Lost Play By J.M. Barrie Discovered in Texas Archive

The newly published Reconstruction of the Crime features comedic detective exploits and audience participation

J.M. Barrie's newly discovered play, "The Reconstruction of the Crime," was published in the latest issue of "The Strand Magazine." Wikimedia Commons

Peter Pan is best known as the boy who refused to grow up, but his creator, J.M. Barrie, was less willing to remain stuck in the past. The Scottish author wrote numerous stage productions throughout his life—and they were mostly works aimed at adults, including one farcical drama that was never performed or published until it resurfaced in the latest issue of the Strand Magazine.

According to NPR’s Colin Dwyer, Barrie wrote the undated The Reconstruction of the Crime with humorist E.V. Lucas, and the script, as well as a plethora of Barrie’s manuscripts and letters, eventually landed in the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, where they remained for half a century.

The Strand, the 21st-century reincarnation of a prominent Victorian periodical, has a history of unearthing forgotten works. Alison Flood of The Guardian reports that the magazine has previously published lost pieces by Mark Twain, Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner.

Strand editors originally planned to publish The Reconstruction of the Crime in February, but the discovery of another little-known Barrie work delayed publication. Andrew Gulli, managing editor of the Strand, tells NPR that the dilemma arose due to a bit of title confusion. The second play’s name was, of all things, Reconstructing the Crime. After Gulli got his hands on the work, he realized the plays' similarities manifested in their titles alone, and the magazine was able to move forward with publication.

According to its Ransom Center catalogue entry, Barrie’s unperformed play, 33 pages bound, is a “a sensational scene, in which Mr. Hicks requests the audience to assist him in the detection of [a] criminal.” Despite its more adult audience, The Reconstruction of the Crime shares commonalities with Barrie’s most famous work, the 1904 children’s play (and later novel) Peter and Wendy. Both scripts break the third wall by addressing the audience, as the Associated Press reports. But while clapping saves Tinkerbell’s life in Peter Pan, ironically, The Reconstruction of the Crime asks its audience not to applaud. In this play, the victim is already lost.

Despite the drama’s decidedly dark subject matter, The Reconstruction of the Crime includes many comedic elements, and the final result is a bumbling adventure built on misunderstanding. This mixture of serious and lighthearted subjects mirrors Peter Pan, which is darker than many believe.

In the original text, Barrie mentions that Peter “thins ... out” the Lost Boys who grow up, and toward the end of the novel, bluntly adds, “Mrs. Darling was now dead and forgotten.” The story of Neverland may seem like a child’s dream come true, but as Barrie’s macabre, offhand comments hint, perhaps the phenomenon of never growing old is not necessarily thrilling, but rather tragic.

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