Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Fictional Food Adventure: Reading Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

We all think we know Mary Poppins so well, don't we? But it turns out we really don't. Not if, that is, your only experience of her is through Walt Disney.

That film was a part of my childhood and I'm always happy to see it. I love the songs and the cheeriness and the Mary Poppins we are introduced to is a very sweet and light one in contrast to the Mary Poppins that P. L. Travers wrote onto the page.

I knew this, to some extent, before I started reading Mary Poppins the other day. Andy and I had rented the movie 'Saving Mr Banks', starring Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson and telling two stories that add up to one very special one; Pamela Traver's childhood in Australia, and her later involvement with the irrepressible Walt Disney as he attempts to win her over and gain the film rights to her story. P.L. Travers herself is perhaps much more like the original version of Mary Poppins; strict, straightlaced, stubborn and at times very sour. But with the insight of what Pamela experienced when she was very young, we watch this duel of wits with hope for a peacable agreement and with understanding for what is on her heart. As the movie, which is not altogether comfortable throughout, unfolded, I became ever more perplexed as to how Disney ever got to make his movie. So strong was Pamela's disgust and mistrust at the Disney treatment of her story that it seemed impossible she would ever relent. Immune to Walt's famous charm, she put her foot down time and time again, hating his animated penguins and pulling apart every last detail. Now, all authors must feel protective of their stories, and wary of changes, but there is an understanding that you have to let go and let your story have a new life in another form. Accept that it will be different, because books and films don't tell stories in the same way. What reads magically from a page can look dull on the screen. But Pamela's story is too close to her to allow any changes. Yet, Disney's film is there as evidence. It happened. And just how it eventually happened is what makes  the end of the film so worth waiting for.

When I began to read Mary Poppins, I was still startled by the Mary Poppins I encountered. I was also amazed at all the adventures that she and the children went on, which don't appear in the film at all. I won't tell you which ones, as you might like to read it for yourself, but there are all sorts of interludes which will delight you, or baffle you. I was touched by the chapter about Jane and Michael's baby brother and sister, twins John and Barbara. P. L. Travers must have been a very thoughtful soul to have thought up this chapter, alongside all the more active adventures.

I enjoyed reading Mary Poppins, and found it very interesting to at last read what was originally written about her, from her creator, and I'd recommend you do the same. Did you know there are several other books about her? I'll be reading Mary Poppins Comes Back as part of this FFA challenge, and I'll be baking a little something from Mary Poppins for you to see, spit-spot!

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