The Little White Bird


Peter Pan appeared for the first time in Barrie's charming novel "The Little White Bird" from 1902. The novel consists of several intertwined stories and the main theme of the novel is the conflict between shadow and substance, between fantasy and reality.


The frame story of the novel is about the middle-aged Captain W. who becomes the benefactor of a young, loving couple. He follows their love affair from the window in his club and he succeeds – unbeknown to the couple – to solve a conflict between them. They get married and have a son David, who comes to look upon the captain as a sort of father. Captain W. tells David stories that usually take place in Kensington Gardens. Here we get the first glimpse of Captain Hook in the shape of schoolmaster Pilkington and we also hear about Peter Pan for the very first time.


The story of Peter Pan is both beautiful and tragic. He runs away from home when he is only seven days old and comes to live in Kensington Gardens in London. Here he befriends the birds and the fairies and he also gets a human friend, the girl Mamie who is a wild and strange forerunner for Wendy. Although Peter loves Mamie dearly and even marries her, he misses his mother, but when he returns to his home, his mother has replaced him with a new little boy and barred the windows, so that Peter cannot come back inside again. Since then Peter has lived alone in Kensington Gardens, where he helps children who has stayed after the gates have closed. If they are still alive, he leads them to a little fairy house, but if they are dead, he buries them. Unfortunately Peter has a problem distinguishing between life and death, though…


“The Little White Bird” is a novel for grown-ups and as such, the story of Peter Pan was not originally intended for children, which is quite obvious as it is both very ironic and very harsh. The novel as a whole has an odd, captivating charm that has often been described as whimsical, but the critics who love to blame Barrie for being sugary and sentimental, must have overlooked his irony completely.

3 out of 5 stars: ***


© Lise Lyng Falkenberg, 1990