Author Tribute of the Month: Sir James Matthew Barrie

barrie1“May God blast anyone who writes a biography of me,” declared J.M. Barrie, in a curse sprawled across the pages of one his last notebooks. Hopefully, no curses will ensue as I write about the man who seemed to harbor child-like tendencies and be fascinated with the concept of never growing up.

J.M. Barrie was born in Kirriemuir, Scotland on May 9, 1860, and is most known for writing the famous story of “Peter Pan” or “The Boy Who Would Never Grow Up.” Barrie was born to a conservative Calvinist family. His father, David Barrie, was a modestly successful weaver, and his mother Margaret, had assumed her deceased mother’s household responsibilities at the age of eight. When Barrie was six years old his older brother David died two days before his 14th birthday in an ice-skating accident. This left his mother completely devastated because David was supposedly her favorite child. Interestingly, Barrie often wore his older brother’s clothing and mimicked his mannerisms in order to appease his mother. Barrie’s mother found comfort in the fact her deceased son would remain a boy forever, never to grow up and leave her. This childhood trauma that Barrie experienced could be related to his character Peter Pan, who has similar aspirations of not wanting to grow up.

Throughout his childhood and adolescence, Barrie attended various academies and then later enrolled at University of Edinburgh to further his education. Barrie was always quite shy and introverted but most of this insecurity was brought on by the fact that he was only about five feet tall and often felt like a child who was attending university. Barrie had wanted to be an author but his family was hesitant and instead encouraged him into ministry. Barrie later found a compromise and from the advice of one of his brothers he settled on studying literature. After graduating from university in 1882, Barrie attained a job in journalism working for the Nottingham Journal. Although critics disparaged his early work, calling it sentimental and nostalgic and not acknowledging the modernism sweeping over Scotland, he was popular enough to be considered a successful writer.

Barrie published his first novel “Better Dead” in 1887 and had other various strings of popular novels set in Scotland. After having some success with fiction, Barrie began writing plays in the 1890s His third play, “Walker, London” helped him to be introduced to his future ex-wife Mary Ansell, who was an actress at the time. Although Barrie was unsure about his suitability for marriage, he proposed to Ansell and they married in 1894. However, speculations have been made that the marriage was not consummated and rumors flew about Barrie’s possible asexuality and Ansell’s infidelity. Due to such conflicts, the couple divorced after 15 years of marriage.

During the difficult times throughout his marital home-life, Barrie would often go out for long walks in London’s Kensington Gardens. This is where he met the five Llewelyn Davies brothers and their mother in the late 1890’s, who would later become the inspiration for his most famous work. After getting to know them more personally, he often entertained the boys regularly with his stories and became a regular visitor at the Davies household and a companion to the boys and their mother, despite the fact that both of them were married to other people.

The character of Peter Pan was invented to entertain two of the Davies boys, George and Jack. In order to amuse them, Barrie would often say that their little brother Peter could fly. He claimed that babies were birds before they were born and parents put bars on nursery windows to keep the little ones from flying away. This innocent story grew into a tale of a baby boy named Peter Pan who did fly away. The character first appeared in the 1902 book “The Little White Bird” and two years later his play “Peter Pan” premiered on the London stage and became great a success. Audiences were intrigued by the fantastical tale of the flying boy who never grew up and his adventures in Neverland with the Darling children. Barrie also wrote a book based on the play called “Peter and Wendy,” which was published in 1911. The book also earned rave reviews from the critics.

The father of the Davies boys died in 1907 and ever since Barrie was referred to as “Uncle Jim” and became more involved in the family. Following their mother Sylvia’s death in 1910, Barrie became a legal guardian of the boys as wished by Sylvia in her will. Barrie claimed that they had been engaged to be married before her death but nothing of the sort was indicated in Sylvia’s will. Barrie’s relationship with the Davies boys remained strong and endured many years. There has since been speculation that Barrie was a pedophile and had developed unacceptable feelings for the boys. However, the Davies boys themselves have said that Barrie was like a father-figure and nothing of the sort ever crossed their minds. Barrie suffered a great loss when one of the boys died in battle in WWI and another, Peter, who committed suicide by jumping in front of a train.

After the hugely successful “Peter Pan”, Barrie continued writing plays but now aimed his content to a much older audience. Several of his later works had a darker element to them. Many of them dealt with unhappy marriages such as “Half an Hour” that was published in 1913, was about a woman who plans on leaving her husband for another man. His last major play, “Mary Rose,” was produced in 1920 and revolved around a son visited by his mother’s ghost.

