Posted by: Bystander PJ6 MAY 2010
James Matthew Barrie, author of ‘Peter Pan’, was born in Scotland 150 years ago on 9 May 1860. There has been speculation about how much the author, like his creation, was a little boy who never grew up.
Barrie was the second youngest child in a large family. When he was six, an older brother was killed in a skating accident. His mother was devastated by the loss of her favourite son and for some time severely neglected the younger boy. The suggestion has been made (though with little in the way of hard evidence) that the stress of the event triggered a growth disorder in the young Barrie.
Extreme emotional deprivation or stress in children can sometimes result in a condition known as psychosocial short stature (PSS). Children with PSS have extremely low levels of growth hormone and generally show signs of failure to thrive, although regular growth normally resumes when the stress level eases.
Whether or not PSS was the cause, Barrie certainly remained on the shortish side, reaching a height of only 5ft 3.5in (1.61m), according to a passport application in 1934. The suggestion has also been made that Barrie, like Peter Pan, remained physically immature. The dubious evidence for this claim is that he had no children of his own, allegedly because his marriage was never consummated.
Whatever problems Barrie may have suffered in his own childhood development, he certainly maintained a strong interest in children’s health and in 1929 he assigned the copyright of his Peter Pan works — the 1904 stage play ‘Peter Pan’ and the 1911 novel ‘Peter and Wendy’ — to Great Ormond Street Hospital.
The current status of the copyright varies. In most countries the works are now in the public domain, but in the UK an Act passed in 1988 gives the hospital a perpetual right to royalties for any performance, publication or adaptation of the play.
The hospital must have benefited significantly from the royalty income on such a popular play. But we will never know exactly how much it has received because, when assigning copyright to the hospital, Barrie asked that the value of the gift should never be disclosed.