R. M. Ballantyne and J. M. Barrie
August 03, 2011 | Permalink
J. M. Barrie
J. M. Barrie wrote dozens of books and plays, but he's best known for his creation of Peter Pan, the boy who would never grow up. There is some controversy about Barrie and his works, but I'm not an expert on either, as I've only recently become interested in the Scotsman. I'm not necessarily recommending Barrie's books, but there's no question that he has had an influence on modern culture.
The character of Peter Pan, through literature, dramatizations, movies, and even videogames, has produced hundreds of millions of dollars and has been internalized by tens of thousands of people. Disney, in 1953, and Steven Spielberg, in 1991, found the cocky little fellow and his peculiar friends very successful in convincing movie-goers to part with their sweat-earned cash. Picture books, costumes, room decorations - an entire franchise has been built around Peter, Wendy, Captain Hook, and the Lost Boys. Who was it that aided to inspire these? R. M. Ballantyne.
Ballantyne's Influence on Barrie
The Coral Island did not contain boys in tights, obnoxious fairies, or ticking crocodiles, but it did take place on an island. In his preface to a 1913 edition of The Coral Island, J. M. Barrie wrote: "To be born is to be wrecked on an island." The creator of Never Never Land seemed to like islands; "Many writers of romances have had romantic notions, but you can't do better than wreck your hero on an island. To this day I could not pass a book by in which there was a desert island."
I've written before about The Coral Island's influence on Stevenson's Treasure Island and Golding's dark Lord of the Flies, but there is no doubt that it also inspired Barrie and the fantasy of Peter Pan. Barrie placed the adventure of Ralph, Peterkin, and Jack, above even that in The Swiss Family Robinson, declaring that it was his favorite book as a boy.
Barrie claimed inspiration from some very familiar authors: Robert Louis Stevenson, James Fenimore Cooper, Charles Dickens, and W. H. G. Kingston, to name a few, but of these Ballantyne ranks near the summit. He once wrote, in an article about boys' books, that "I used to think that [Ascott] Hope (or else Ballantyne or Marryat) ought to be made King of England." Considering England's list of unsavory kings, I don't think he was far wrong.
So there you have it, without R. M. Ballantyne, there quite possibly might be no Peter Pan. Would that have been a bad thing? Perhaps not, but since the little fellow was created, we can further trace RMB's influence on the world of boys' books. And remember, the boy is father of the man. We must all grow up some day.
Tueri a Vulnere,
1. Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie, Anne Hiebert Alton, pg. 380
2. Two of Them by J. M. Barrie, pg. 199
3. Encyclopedia of British Writers by Christine L. Krueger, et. al. pg. 17
4. Chamber's Journal, Vol. 75, by William and Robert Chambers, pg. 718
5. Reading Boyishly, by Roland Barthes et. al. pg. 178
6. Two of Them by J. M. Barrie, pg. 197