Monday, May 11, 2020

. . . And Audio of the Real Lost Boys

. . . or at least one of them.

I'll back up and explain. The "real lost boys"--the brothers who inspired the creation of Peter Pan--were the George, Jack, Peter, Michael, and Nicholas Llewelyn Davies.

(If you've seen Finding Neverland, that's--sort of--them, except it's a Disney-fied version of half the story; if you want a more accurate idea of the real story, read my blog entry here; you can also read about my research trip to Yale in New Haven, Connecticut here.)

I have written a novel about the Davies family, which I plan to start shopping around to agents in the near future (that ought to be a joy). In the meantime, I remain slightly obsessed with the true story of these five brothers, and the other day I logged onto This is an amazing site. It's administered by Andrew Birkin, the longtime expert on J.M Barrie and the Davies family and the custodian of a large amount of primary material. He wrote the best available book on the topic, J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys--buy it here; I highly recommend it. He also wrote and directed Lost Boys, a wonderful (and wonderfully accurate) BBC miniseries on the story from the '70s (it is available used on DVD). The point is, I owe a massive debt to his work.

Among the material Birkin collected is a series of audio interviews conducted in the '70s with those involved in the story who were still alive. He interviewed Nico, the youngest and last surviving of the five brothers, and Jack's widow, Gerrie. He spoke to the sister of George's fiancee and to Robert Boothby, a friend of Michael's at Eton and Oxford. He also spoke to Daphne du Maurier, who happens to have been the brothers' first cousin. The audio files also include recording of speeches by Barrie (not great quality).

(There is also a trove of photographs and letters and other written materials and ephemera that are well worth diving into.)

Some of the info and stories to be found in these audio files are absolutely fabulous. I suppose it helps to know the characters behind the stories, but I was just filled with glee as I listened to a few of these clips that I hadn't listened to before. A few struck me in particular:

1. In this file, Nico talks about being the only one of his brothers with any musical talent at all. I love the story of him and Michael being bought a gramophone by Barrie and given 10 quid to buy music. Nico buys some jazz (this song, actually), and Michael, at about 19 years old, buy Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade. I love "Scheherazade", though Nico apparently thought it was tripe!

2. This one struck was intriguing because I've though a lot about what led Peter, later in his life, to commit suicide. It will never be entirely clear, of course, exactly what led him to do it, but in my mind the trauma of war lingered on, even decades later. It wasn't the only cause (he was in bad health, as was his wife, and they had financial troubles), but I think a major factor. Here, his sister-in-law, Gerrie (Jack's wife) talks about his mental state following the Great War:

3. In this one, George's fiancee's sister, Norma, says he had a lot to be conceited about, though he wasn't at all conceited. Interestingly, she says that Barrie said he thought George would've been a very sad man had he lived. Norma disagrees, but I don't entirely disagree. I think he had a lot of weight on his shoulders after the death of his parents, and he probably would've borne it well enough but been been rather sad underneath. It must be said that Barrie was an incredibly astute man, so maybe he was right. We'll never know, I'm afraid.

4. And a little more from Norma about dear George and how he courted Josephine, the fiancee he left behind when he went off to war:

5. I rather think Norma was smitten with the Llewelyn Davies brothers--the older ones at least, who were closer to her own age. Here she says they had an easy charm that they didn't need to turn on and off; it was simply there:

6. This one I liked very much because Nico talks about how much he enjoyed working alongside Peter in the publishing industry, which just makes me very happy. The sense that Nico made Peter happier, and that Nico enjoyed Peter's company warms the cockles of my cold, dead heart. Also, like Nico I have a love-hate relationship with the publishing industry, so I can totally relate, even if I'm on the author's side of the equation rather than the publisher side.


  1. This is awesome. I watched Finding Neverland in theaters at age 10. My friend planned a birthday party at the cinema and I admitted to being a bit surprised that she didn't take everyone to see The Incredibles, but since this movie was rated PG, she chose the film. I remember reading the wikipedia page several years later and being blown away and not just about how much the film changed or left out. What really stunned me was how the Miramax film was incredibly depressing to begin with and then you read what really happened and that incredibly sad film seems like a day at Disneyland compared to the real life story.

  2. Yeah, it tells approximately half or one-third of the story, and what it does tell it sanitizes (for instance, Arthur--the boys' father--was very much alive when Barrie met Sylvia). To be fair, though, the medium did require them to focus on one part of the story, and that required a lot of condensing and simplifying to make it coherent.

    The remedy, of course, is to write a novel (like I did!) or make a miniseries (like Andrew Birkin did).