Reader staff writer Miles Raymer posted a blog item this week concerning Michael Jackson’s supposed Peter Pan syndrome. Raymer linked the item to an essay by Northwestern University professor J. Michael Bailey that speculated that Jackson “was a homosexual autohebephile [one in love with the image of himself as a child] whose erotic goals included resembling Peter Pan and having sex with pubescent boys.” Certainly, Jackson’s fascination with Peter Pan–right down to naming his ranch Neverland–is well known. When I heard of his unexpected demise, the first thing that popped into my mind was the famous quote from Peter Pan, the play: “To die will be an awfully big adventure.”
It’s worth remembering that Peter Pan was invented by Scottish playwright James M. Barrie, who himself suffered from a severe case of arrested development and may have been a repressed pedophile. Barrie was traumatized at age six by the sudden death of his 13-year-old brother David in an ice-skating accident, and by the devastating emotional toll David’s death took on their mother. David was Mrs. Barrie’s favorite, and young James tried endlessly to replace his dead sibling in his mother’s affections. The trauma evolved into a fixation: dead David, forever 13, was the boy who would never grow up, and James became the boy who refused to grow up–at least in his heart.
Barrie did, of course, lead a more or less adult life, becoming one of Victorian and Edwardian England’s most renowned writers. He wed actress Mary Ansell in 1894, but the marriage was said to be unconsummated and ended in divorce. Shortly after he married Ansell, he became friendly with three young brothers he met in Kensington Gardens. They were the children of Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, daughter of writer George du Maurier. Barrie often played with the boys, and created the Peter Pan story to entertain them–just as Lewis Carroll invented Alice in Wonderland to entertain little Alice Liddell. Though there’s no evidence that Barrie attempted to molest any of the Davies boys, his attachment to them stirred speculation. But others have suggested that Barrie was asexual, locked in a state of permanent emotional prepubescence. The same has been suggested of Michael Jackson. If this is the case, then Jackson could well have been guilty of inappropriate behavior with young boys–not because he wanted to have sex with them, but because he wanted to be one of them.