Monday, March 8, 2010

Fragments of Fairytales (an occasional feature)

I came upon these delightful illustrations by Arthur Rackham for J.M. Barrie's book Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. I hope you enjoy them. Many thanks to the author of the site Art Passions for the collection of illustrations and to for the free ebook version of the novel, from which I borrowed the excerpts. It's a short story and if you tend toward the fanciful, as I do, you will enjoy it, also!

As you will see, Barrie and Rackham's Peter is a far cry from the animated Disney character.

The story takes place in Kensington Gardens, a famous park in London, mostly after "Lock-Out Time", described by Barrie as the time at the end of the day when the park gates are closed to the public. After this time the fairies, and other magical inhabitants of the park, can move about more freely than during the daylight, when they must hide from ordinary people.

In Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, J.M. Barrie first created Peter Pan as a baby, living a wild and secret life with birds and fairies in the middle of London. Later Barrie let this remarkable child grow a little older and he became the boy-hero of Neverland, making his first appearance, with Wendy, Captain Hook, and the Lost Boys, in Peter and Wendy. The Peter Pan stories were Barrie's only works for children but, as their persistent popularity shows, their themes of imaginative escape continue to charm even those who long ago left Neverland.

Well, Peter Pan got out by the window, which had no bars. Standing on
the ledge he could see trees far away, which were doubtless the
Kensington Gardens, and the moment he saw them he entirely forgot that
he was now a little boy in a nightgown, and away he flew, right over
the houses to the Gardens. It is wonderful that he could fly without
wings, but the place itched tremendously, and, perhaps we could all
fly if we were as dead-confident-sure of our capacity to do it as was
bold Peter Pan that evening.

Because the fairies are afraid of him, Peter, still believing he can fly, does so to the little island across  Serpenstine Lake to consult with Solomon Caw,who tells him:

Then I shan't be exactly a human?" Peter asked. 
"Nor exactly a bird?"
"What shall I be?"
"You will be a Betwixt-and-Between," Solomon said, and certainly he
was a wise old fellow, for that is exactly how it turned out.

Once he learns that he really can no longer fly, Peter, with the help of the birds, fashions a boat on which to get back across the Serpentine Lake and back to Kensington Gardens, which he so dearly misses.

It is frightfully difficult to know much about the fairies, and almost
the only thing known for certain is that there are fairies wherever
there are children. Long ago children were forbidden the Gardens, and
at that time there was not a fairy in the place; then the children
were admitted, and the fairies came trooping in that very evening.
They can't resist following the children, but you seldom see them,
partly because they live in the daytime behind the railings, where you
are not allowed to go, and also partly because they are so cunning.
They are not a bit cunning after Lock-out, but until Lock-out, my

The fairies are exquisite dancers, and that is why one of the first
things the baby does is to sign to you to dance to him and then to cry
when you do it. They hold their great balls in the open air, in what
is called a fairy-ring. For weeks afterward you can see the ring on
the grass. It is not there when they begin, but they make it by
waltzing round and round. Sometimes you will find mushrooms inside
the ring, and these are fairy chairs that the servants have forgotten
to clear away. The chairs and the rings are the only tell-tale marks
these little people leave behind them, and they would remove even
these were they not so fond of dancing that they toe it till the very
moment of the opening of the gates. David and I once found a
fairy-ring quite warm.

 The Fairies would hide until dusk

The fairies, no longer afraid of Peter, dance to the music of his pipes...

and later, teach him to fly again, so that he may go back home to be with his mother.

The way they
gave him power to fly was this: They all tickled him on the shoulder,
and soon he felt a funny itching in that part and then up he rose
higher and higher and flew away out of the Gardens and over the

There is a statue of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. The statue was erected in secret during the night and 'magically' appeared on 1st May 1912.
There was no publicity before the statue's arrival and on the day, Barrie placed this announcement in The Times:
"There is a surprise in store for the children who go to Kensington Gardens to feed the ducks in the Serpentine this morning. Down by the little bay on the south-western side of the tail of the Serpentine they will find a May-day gift by Mr J.M. Barrie, a figure of Peter Pan blowing his pipe on the stump of a tree, with fairies and mice and squirrels all around. It is the work of Sir George Frampton, and the bronze figure of the boy who would never grow up is delightfully conceived."


  1. Rackham's illustrations are beautiful. I pleased the not-wife a few years back by getting her a few prints of his work as a Christmas pressie

  2. Though somber in color, the illustrations are absolutely fabulous!! You find the best stuff!

  3. This is so delightful!
    My best friend and I found a fairy ring, when we were about 9 or 10.
    The illustrations are so lovely. Especially the kite,and the nest/boat.

    Disney has a lot to answer for. they have distracted at least 2 generations, who will never know the true originals.

  4. Jams: great gift! :-)

    Kenju: aren't the illustrations dear? I fell in love with this story, in part because of Rackham. :-)

    Bobbie: great point about Disney! I'm glad you enjoyed this post!

  5. This is all delightful, and I didn't know any of it before reading your post. Thanks SO much.

  6. It's impossible to paint images like these anymore as I well know from spending about 25 years trying to emulate the style of the 19th century watercolorists. Rackham's choice of a baby as Peter always seemed strange to me even though the paintings are incredibly lovely. Most of all I admire his trees and the delicate ink work.

    You've discovered the first crow I fell in love with :-)

  7. The illustrations are delightful and I LOVE the statue of Peter Pan!

  8. Susan: I can certainly see why you fell in love with Simon the Caw - I have also!

    I know only a little about Barrie's life but one can tell from reading this little ditty, as I did online for this post, that he sort of spun these tales as he told them to a child. I like it that he chose a baby because then he gets to explain how as we grow, we forget how to fly - that it's taken away from us by people who tell us we can't and it starts at an early, early age! I'm kind of gullible like that! ;-)

    Steve: great!

    Stine: I spent only a little time near Kensington Gardens when I was in London and I don't recall this statue - perhaps if I saw it, it didn't mean anything to me at the time. No. I think I would have taken note!

    Thanks all for stopping by!

  9. Stunning...utterly stunning. I adore this.

  10. SB: I put a lot of time and love into this post. So nice of you to say you loved it!

  11. What wonderful illustrations you show here, and together with the story - makes a fantastic post.
    Most enjoyable.

  12. Thank you so much for these. Barrie, who is unquestionably the voice of a far distant time and place, has long fascinated me, and these give substance to that fascination.

  13. Never seen this before, with the Arthur Rackham illustrations. Thank you! So different from our usual visualisations of the Peter Pan story.

  14. imac - thank you & a little curtsy. :-)

    This is a post that was doubly inspired by the author and illustrator!

    Alcibiades: yes, a time when children could still be enchanted. I think I will want to read these aloud to my grandchildren - I only hope they will have the attention span for it. Entertainment for children has shifted largely to the screen.

    Thanks for stopping by!

    Christopher - Thank you for the comment. Welcome!

  15. Thanks for the explanation. That makes a lot of sense.

    My husband wrote stories for our son and his best friend when they were very young that were always tailored to them.


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