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American Way Staff
American AirlinesNexos Magazine Staff
Celebrated Living Staff
A new DVD sheds light on Peter Pan's British origins. We went to
London to see for ourselves. By Bryan Reesman
The mythical boy wonder who never wanted to grow up, the daring
denizen of Neverland, Peter Pan (along with
fairy friend Tinkerbell, the pretty mermaids, and the Lost Boys)
has always represented the unbridled passion of youth and the
struggle against adults' cynicism. Author J.M. Barrie's ageless boy
whisked away the children of the Darling family to his magical home
of Neverland, populated by the Lost Boys as well as by Indians and
pirates, the latter led by Pan's nemesis, the dastardly Captain
Hook. Many Americans know about Peter Pan through the Disney film
version of the story, which has just been released in a two-disc
platinum edition, but they may not have delved deeply into the
story's British roots.
Thus I paid a visit to England to revisit Peter Pan's journey to
Neverland. Peter and the three Darling children took flight from
the posh district of Bloomsbury, traveling to Neverland by way of
various London landmarks. In the Disney film, they glide through
Kensington Gardens, land briefly on Big Ben before sweeping past
St. Paul's Cathedral, dip down through the Tower Bridge, and then
rocket to Neverland via the "second star on the right." You can
easily hoof it to these various landmarks, but for a bird's-eye
view, it's best to board the London Eye, an enormous enclosed-cab
observation wheel right off the Thames that takes you on a
30-minute journey high into the air for breathtaking views of the
FIRST STOP: BLOOMSBURY Located in Central
London, Bloomsbury was home to the Darling family. Today it is
bustling with activity and is home to fashionable shops, the
British Museum, the Cartoon Museum, the main library of the
University of London, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and much
more. Most importantly to Peter Pan lore,
it is home to the Great Ormond Street Hospital, which provides care
for sick children and owns the copyright to the story. (The author
transferred it to the hospital in 1929.) The hospital gallery
includes book editions of Peter Pan from
across the globe.
SECOND STOP: KENSINGTON GARDENS This is the
place where Peter Pan first appeared in The
Little White Bird, the 1902 story that preceded Peter's solo
adventures. Adjacent to Hyde Park but considered part of it, the
beautiful Kensington Gardens began life as a deer park for Henry
VIII in 1536 and opened to the public a century later. Princess
Diana once lived in nearby Kensington Palace.
Sir George Frampton designed the Peter Pan statue that rests in
Kensington Gardens, where it was installed in April of 1912.
"Instead of being built here and gradually coming to life, it was
built in the studio and brought here, because J.M. Barrie had this
idea that he wanted children to think that it magically appeared
overnight," reports London Walks tour guide and travel author Ed
Glinert. "But he didn't actually like it himself because he said it
didn't show the devil in Peter."
QUICK DETOUR: 100 BAYSWATER ROAD For many
years, starting in 1902, Barrie resided here, on the north side of
Kensington Gardens. It is now a private residence obscured by a
white stone wall. "When he was here, it was obviously much
quieter," notes Glinert. "The roads would have looked very similar
to this, without the traffic. You get an inkling of an
old-fashioned village community with small shops and houses and
pubs." This is where Barrie befriended the three eldest sons of his
neighbors Arthur and Sylvia Llewellyn Davis; Sylvia was the
daughter of novelist George du Maurier.
Barrie formed a lifelong friendship with Sylvia, much to the
disapproval of her husband. But the Llewellyn Davis parents died at
a young age in the early 1920s, and Barrie became the unofficial
guardian of their five sons. It was through his early experiences
with that family that Barrie was inspired to create Peter Pan, as
was dramatically depicted (with some creative liberties) in the
film Finding Neverland.
THIRD AND FOURTH STOPS: BIG BEN AND ST. PAUL'S
CATHEDRAL Erected in 1859, Big Ben is the hour bell of the
Great Clock Tower of Westminster, which is adjacent to the Houses
of Parliament. But most people refer to the whole tower as Big Ben.
In the Disney movie, Peter and the Darlings land on the clock's
minute hand, lowering it from 8:04 p.m. to 8:15, which makes Big
Moving eastward along the north side of the Thames, one finds
another major London landmark, St. Paul's Cathedral. Along with the
Tower Bridge, it escaped World War II unscathed. "The German
airplanes coming into London would follow the river because it was
the only thing they could see [during] the blackouts," explains
London Eye tour guide Stephen Choi. "They would see the reflections
of the moon in the river, and they would see the huge dome of St.
Paul's, and then they would start bombing."
Those reflections no doubt aided Peter and the children on their
own night flight.
FIFTH STOP: THE TOWER BRIDGE Designed by
Sir Horace Jones, who was inspired by bascule bridges of Holland,
the Tower Bridge opened in 1894. The bridge was erected out of
stone granite to match the nearby Tower of London; it is located
near London Bridge.
According to Tower Bridge tour guide Geoff Wooltorton, the bridge
is lifted 900 to 1,000 times per year and has been stuck only once.
He adds that an Act of Parliament decreed that river traffic has
the right of way regardless of who needs to cross. In 1996, before
there were planned lift alerts, President Clinton's car was
separated from his motorcade when the bridge opened
By flying, Peter and his friends just breezed through.
LAST STOP BEFORE NEVERLAND: THE SECOND STAR ON THE
RIGHT You're on your own here. If you find it, let me
Did you know…
The character of Peter Pan first appeared in 1902 in J.M. Barrie's
novel The Little White Bird, "about a
wealthy bachelor's attachment to a boy [named] David," says
Glinert. The narrator would walk the boy through Kensington Gardens
at night, when Peter could be found.
Peter Pan was first produced as a play in 1904 at the Duke of
York's Theatre in London.
The original stage production was called Peter
Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up. The part of
The Little White Bird featuring Peter Pan
was republished under the name Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens in 1906, while Peter Pan and Wendy, a book adaptation of the play,
came out in 1911.
Disney's animated Peter Pan was released in
1953. It was originally intended to be the second animated Disney
movie, after Snow White and the Seven
Dwarfs in 1937.
Prior to Peter Pan, "Wendy" was not a real
name. In fact, it was Barrie's nickname; it later became popular
The new platinum edition of Disney's Peter
Pan ($30) features enhanced picture and sound quality and a
plethora of bonus material, from documentaries on the making of the
movie, the version that could have been, and why Walt Disney made
the movie to deleted songs, games for kids, and a virtual flight
through London and Neverland. Grab it while it's available during
an inevitably limited run.