Just how bad was Peter Pan author and playwright J.M. Barrie?
Barrie may have been portrayed by Johnny Depp in 2004’s Finding Neverland as a kind, caring soul who befriended a family in need, but Barrie’s real life story seems much, much darker. According to some accounts, Barrie left a trail of death and destruction in his wake — and he might have actually preyed on young children. Once you learn the following dark secrets about the real Peter Pan author, you might understand why people would believe this.
Here are seven reasons many question Barrie’s decency.
1. Barrie stole his own “lost boys”
According to Piers Dudgeon, the author of Captivated: J.M. Barrie, the Du Mauriers and the Dark Side of Neverland, Barrie manipulated his way into the lives of Sylvia and Arthur Llewelyn Davies, the parents of three boys, George, Jack and baby Peter. Barrie apparently lavished gifts on the family and spent hours with the boys, having adventures in the park and making up stories.
When Arthur and Sylvia both died of cancer within three years of each other, Barrie assumed guardianship of the boys. In case any blood relatives protested, he had Sylvia’s will forged, giving him custody. Strangely, the family never objected to a non-relative raising the children.
Years later, Peter said this about Barrie taking custody of him and his brothers, “The whole business, as I look back on it, was almost unbelievably queer and pathetic and ludicrous and even macabre in a kind of way.”
2. Barrie’s unusually close relationship with Michael and George
Barrie enjoyed taking photographs of the boys, with them sometimes in homemade costumes and often wearing no clothes at all. Today, that would seem highly suspicious, but Barrie presented an innocent front to the adults around him, despite writing about the joy of undressing and sleeping next to a young boy. Barrie’s book The Little White Bird, published in 1902, was a thinly veiled account of his relationship with George. While the book was incredibly popular when it was published, the following passage just feels obsessive.
“I lay thinking of this little boy, who, in the midst of his play while I undressed him, had suddenly buried his head on my knees… Of David’s dripping little form in the bath, and how I essayed to catch him as he slipped from my arms like a trout. Of how I had stood at the open door listening to his sweet breathing, had stood so long I forgot his name.”
3. Letter with creepy candle reference
In June 1908, Barrie wrote this note to Michael for his eighth birthday: “I wish I could be with you and your candles. You can look on me as one of your candles, the one that burns badly — the greasy one that is bent in the middle. But still, hurray, I am Michael’s candle. Dear Michael, I am very fond of you, but don’t tell anybody.”
The lines “the greasy one that is bent in the middle” and “don’t tell anybody” give us chills.
4. Barrie was not good with the ladies
Dudgeon suggested that Barrie was impotent and most likely never consummated his marriage to actress Mary Ansell, who wrote about her husband, “Love in its fullest sense could never be felt by him or experienced.” She eventually had an affair with one of Barrie’s friends, which led to their divorce.
5. George died on the battlefield
Both George and Peter volunteered to serve in World War I. Some historians think this was a way for the young men to get away from Barrie. Sadly, George died in Belgium from a gunshot to the head. He was only 21.
6. Michael’s possible suicide pact with his gay lover
When he was also just 21 years old, Michael drowned along with another young man known to be his lover in what many biographers think was a suicide pact. The drowning occurred in a section of the Thames River called Sandford Lock that was notorious for its dangerous currents.
7. Peter’s suicide
In 1960, at the age of 63, Peter threw himself under a train. This was after he destroyed almost all the letters from Barrie to the Davies boys, saying they were simply “too much.”
A version of this article was originally published in November 2014.