"The Serpentine is a lovely lake, and there is a drowned forest at the bottom of it."
This illustration for J.M.Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens features Rackham’s fairies flying along the shore of The Serpentine. Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens was a prelude to Peter Pan’s Adventures in Neverland. Published in 1906, the story follows Peter as an infant who learns he can no longer fly and ends up stranded in Kensington Gardens. Instead of navigating the Gardens on foot, Peter commissions a thrush’s nest that he can use as a boat to sail down The Serpentine towards his home. Peter finds a group of fairies near the water, as can be seen in the illustration, and though scared at first, they eventually agree to help him fly home to his mother.
The Serpentine is a long, curving lake that separates Kensington Gardens from Hyde Park in downtown London. This view of the lake, along with the Serpentine Bridge that runs through the background of the image would have been immediately recognizable to readers of Barrie’s story. In a letter to Rackham in December 1906 regarding the book’s illustrations, Barrie states, “I think I like best of all the Serpentine with the fairies.” The text in the book accompanying the illustration, Fairies of the Serpentine reads,
“The Serpentine is a lovely lake, and there is a drowned forest at the bottom of it. If you peer over the edge you can see the trees all growing upside down, and they say that at night there are also drowned stars in it. If so, Peter Pan sees them when he is sailing across the lake in the Thrush’s Nest.”