Original Manuscript of “Peter Pan” Offers a Darker Narrative

A new edition of an old manuscript revisits literary history

"Peter Pan" edition
A new edition collects the original manuscript of "Peter Pan."
SP Books

The story of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan is one that’s been adapted for stage and screen numerous times. In the last fifteen years, we’ve seen everything from a feature film based on its creation (2004’s Finding Neverland, which has been turned into a stage musical) to controversial gritty reboots (2015’s Pan) to a live production for television which starred Allison Williams and Christopher Walken and left many viewers bewildered. More recently, playwright Lauren Gunderson has also made a foray into reinterpreting Barrie’s classic for a contemporary audience.

But what if the original vision of Peter Pan turned out to be something other that what we’ve all believed? That’s the implication of a new article at The Guardian written in the aftermath of the discovery of Barrie’s original manuscript of the work. In the article, Donna Ferguson explores the manuscript’s evolution from its original version, titled Peter Pan and Wendy

“The new edition demonstrates how Barrie toned down Peter Pan’s character to suit audiences in 1911, after having second thoughts about how negatively Peter should be portrayed,” Ferguson writes. 

Publisher SP Books released a limited edition of the original 1911 manuscript, accompanied by illustrations from Gwynedd Hudson. Editor Jessica Nelson told The Guardian that this edition’s version of the title character had a different personality from the more overtly heroic figure familiar to many.

“Barrie was not afraid of going to some dark places. He was also trying to show that children can be fierce,” Nelson said in the interview. 

The original version of Barrie’s original manuscript is housed in the collection of the New York Public Library. And this new edition of Barrie’s work offers a glimpse into his creative process — and offers those with an interest in how stories evolve over time a classic example of how revision can play out for a particularly well-known narrative.

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