J.M. Barrie died on June 19, 1937, of pneumonia in London. As a part of his will, he gave the copyright to “Peter Pan” to a children’s hospital in London. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” has left a profound mark on the literary world and to this day his play has been garnering movie and book renditions. There have been many speculations and rumors about Barrie’s true persona but nonetheless the man had a knack for creating a magical world where children can truly explore their freedoms without having to endure the hardships that come along with adulthood. The only rumor that I believe to be true is that J.M. Barrie himself was truly Peter Pan.


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Author Tribute: Hans Christian Andersen

hans_christian_andersen_digital_collectionMany people seem to associate fairy tales such as “The Little Mermaid” and “Princess and the Pea” with the large conglomerate called Disney. However, many don’t know that fairy tales that Disney reproduce and mass-market were actually written decades ago by articulate writers such as Hans Christian Andersen who wrote the two fairytales mentioned above and many others such as “Thumbelina.” Unbeknownst to quite a few dedicated Disney fans, many of these fairy tales did not usually end happily and were often quite visceral in nature. But we won’t go too much into detail. I’ll save those macabre particulars for another time.

Danish author and poet Hans Christian Andersen was born on April 2, 1805 and passed away in 1875 at the unusually old age (for that time) of 70 years. Although Andersen was a prolific writer of plays, travelogues, novels, and poems, he is best remembered for his fairy tales. He was born in the town of Odense, Denmark to a fairly educated father and an uneducated mother who worked as a washerwoman. There have been speculations made that Andersen was the illegitimate son of King Christian VII. This has not been proven to be correct but nevertheless King Christian VII took a personal interest in young Andersen and paid for a part of his education.

Andersen’s father had received an elementary education and was the first to introduce Andersen to literature, reading him “Arabian Nights.” Although they were very poor, his father used to take young Andersen to the local playhouse and nurtured his creative side by making him his own toys. Unfortunately, Andersen’s father passed away when he was only 11 years old and he was then sent to a local school for poor children, where he would receive a basic education and was forced to support himself by working as a weaver’s apprentice and then later as a tailor. At the age of 14, he moved to Copenhagen to seek employment as an actor. Andersen had an excellent soprano voice. He was therefore accepted into the Royal Danish Theatre but his voice soon changed so his singings days were short-lived. However, a colleague at the theatre insisted Andersen was to be a poet and having taken this suggestion seriously, he began to focus on writing.

Jonas Collins, the same colleague who instigated Andersen to write, also felt great affection for him and offered to pay the expenses for his further education. Under the patronage of Jonas Collins, Andersen attended the Copenhagen University which were formative but difficult years for him. Coming from a humble upbringing, Andersen experienced difficulty adjusting to the bourgeois life in the capital city as well as the competitive realm of the theatre. Shortly after finishing his studies in 1827, Andersen began writing professionally and published his first poem “The Dying Child” in the “Copenhagen Post” in 1827. However, it was in 1835 that he wrote the first installment to his famous collection of short stories entitled “Fairy Tales.” His first attempts in writing fairy tales were rewrites of stories that he had heard as a child but Andersen bought this genre to a new level by writing a variety of fairy tales that were both bold and original. Initially, the fairy tales were not recognized in the literary world because they were often difficult to translate therefore many critics at the time failed to understand Andersen’s dark humor that was prevalent in many of the fairy tales. However, at the time he was receiving acclaim for his novels “O.T.” and “Only a Fiddler” published in 1836 and 1837, respectively.

1845 was a pivotal year for Andersen bringing him due recognition for his collection of fairy tales with the publication of four different translations. Andersen continued to write fairy tales and published them in installments until 1872. Andersen’s romantic life was wrought with heartache because he often fell in love with unattainable women and was refused many times by his love interests. Instead of spiraling into depression, Andersen harnessed such affections and incorporated them into poetry and many of the novels that he later published. He was also a great friend to fellow literary mastermind Charles Dickens. The two respected each other’s works and had similar depictions of the poor and underclass in their writing through related experiences during the Industrial Revolution.

