Wednesday 2 April 2014

Queer Achievement : International Children's Literature Day

[Achievement – the name given in heraldry to the full pictorial representation of a coat of arms.]
To celebrate today’s International Children’s Literature Day I’m looking at the coat of arms of the creator of one of the world’s most popular fictional characters, Peter Pan – J. M. Barrie.

First of all I’ll say a few words about why I think Barrie should be included in the lgbt community, something which has been debated in literary circles for quite some time. Some recent commentators have gone so far as to label Barrie a paedophile. While I think this is a wild accusation to make it is clear that Barrie did find the company of boys far more comfortable than that of girls or women. There’s no evidence he ever had sex with boys, or any overtly erotic desires for them, but his close friendship with the Llewellyn-Davies boys (the role models for the “lost boys” of the Peter Pan story) was more than paternalistic. Many decades later one of the boys admitted that “Uncle Jim”, as they called him, was in love with his brother Michael. Tragically, Michael died in what is believed to have been a suicide pact with his own boyfriend when he was 21.

To me J. M. Barrie seems to have been asexual with a romantic interest in male youths. It is this queerness which makes me place him in this blog. Had he lived in our time, when accusations of child abuse are being made against anyone who so much as touches a child’s shoulder, he may well have been accused of paedophilia, even though there’s no evidence he had any sexual interest in them.

Now, the coat of arms. As with most of the previous arms I’ve covered there’s a pun on Barrie’s name in the design. The shield is divided into bars. In heraldry this is called barry (= Barrie). The book in the crest is an obvious reference to his writing career. The reeds, however, are less obvious.

This coat of arms was granted to Barrie by the College of Arms in 1919 and the “rationale”, the explanation behind the design, is not publicly available so I’ll make an educated guess. Reeds were used in ancient times to make pipes – the sort Pan would play. Are the reeds a reference to Peter Pan? I’m not sure about the reason for the lion either. I don’t think it has anything to do with England because Barrie was Scottish.

A couple of elements in the design signify J. M. Barrie received a knighthood. The first is the helmet. Knights show helmets with the visor open. If you look at some of my previous paintings you’ll see the visor closed. The helmet is shown facing front, it doesn’t have to be, it could face left. In the way I’ve shown here the open book can be displayed properly.

The second knightly element is the badge on the left below the shield. In 1913 Barrie was created a baronet, a hereditary knighthood, the second most senior knighthood in the UK (only one had been created since 1963 – Denis Thatcher). The badge is the official insignia of a baronet. Interestingly, Barrie turned down a knighthood, that of Knight Bachelor, in 1909 (Knight Bachelor is the lowest of the dozen ranks of British knighthood available at the time).

The badge on the right is that of the Order of Merit. This order confers no title on its holder though ranks in the middle of the top 5 knighthoods. The Order was created by King Edward VII in 1902 and is given to very few people who have made a significant contribution to society, mainly in the arts. Barrie became a member of the Order of Merit in 1922. One of the first members appointed by Edward VII in 1902 was Florence Nightingale, and one of the most recent is David Hockney.

The motto is in French and translates as “Love of Goodness”.

I didn’t think it was appropriate to put a rainbow backing to the motto scroll (one of the few areas where artistic license is allowed) considering what I said above about Barrie’s queerness. Instead I’ve chosen the colours of the asexual community and the Asexual Pride flag.

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