How it all Began
Wendy and John’s five-year-old brother can occasionally be forgotten about. But he—-like Peter, George, and John—-was named for a real person.
Barrie met George and Jack (‘John’) Llewelyn-Davies in Kensington Gardens when he was walking his dog. He later became acquainted with their baby brother Peter, and finally Michael (once he was born).
He became a close, personal friend to the entire family, to the point where they called him Uncle James. Barrie would amuse the boys by telling them stories—-stories which would eventually become Peter Pan.
What not many people know is that the story BEHIND Peter Pan is actually quite tragic. [Definitely don’t go fact-hunting in the movie Finding Neverland, because they stayed about as close to the truth as Argentina is to Alaska]. The most obvious differences being:
- Peter was a baby when the story was written, and
- Peter hated Barrie, blaming him for disrupting his family, allegedly coming between his mother and father, and urging the boys to remain stuck in childhood fantasy.
Who was Michael? [Part I]
Although Peter clearly never warmed to Barrie, Michael certainly did, and he and Barrie wrote each other daily while Michael was off at school.
Unfortunately, like most of the Llewelyn-Davies boys, Michael died much earlier than he should have.
There is so much that can be said about Michael, but most relevant to this story is the way he died. Michael Llewelyn-Davies drowned with his close friend and alleged lover, Rupert Buxton, when he was only 20. Whether their deaths were accidental or intentional was heavily debated.
“I’ve always had something of a hunch that Michael’s death was suicide. He was in a way the ‘type’—exceptionally clever, subject to long fits of depression. I’m apt to think—stressing think—that he was going through something of a homosexual phase and maybe let this get a bigger hold on his thinking than it need: I have no knowledge of Rupert’s leanings in this direction, but I would guess they preferred each other’s company to anyone else’s.”
-Nicholas (Nico) Llewelyn-Davis, Michael’s younger brother
But no one took the blow harder than Barrie himself:
Excerpt from Barrie’s journal, roughly a year after Michael’s death:
Michael. On 7th Nov 1922 I dreamt that he came back to me, not knowing that he was drowned and that I kept this knowledge from him, and we went on for another year in old way till the fatal 19th approached again & he became very sad not knowing why, and I feared what was to happen but never let on—and as day drew nearer he understood more & thought I didn’t—and gradually each knew the other knew but still we didn’t speak of it—and when the day came I had devised schemes to make it impossible for him to leave me yet doubted they could help—and he rose in the night and put on the old clothes and came to look at me as he thought asleep. I tried to prevent him going but he had to go and I knew it and he said he thought it would be harder if I didn’t let him go alone, but I went with him, holding his hand and he liked it and when we came to the place—that pool—he said goodbye to me and went into it and sank just as before. At this point I think I woke but feeling that he had walked cheerily into my room as if another year had again begun for us.
In his tragic death, Michael became his own version of Peter Pan:
“When [Barrie] delivered his address to the students of St. Andrews University in 1922, he read them the sonnet Michael had written during his last summer on Eilean Shona. Barrie did not mention Michael by name. He spoke of him simply as ‘the lad that will never be old’.”
– JM Barrie and the Lost Boys by Andrew Birdkin
Who is Michael? [Part II]
Was it an accident or suicide?
“The two bodies were not recovered until Friday afternoon, and an inquest was held at Oxford the following day. It was established that the pool, or weir, was a known danger spot: a large memorial overlooked it, commemorating two students who had been drowned there in 1843. The men who had witnessed Michael’s death testified that the pool was ‘as still as a mill-pond’ at the time of the tragedy. ‘I heard a shout’, stated one. ‘I looked in the direction and saw two men bathing in the pool in difficulties…Their heads were close together: they were sort of standing in the water and not struggling.’ ‘Did you form the impression that they were clasped?’ ‘Yes, that was my impression.’ Since it was known that Michael could not swim, the jury returned a verdict of accidental drowning and ‘expressed the opinion that Mr Buxton lost his life in his endeavour to save his friend.’”
-JM Barrie & the Lost Boys by Andrew Birdkin
So, Rupert died in an effort to save his friend.
Or he died trying to save his lover (and friend).
Or he died in a suicide pact with his lover (and friend).
You can take your pick from the above choices or make up your own, because it’s all fucking tragic.
Being Gay is a Phase [aka Who is Michael? Part III]
So who was Michael? According to every account I’ve come across, he was pretty fucking amazing. His friends (and brother Nico) also don’t seem to be denying that Michael had romantic relationships with other men.
“Michael was the most remarkable person I ever met, and the only one of my generation to be touched by genius. He was very sensitive and emotional, but he concealed both to a large extent. He had a profound effect on virtually everyone who came into contact with him—particularly Roger Senhouse, who was also a great friend of mine. I don’t think Michael had any girl-friends, but our friendship wasn’t homosexual; I believe it was—fleetingly—between him and Senhouse, yet I think Michael would have come out of it.”
-Robert Boothby, Michael’s close friend
Michael Llewelyn-Davies and Rupert Buxton: