of JM Barrie’s original manuscript, Peter Pan and Wendy, the elfish boy who lived in Neverland had been edited by Barrie to make him more likeable.
Fans will be able to read the now-published version of the story in Barrie’s own handwriting and see the changes he made to the manuscript. The new edition shows that Barrie decided to tone down Peter Pan’s character for the sensibilities of audiences of the time. After having second thoughts about how negatively Peter could be portrayed, Barrie deleted some of the harsher passages and descriptions where Pan is described as “an elfish boy” who “defiantly” speaks back, and acts “more contemptuous than ever”.
Jessica Nelson also describes original manuscript Pan as ‘mean’ and an ‘egoist’. Anyone who has read the story can tell that Peter Pan was always a little arrogant and horrid, but these edits have proven he was never meant to be a hero. The ending in which Pan admits he has forgotten Tinkerbell completely, and then abandons Wendy and takes her daughter to Neverland can be used as proof of that.
“Barrie was not afraid of going to some dark places. He was also trying to show that children can be fierce,”said Nelson.
In the manuscript, the home of Pan and The Lost Boys, Neverland, is actually called Never Never Land and features “desolation bay”. The land is also unnamed for longer- creating a sense of mystery.
“It seems more mysterious in the manuscript,” said Nelson, noting also that this may mean that Barrie originally wanted to emphasise the distance between the world of grown-ups and that of Peter Pan: “Neverland is really a Never Never Land, a land which grown-ups can never, never reach.”
The title of the manuscript was changed to Peter and Wendy in the 1911 print run of the book. Although Wendy does not play a larger role in the manuscript, Nelson noted how the title change points towards Barrie’s admiration of women.
“It does give Wendy a role that tends to disappear because Peter Pan is such a charismatic figure. I think, due to his personal story, James Barrie wanted women in general and Wendy and Mrs Darling in particular to have a special place in what he wrote. Women were very important to him – he wrote the story because of his meeting with Sylvia Davies and he discovered literature because of his mother.”
1,000 hand-numbered copies of the 282-page manuscript have been printed by publisher SP Books. Each costs £140 and includes 21 full-page colour illustrations by Gwynedd Hudson from a rare 1930 edition of the novel.
Some of the proceeds from sales will go to Great Ormond Street Hospital, which still owns the copyright.
Nelson found it particularly moving to be able to read in Barrie’s own hand the book’s famous opening line: “All children, except one, grow up”.