Old Favourites: Mary Poppins

Stephanie tells us just why we should take another spoonful of P. L. Travers and not forget the original books

“There was something strange and extraordinary about her-something that was frightening and at the same time most exciting”

Mary Poppins tells a story of two young children, Jane and Michael Banks, who draw up an advertisement for a nanny, Mary Poppins arrives on a gust of the East Wind. Soon the children are whisked away on the most wondrous journeys. However Mary Poppins promises to only stay until the wind changes. The original P.L.Travers story is a gem that has enchanted readers for generations. The series of eight books, published between 1934 and 1988 have been adapted for stage and film branching out to audiences across the world. As a result Travers’ books have been seen to take a back seat in popular children’s reading. Unlike the iconic 1964 Julie Andrews Disney film, it draws upon many of Jane and Michael’s journeys.

“But at last they come to St Paul’s Cathedral”

 “There she is” cried Michael suddenly, and he danced on his toes with excitement.

 “Feed the Birds, Tuppence a Bag, Tuppence a Bag!” Over and over again, the same thing, in a high chanting voice that made the words seem like a song.

In the film this scene is the premise for the song Feed the Birds. Contrastingly to the book this scene becomes a moral teaching for the children. Marry Poppins encourages them to help the Bird Woman feed her flock opposed to saving their money in their father’s bank. However Travers’ Nanny is far less angelic and warming as Julie Andrew’s depiction. The 1964 Mary is absent of strict and blunt attitude that is very much present in the first book. Unlike Disney’s governess who is filled with motherly teachings and rosy cheeked complexion. Both Mary Shepherd and P.L.Travers illustrations and characterisation is a far more stern and cold woman.

 “No” said Mary Poppins, who always said “No.”

 “Mary Poppins, her face as stern as before, was pouring out a spoon for Jane”

 “Mary Poppins stared from him to Jane in silence. Then she sniffed”

It is unsurprising that Disney’s romantic pink lense hasn’t kept true to Travers writing. As many other Disney adaptations they have seem to take what they want from the text and left the book to sit on the shelf. That is why I wish to urge admirers of the film to take a moment to consider the character Travers intended; a far more mysterious and frightening Nanny. One who we might compare to the unsettling Queen of Hearts in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

Her presence in the Banks’ resistance seems to evoke uncomfortable un-child like circumstances. For example, in one chapter of the book Jane and Michael’s journey takes them to a Zoo where children are in cages and the animals are the observers. In the same chapter Mary Poppins is in control of all snakes that surround her.She is no longer the singing Disney flower hat wearing governess, but a medusa like mistress of reptiles.

Soon the newest Travers imitation is coming out to cinemas in the form of Mary Poppins Returns, starring Emily Blunt.Therefore the original Mary is being even more distanced. I appreciate and love that film production lives in a world that is inspired by literature. However I would still urge that we take moments in looking at the text before the movie. So spare a chance to read the first journeys of Jane and Michael. Their time with Mary Poppins left readers entranced with the unfriendly but infatuating nanny.

Credit: Youtube/ ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ Official Trailer