Sunday, December 8, 2013

Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers

genre: children's literature
where it came from: I ordered it used online and they sent me the wrong one (Mary Poppins in the Park).  Then they said they'd send me the correct one but they were out.  I ordered a new one.  It still hasn't arrived.  I finally just bought the dang thing for my Kindle and read it on that.

When Jane and Michael get a new nanny, they have no idea that the fierce looking woman on their doorstep will be the gateway to an adventurous romp.  Tea parties on the ceiling, wild parties at the zoo, races around the world, within Mary's care the Banks' children can hardly believe their eyes.  They'd better step lively, though, because Mary Poppins has no patience for dawdlers or disobedience and her brand of magic requires a tight-lipped acceptance of that which cannot be believed.

I was (and am) an ardent fan of the Mary Poppins movie.  It was a staple on my childhood television.  Long ago, my friend Holly told me she read this book out loud to her daughter and that she didn't particularly love it.  She felt like Mary was too strict, too crabby.  And now that I've read it (in anticipation of the upcoming movie Saving Mr. Banks), I think I sort of have to agree.  Mary Poppins is one tough cookie.  She's exceptionally vain and often in just a cranky mood, snapping at the children and constantly acting as though their adventures were a figment of their imagination.  I think Jane and Michael probably needed serious therapy when they got older, honestly.

I will say, however, that while not loving Mary, I actually liked the writing itself.  Many of the lines in the movie are word-for-word from the text, so that was fun.  Sometimes there was a flash of wittiness or depth that really did stick out - for example, when Jane and Michael are arguing over whether Mary Poppins could truly have been in Fairyland if Cinderella or Robinson Crusoe hadn't been there and Mary says, "Don't you know...that everybody's got a Fairyland of their own?"  I love that.

It's a very fast read and I've been trying to think through what it is about it that made it so beloved to people.  I wonder if it's just the idea of a magical life being just one step away - that your birthday might suddenly be so special that the zoo opens at midnight for you or that an enchanted compass might be lying on the sidewalk, waiting for you to find it.  I don't know how much children's writing in the 30s incorporated this idea, but it's certainly there, almost in a Harry Potter-type way, where the magic is walking among the mundane with most people none the wiser.

If anyone ever has anything thoughts on this, I'd love to hear them :)


bermudaonion said...

I may have read this as a child but I'm not sure. I do love the Mary of the movies and may not want to spoil that image of her by reading this.

Julia said...

I tried reading the books - again, another major fan of the movie - but couldn't get through the first one. To me the writing was just too juvenile. Since I wasn't reading it to a 3-year-old, I couldn't get into it. I donated my set (yes, I had all four) to my sister, who has several littles who would appreciate it.

Drew said...

Good review, and I pretty much agree. I was disappointed to learn that the original Mary Poppins was such an unpleasant character to read (and she didn't improve much over the course of the next three books, which for that reason I don't necessarily recommend). I liked the kids though, and it was fun to see some of the source material for the movie, but Walt Disney did Travers the favor of a lifetime by making her character (still strict, but not psychologically abusive) known and loved around the world.

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