Friday, April 11, 2008

P. L. Travers

Mary Poppins
Mary Poppins Comes Back
Mary Poppins Opens the Door
Mary Poppins in the Park
, etc.

by P. L. Travers
Recommended Age: 8+

Lovers of magical stories would be shocked not to find a mention of the Mary Poppins stories here. And yes, there is a great deal of charm and magic in the series of books by P. L. Travers, written from the 1930s onward. Here you may find some of the same magic as in Bedknob and Broomstick, The Wind in the Willows, and the children's fantasy books of E. Nesbit. [UPDATE: I would have mentioned Nurse Matilda if I had read it before I wrote this review.]

I did enjoy each of the Mary Poppins books that I read (so far, the first three listed above). Each book contains about a year's worth of stories of a chaotic London family, to which a no-nonsense governess named Mary Poppins brings order. Mary is a study in herself: seemingly without humor, imagination, or patience for the excesses of children (no matter what their size), she is as strict and self-absorbed as you please. And yet the Banks children - Jane, Michael, and the infant twins - can't help but notice that magical things are always happening around her. And the harder Mary Poppins denies them, the more earnestly the children believe... until you're wondering, yourself, whether Mary Poppins is really magical, or whether it's all in the imagination of Jane and Michael.

These stories are touched with the same streak of nostalgia and wistfulness as The Wind in the Willows. They create a comfortable world you could curl up in and feel safe. But I found, after reading three of the books, that each book is about the same as any of the others. You may disagree with me; you may find something in all of the Banks' children's marvelous adventures, to keep you hooked all the way through. Personally, as much as I liked each of the books, I found that to read one is to know them all.

EDIT: I was surprised to learn that Pamela Lyndon Travers (1899-1996) was an Australian journalist who lived until 1996. Besides the four titles listed above, written between 1934 and 1952, Travers wrote further Mary Poppins sequels in 1982 (Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane) and 1988 (Mary Poppins and the House Next Door). I am informed the several other Poppins-related titles are minor, supporting works, such as a cookbook, an alphabet primer, collections of previously-published material, or excerpts from the longer books published separately. She also wrote four unrelated novels, plus nonfiction works such as About the Sleeping Beauty and What the Bee Knows: Reflections on Myth, Symbol and Story. It's very confusing, though; this information may not be entirely accurate. Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the Oscar-winning movie based on Travers' first book - a film adaptation the author regretted so much that she crushed nearly every attempt to dramatize her work thereafter.

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