In the spring of 1872, Andersen fell out of his bed and never fully recovered. Soon after this incident he started having signs of liver cancer and passed away in 1875 in the home of his close friend in Copenhagen. At the time of his death, Andersen was treasured internationally and a statue was made of him in Copenhagen. His stories laid the groundwork for other children’s classics such as “Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame and “Winnie the Pooh” by A.A. Milne because they allowed the gradual flourishing in the genre of children’s literature. In many parts of the world, especially the West, his fairy tales remain immensely popular and are widely read. Andersen’s birthday is celebrated as International Children’s Book Day and a $13 million theme park was built in Shanghai in 2006, commemorating the writer’s life and fairy tales. In the U.S. many statues can be found of Andersen in places like Central Park in NYC and Chicago’s Lincoln Park.

Andersen is truly a celebrated writer around the world because he was a man who overcome poverty with humility and dignity and introduced the literary genre to the inspiring magic of fairy tales.

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Lurlene McDaniel’s Stories of Overcoming Mortality and Preserving Love

I began reading Lurlene McDaniel’s heart-wrenching books in middle school and I can’t really say I have been hooked ever since because I haven’t read her books ever since. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy reading them because I absolutely loved them. Honestly, I thought I had read all her books in middle school and then about a couple of months ago I came upon an article about her and read that she is still publishing books. What a fool I was. I began diving back into her books recently and she still has the same elements in her more recent books of overcoming life’s adversities through love and optimism. As a 12 year-old I wasn’t exactly mature enough to understand the dynamic emotions each of the characters displayed but having read one of her books recently, “Till Death Do Us Part,” my eyes have opened to the inspiration and complexity of her books. However, one thing that hasn’t changed is that I still cry like a baby while reading her books. A lot of readers don’t know about Lurlene McDaniel since her books fit into the specific niche of ‘Young Adult” but I realized her books shouldn’t be categorized under any niche because almost anyone can relate to the difficulties the characters endure and this element is what makes her books so realistic and genuine.

Lurlene McDaniel was born on April 5, 1944 in Philadelphia and began writing young adult books when her son Sean was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at the tender age of three. This illness that her son had to endure changed her perspective on life. Based on her experiences McDaniel wanted to portray the lives of chronically ill people in her books and she has stated that writing has been therapeutic. In her book, “The Time Capsule,” McDaniel writes about twins Alexis and Adam and the struggles that ensue when one twin is diagnosed with leukemia. In order to be certain that her books are medically accurate, McDaniel conducts extensive research and interviews health care professionals. She also cites the Bible in order to instill a human element in her books as well as to portray the optimism and faith she had experienced living with her son’s illness.

McDaniel still currently publishes books, her most recent one being “The Year of Luminous Love” which will hit shelves in May 2013. McDaniel has also ventured away from her particularly “innocent” books and wrote “Prey” in 2010 which is about the thrilling romance between a teenage boy and his dangerously seductive teacher. Although it is quite the page-turner, I prefer the deep message her stories that are about overcoming illness in families possess. My favorite book thus far is “How Do I Love Thee” published in 2002, which includes three separate stories about three young couples who find love and preserve it even when faced with life’s struggles. Each story is unique but equally dynamic in its characters trials and tribulations. The romantic and dreamy covers of her books do not exactly invite serious adult readers but the cliché never judge a book by its cover goes very far with McDaniel’s books because she is truly a hidden gem in the literary world.

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The Next Chapter to “The Shining” by Stephen King

Remember Redrum being murder backwards? Or a crazy-looking Jack Nicholson trying to axe his wife and son? Both of these morbiddetails are from the famous Stephen King horror novel and movie, respectively, “The Shining.” “The Shining” was published in 1977 and three years later it was adapted to the silver screen starring Jack Nicholson. This was King’s third published novel and its success launched him as a preeminent author in the horror genre.

“The Shining” is about the character of Jack Torrance, an aspiring writer, who moves into the Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies with his wife Wendy and telepathic son Danny. Battling alcoholism and sudden bouts of temper he makes an attempt to reconcile his relationship with his wife and son by agreeing to become a caretaker for the hotel. However, the more time the family spends at the foreboding hotel, the stranger Jack’s temperament becomes. His telepathic son Danny hears and sees many spirits in the hotel and is frightened by them while his mother tries to protect him from Jack’s sudden changes in behavior, supposedly influenced by the spirits in the hotel. The novel intensifies towards the end with Wendy fighting to save her son and herself from Jack’s unpredictable and now violent behavior.

