British Studies Web Pages
Myths, Legends, Fantasy...
An Internet Lesson (for upper-intermediate level)
In December, 2003 Peter Pan was 99 years old! The play was first produced at the Duke of York’s Theatre, London on 27 December 1904 and it has been a jolly Christmas pantomime for many generations of children. But for others it is much more than this. Who was J. M. Barrie, and what inspired him to write his tale of the boy who wouldn’t grow up?
This set of activities was based on ‘The Christmas Read’” published in THE WEEK on 27 December 2003. They also incorporate an Internet search so that your students can easily read up-to-date information which means they can see some visual material because Peter Pan’s story has been filmed many times. A new $100m film version will hit the cinemas very soon.
Divide your students into three groups: biographers, theatre directors and film script writers.
Each group is then given a worksheet comprising a short introduction, list of links and a set of tasks. Students can work independently or in groups, depending on your classroom access to the Internet. However, they will be asked to report back on their self-guided activities in groups.
Biographers’ Work Sheet
Introduction: who was James Matthew Barrie?
He was born as the ninth child in Scotland to a Kirriemuir weaver. He experienced the pain of loss very early at the age of six when his 12-year-old brother (and his mother’s favourite) died; James resolved to make up to her for her loss. He went to Edinburgh University, later joined the Nottingham Journal and began writing sketches of Scottish life. He had a hit with his novel The Little Minister in 1891 and began writing for the stage with his wife Mary Ansell had been an actress in his debut farce, The Lifeboat. At the turn of the century, his whimsical plays Quality Street and The Admirable Crichton were huge hits. For a while he was spoken of as a ‘minor-league’ Bernard Shaw.
Everything changed in 1897. That year, when he was 37, he saw a vision in Kensington Gardens and fell in love. It was three children playing together: George, Jack and a baby, Peter Llewellyn Davies, they were the children of Arthur Llewellyn Davies, a barrister, and his wife Sylvia. Barrie was entranced by George, then five years old, and struck up a friendship. He took to telling George and Jack (then four) stories about what their pram-bound baby brother, when they thought he was asleep - how he’d fly to Kensington Gardens and pick up the dead babies that had fallen from their prams unnoticed by their nannies.
Now visit the J. M. Barrie Society's site at: http://www.jmbarrie.net/
1. Look at the ‘Photo’ section of the website and find a cottage in Kirriemuir where J. M. Barrie was born. What was his childhood like? What kind of games did children play in those days? What sort of toys might they have?
2. Look at the photo section of the website and describe how Peter Pan was presented on different book covers. Have his looks changed over the years?
3. Find the ‘Articles’ section and read an obituary of J. M. Barrie from a London paper of the day. What are the captions under the three photos that are there? How was J. M. Barrie remembered by his contemporaries? Why is ‘Peter Pan’ described as an ‘annual institution’? Obituaries are regular features of many ‘quality’ papers in Britain. Is it the same in the Polish Press?
4. Enter ‘the Quotes’ section and find the quotation from ‘Peter Pan’ on the past. Why does J. M. Barrie compare the past to a ‘crammed drawer’? Are our childhood memories always pleasant?
5. Now present your Internet findings to the whole group in the form of a poster. Have you found any other Internet links on J. M. Barrie? Do you know any other famous Scottish writers who wrote books for young readers?
Theatre Directors’ Worksheet
Introduction: how did J. M. Barrie develop Peter Pan’s character?
Peter Pan’s character appeared for the first time in J. M. Barrie’s book The Little White Bird in 1902. There he was a boy who could fly and who takes dead children to their own heaven. Barrie developed Peter Pan’s character through successive stories the writer told to the children. In 1914 Barrie gave a rare interview about George Llewellyn Davies: “It’s funny that the real Peter Pan - I call him that - is off to the war”, he said. “He grew tired of the stories I told him, but his younger brother became interested. It was such fun telling those two about themselves. I would say, ‘Then you came along and killed the pirate’, and they would accept every word as the truth. That’s how Peter Pan came to be written. It’s made up only of a few stories I told them”.
Andrew Birkin, the author of J. M. Barrie and the Lost Boys has examined 500 notes that Barrie wrote for the different drafts for Peter Pan. “Originally Peter was a baby”, he says, “but after Barrie and the boys spent a summer in Black Lake, playing the castaways on a pirate lagoon, he got the idea of making Peter older. And he was the villain of the play. There was no Captain Hook in the early versions. Wendy was the heroine and Peter the villain, the boy who chose not to grow up. But Barrie needed something to keep the audience happy while the scenery was changing, so he wrote a front-of-cloth scene borrowing a few ideas from pirate games, and all the stuff about Captain Hook came up. He never went back and re-wrote it - it just became incorporated in the play”.
Now visit: http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/jmbarrie.htm
1. Read the summary of Peter Pan’s story presented on this website and make a list of characters that appear there. What casting problems may a theatre director have with staging the play in the modern theatre? In past theatre productions the character of Peter Pan was usually played by a young actress? Would the modern audience put up with this?
2. ‘Peter Pan’ for many children has been an annual Christmas pantomime (not a silent mime but a very special theatrical event). Visit this site to learn about pantomime conventions: http://www.its-behind-you.com/ Do you think such a Christmas pantomime would be a success in Poland?
3. How would you solve the problems of changing the scenery? How would you create some interesting theatrical effects that would appeal to a contemporary audience?
4. What other fantasy plays did Barrie write? Could they become theatre hits if put on stage?
5. Now present your internet findings to the whole group in the form of a poster. Have you found any other internet links on films based on Peter Pan’s story?
Film Script Writers’ Worksheet
Introduction: what is Peter Pan’s story about?
It is the story of the three children of Mr & Mrs Darling, Wendy, John and Michael, the nurse Nana (who is a Newfoundland dog) and the motherless Peter Pan who, with the fairy Tinker Bell, takes the children off to Never-Never Land. Here they encounter Redskins and pirates including the notable Captain Hook and the agreeable Smee. (Source: The Oxford Companion to English Literature)
Now visit: http://www.peterpanmovie.net/
Visit the Gallery and decide which of the film characters you like best and why?
6. Now present your internet findings to the whole group in the form of a poster. Have you found any other internet links on films based on Peter Pan’s story?
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