The Little White Bird
(1902), a fantasy novel by J.M. Barrie, tells the story of the first sighting of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, London, and what he’s doing there. The book introduces readers to the general myths surrounding Peter Pan. It was published in the U.S. by Scribner’s, who released it in its monthly magazine, Scribner’s Magazine
. Barrie is best known for creating Peter Pan
; he later adopted the children who inspired him to write the story. He gave Great Ormond Street Hospital the rights to Peter Pan
before he died.The Little White Bird
has autobiographical undertones. Barrie met the Llewelyn Davies boys in Kensington Gardens. In the book, a bachelor, the protagonist, befriends a boy called David and they have adventures together around London and Kensington Gardens. The man’s main concern is that one day, the boy will grow up and leave him alone. This feeling inspired Barrie to write about a boy who doesn’t grow up.
The book begins with the narrator talking about how much he wishes he were David’s father, and how he pretends to be his dad in random situations, such as in a shop or café. He finds it amusing that David worries over how old his mother, Mary, is—twenty-six—and how she’s not young anymore. He decides to show David a different time, when everyone, including Mary, was younger.
He finds it amusing that Mary is so attracted to a young man whom the narrator finds dull and boring. Her happiness comes from feeling attractive to the opposite sex, which also troubles him, but he wants her to be happy. David is curious about how he fits into all this, and the narrator explains the facts of life by saying children start out as birds in Kensington Gardens before losing their wings and turning into human children. He also explains that he is the one who gave the couple the initial excuse to run into each other, so he’s their matchmaker.
The narrator muses that women like Mary only love what their husbands can provide them with; as soon as she has children, she’ll love them more than her husband. However, he soon discovers that Mary and her husband are struggling for money, and she’s secretly selling her jewelry and fine things at the pawnshop to pay for David’s upbringing. He can’t help but feel sorry for her now. He seems to feel a moral responsibility for her because his fascination with her leads him to watch her struggle although he can’t do anything about it.
He’s also upset because David is a part of this world, and he believes it’s not good for him. He wants to raise David himself, although he knows he can’t. One day, Mary works out that he’s the mysterious Mr. Anon who sends gifts and clothes for David; she thanks him for his kindness. He’s mortified to be found out, especially since he’s struck up a friendship with Mary’s husband and he doesn’t want them to think their friendship is unequal.
However, David loves all the things, and he’s very fond of the man, so he knows he can’t let his pride ruin these relationships. The narrator is a very lonely man who doesn’t know where he’d turn without these people in his life. He believes that no one loves him once they get to know him, so giving David all these presents is an outlet for all the love he wants to give the family he never had.
Eventually, the narrator describes Kensington Gardens in more detail and the role they play in the growth of Peter Pan. David escapes from his home as a week-old baby by flying out the window and living in the park. He’s bored with human trappings and wants to return to nature. Although he has no wings, he can fly because he believes in himself.
However, in the park, David meets fairies and an old wise man called Solomon, who tell him he’s not a bird but not exactly a human now, either. He loses his faith and doesn’t know how to fly back home. He ends up staying in a corner of the park, but he can’t get to one part of it, because the only way to get there is to fly. This becomes his own purgatory, but he sees it as a place where he can be free to be himself without adults telling him what to do.
He makes friends with the birds and the other animals, and he’s happy. However, one day, he tries to go back to his human home and sees there are bars on the window. His mother, Mary, has another child now. The house is barred to him; he’s a lost boy. David begins to calls the narrator a father, and they become a family.