This novel gained a lot of exposure from the success of the movie and many readers flocked to the read the novel itself. In 2009, Stephen King asked his fans in a poll if he should work on the sequel for “The Shining” or the next Dark Tower novel. The fans voted for the sequel to “The Shining” and King subsequently began to work on this much anticipated sequel in 2009.

The sequel to “The Shining” is called “Doctor Sleeper” and is set to release on September 20th, 2013. This is many months away from now but the riveting novel will keep King fans waiting in anticipation until the release date. “Doctor Sleeper” focuses on now middle-aged Danny Torrance and his struggle to settle in life after the tragic year he spent at the Overlook Hotel as a child that still haunts him. Drifting for decades, he finally settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and works at a nursing home where he provides peace to the dying with his “shining” abilities that once provided to be tragic. Aided by his cat, he becomes Doctor Sleeper. In a turn of events, Dan’s life changes as soon as he meets Abra Stone, a tween girl who also possesses the “shining” but more powerful than anyone else he has seen. He is amazed at her spectacular gifts and it is her who reignites Dan’s own demons and instigates him to save Abra’s life from The True Knot, a quasi-immortal traveling tribe lives off the “steam” that children with the “shining” produce when they are slowly tortured to death. When Dan is forced to save Abra’s soul, a war of good and evil ignites with a thrilling story that will excite the millions of devoted fans of “The Shining.”

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Get Readin’ this Holiday Season!

As we’re all subsiding from our turkey comas, the impending anxiety of holiday gift giving is beginning to reveal its presence (blame the commercials). Don’t fret. There are many gift options out there that will make this holiday season an enjoyable experience without the stress of buying gifts for all 23 extended family members, even the ones you don’t like. One easy and inexpensive option is a book. Now everyone likes to read. Whether it is a picture book or classic fiction, a book is a great way of pleasing all interests. In this Top 5, I have provided a list of books that will appeal to a number of people, whether it is a Dad, Mom, younger sibling or even creepy Aunt Guinevere.

  1. Contemporary Fiction—Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  2. Children’s Fiction—The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
  3. Classic Fiction—A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  4. Non-Fiction—The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks
  5. Graphic Fiction—Smile by Raina Telgemeier

“Life of Pi” by Yann Martel is a contemporary fiction novel that was published in 2001. This novel is centered on the character of Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel as he explores spirituality throughout his life. The novel is divided into three sections. In the first section, an adult Pi reflects on his childhood as the son of a zookeeper in Pondicherry, in the second section he and his family, as well as some animals from their zoo, embark on a journey to Canada on a small Japanese boat to escape political upset in India. The second section is the longest and focuses in Pi’s survival sharing a boat with a Bengal Tiger after their boat is capsized during a storm. During his survival, he learns to coexist with the tiger. In the third section of the novel he is rescued and eventually reaches Japan. The author wrote this novel in a state of personal hiatus and loneliness and these issues are clearly defined in the protagonist but Pi came out clean on the other side and by writing this novel, the author may have as well.

“The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams was published in 1922 but has been re-published countless times over the years, making it a children’s favorite. This picture book is about a young boy who creates a special bond with a velveteen rabbit he receives as a Christmas gift. One may think this story is about the young boy but it’s actually about the rabbit and his quest to become real through the love and affection of his owner. However, situations turn for the worst as the boy develops scarlet fever and has to leave for the coast leaving the rabbit to face difficult decisions. This heart-warming and inspiring story has been read to children for decades and has been adapted to the silver screen numerous times, making it a true classic in children’s literature.

“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens was published in 1843 and has been a holiday favorite among all generations. Many know of the famous tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and his ultimate transformation from a miser to a heart-warming charitable man. This transformation was brought on after Scrooge was visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future on Christmas Eve, each showing him glimpses of his past, present and future. This classic story captures the true holiday spirit of giving and receiving the ultimate gift of love.

“The Zombie Survival Guide” by Max Brooks was published in 2003 and entails exactly what the title suggests. Brooks provides the reader with a step-by-step survival manual in case of a potential zombie attack. This humorous and witty book contains detailed plans for the average citizen in how to defend against zombies as well as how the “virus” spread and describes cases of zombie outbreaks throughout history. This book will be a fun read for a lot of people who don’t take themselves too seriously.

“Smile” by Raina Telgemeier was published in 2010 and is a graphic novel that is based on the author’s experiences of wearing orthodontics and accounts her childhood and early teen years from the sixth grade to high school. After a traumatic trip and fall accident Raina is forced to go through several years of extensive dental and orthodontic surgery and is subsequently bullied by peers. This book is not just intended for adolescents because it is a genuine story of perseverance that readers of all ages can relate to.

