Tuesday 30 September 2008


In As Time Goes By, one of my favourite sitcomes and starring the sublime Dame Judi Dench, Lionel (Geoffrey Palmer) reads books he thinks he's read, but realises he hasn't. The Bible, Winnie the Pooh, and Moby Dick all come under this heading (three books I've actually read - or, to be precise, 68 books I've actually read). Today I finished a play which almost comes into that category - Peter Pan. I had no illusions as to my actually having read Peter Pan, but I have seen the film and watched Finding Neverland enough to wonder just how much of it I did genuinely know.

I thought Peter Pan (1904, the play) was on my reading list for Literature and Empire 1880-1930, but turns out it was Peter Pan and Wendy (1911, the novel... well, some sort of prose anyway) but I didn't realise this until I'd started Peter Pan, and I thought it might still come in handy. Not sure whether it made the reading list because of the Native Americans/Red Indians in it, or because Never Land could be considered a colonial territory, but would be interesting to use the play from both angles. What I wasn't anticipating was that the play would be quite so charmingly, whimsically amusing - much in the way AA Milne's plays are, and indeed much writing was 1900-1920ish. Just the sort of thing I absolutely love, and which some people seem to absolutely loathe - I could never see 'twee' as an insult.

All great fun - and the Dedication at the beginning, which is some pages long, is rather touching about the boys with whom he made up the original adventures, and their gradual loss of belief in the games. All related with a light touch, but moving nonetheless. Years ago I read Andrew Birkin's rather good book J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys, about Barrie and this family, and Finding Neverland was influenced by the biography to an extent - a fascinating man, and a fun play.

But more to the point - which books would fall into this Lionel category for you? You think you've read them but... you haven't. What would be in mine? It always surprises me that I've not read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, or The Borrowers by Mary Norton. Both of which are with me in Oxford as we speak...


  1. Hmm... Tom's Midnight Garden. At least, I don't think I've read it - I guess that's the point, we're not supposed to be entirely sure.

  2. I always think I've read Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian, but I haven't. I've only watched the (fantastic) TV adaptation with John Thaw.

    I also seem to be under the impression that I've read Oliver Twist, but I've only actually read half of it (and seen the musical seventy thousand times).

  3. Here's something else Peter Pan for you...
    a new book is out and it's different from the others.
    How about a new adventure based on Barrie's idea for more?
    Click on my name to see!

  4. I am a big Judi Dench fan !!

  5. A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines - odd because I taught it for years. I have read bits and pieces of it out of the right order but not the whole book. When I started my first teaching job I inherited a bottom set year 11 from the teacher I replaced and they were half way through Kes so I just had to hit the ground running. As Kes was always used with bottom sets the fact that I hadn't read it totally was never a problem. We did close reads of key scenes, watched the wonderful film etc, and after a while I would catch myself thinking I have read it, but I still haven't.

  6. There are those who have suggested that I have not read War and Peace... but I KNOW that I have, even if I skimmed quite a bit of it and only recognised the Russian names by their shape!
    Equally, I have no uncertainty either about Moby Dick - ghastly, couldn't go beyond a page. Totally overwhelmed by distaste for it. It's not so much 'did I read it or not?' that gets me these days but 'I'm pretty sure I've read this and I still can't remember how it ends!'
    Make the most of your youth!

  7. You haven't read The Secret Garden???!!! Shock horror...

    The one I have never read but always think I have is To Klll a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. probably because I have seen the film so many times

  8. The photo made me get up and bring the first disc to the tv. I shall begin all over again. How I love those people.
    Colin mentioned Tom's Midnight Garden - have you read it? I think you'd really, really like it. And I'm a big fan of PP in all his incarnations - the books, the movies, everything. I even played the crocodile and Mr Darling in a dance recital in high school. Have you seen Hook?

  9. The book I think I've read but I haven't is Catch 22. It's knowing the plot that causes the problem.

    The Secret Garden? My favourite childhood book and Tom's Midnight Garden, recommended by Nan, was another.

  10. Nan - yes, Tom's Midnight Garden was another one I thought I'd read but hadn't, so I rectified it last year (or maybe earlier this year) - absolutely and utterly loved it!

    Saw Hook a while ago... don't remember much. My friend Becca leant me the official Peter Pan sequel today...

  11. Much of the Secret Garden is in Yorkshire dialect - which is very trying to the child's eye (and the adult's too!) I always hoped it would inculcate a love of weeding, but alas not!

  12. I remember reading The Secret Garden to my older son when he was small and I started reading the gardener's part with a Yorkshire accent. He loved it and wouldn't let me stop! It was a real pain having to maintain it for the whole book - although we both loved the story.

    Tom's Midnight Garden was another of our absolute favourites too.

    Simon, have you read any of the Green Knowe books? If you enjoyed T'sMG, you'd love those.


  13. Love, love, love As Times Goes By.

  14. I think I'm under the impression that I'm on intimate terms with the entire works of Dickens - but in reality I've just seen a lot of television adaptations of most of his work.

    I think it's TV that does the damage, where we watch an adaption and then never get round to reading the book/assume we've read the book as time muddies our memories.


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