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“Ordinary People” by Judith Guest

This month is all about being thankful for what you have, whether it is for a loving family or for simply having a roof over your head and food in your stomach. Tragic events that occur in our lives remind us of the things that should be cherished the most, and that is love. In the novel “Ordinary People,” Judith Guest explores the theme of ultimate healing through love and relishes in the spirit of being grateful for what you have.

This novel is set in the 1970s in Lake Forest, Illinois and centers on the lives of the Jarrets. They appear to be a typical American family from the outside but what occurs on the inside is completely different from what they portray to the world. This novel focuses on Conrad, the son of Calvin and Beth Jarret, and his troubled existence after the death of his brother Buck, who died during a boating accident. Everyone deals with death in different ways and Conrad’s way of dealing with the passing of his brother was through his own death. Before he could make this happen he was rescued by his father and ultimately sent to a psychiatrist. Conrad begins to see Dr. Berg regularly and forms a close relationship with him. Dr. Berg helps him get in touch with his innermost fears and pain and helps him overcome this by gaining control over others.

This novel also contains the story of Conrad’s father, Calvin. Calvin, a successful tax attorney, spends most of his time worrying about Conrad. Most of the chapters that are devoted to Calvin’s point of view contain mostly of his internal monologue that centers on his tumultuous relationship with his wife and son. Beth Jarret is an efficient and well-organized wife and mother who doesn’t seem to express her grief so blatantly as her son and husband and spends most of her time cleaning and picking up after Conrad.

As I mentioned before, everyone deals with death differently and all the members of this family deal with Buck’s death differently. One scene that I cannot forget to this day is when Beth and Calvin are getting ready to go to their son’s funeral and Beth tells Calvin to put on a different tie because the one he is wearing doesn’t “look right.” Calvin is shocked at his wife’s comment and seems perplexed as to why what he is wearing at his son’s funeral should matter. This scene gave me goose bumps when I first read it because it simply exemplifies the dynamics of visceral human emotions without having to explicitly state them.

Towards the end of the novel, Beth and Calvin’s communication rift widens and their differences seem irrevocable yet on the other hand Conrad and Calvin’s relationship begins the processes of healing.


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“Lincoln” by Gore Vidal

In leu of the recent 2012 elections (which I am quite pleased with), here is a review of the historical novel “Lincoln” by Gore Vidal.

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” –Abraham Lincoln

To the general population, Abraham Lincoln is known as the tall, foreboding yet, compassionate man who gave eloquent speeches and was one of the main forces to abolish slavery throughout the United States.  “Honest Abe” was born in 1809 and was the 16th president of the United States. Unfortunately, he was assassinated in 1865 at the age of 56. These are the general facts that people know about Abraham Lincoln but they don’t really know the man behind the top hat and suit. Author Gore Vidal, in his book “Lincoln” (a part of the Narratives of Empires series), presents a panorama of the American political and imperial experience as interpreted by one of its most knowing observers.

Author Gore Vidal was born in 1925 in West Point, New York, and recently passed away in July of 2012. Ironically, he was not far from the political lineages. His grandfather was US Senator Thomas Gore of Oklahoma and Vidal was known to be the fifth cousin of Jimmy Carter. A Democrat, Vidal also ran for political office twice and was a longtime political commentator. Throughout his writing career, Vidal wrote many political essays and novels and some were based on his experiences serving for the military during WWII. His most famous and widely known piece of writing is the historical novel “Lincoln” which was published in 1984.

In this historical novel, Vidal introduces the reader to the man who faced difficult decisions amidst catastrophic events plaguing the country and who also experienced inner turmoil after the death of his son.  Although Lincoln is largely known for his connection with the Civil War, Vidal does not write about it in full detail. The novel mostly focuses on the president’s personal struggles during the time of his presidency. One of the most interesting aspects of this novel is that it is not narrated from Lincoln’s point of view. Instead, Vidal’s portrait is drawn from contemporary diaries, memoirs, letters, newspaper accounts, and the biographical writings of Hay and John Nicolay, Lincoln’s secretaries.

“Lincoln” provides a unique perspective on the decisions that Lincoln made and what he personally thought of the events that were occurring around him. It allows one to see him as a human before a powerful political figure that managed to change the course of history in the United States.

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