Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Mary Poppins

by P.L. Travers
Finished November 3, 2009

I was talking to a library patron about Where the Wild Things Are. I had read somewhere that in the movie, Max goes out of the house and finds a boat that takes him to the land of the Wild Things. I was highly disappointed to hear that they had made that change because it was very important that "...his ceiling hung with vines and the walls became the world all around..." The movie is never as good as the book.

My patron agreed and said that she had never liked the movie Mary Poppins because she was such a fan of the book. As she described some of her favorite scenes with such fondness, I decided that this would be my next I-should-have-read-this-a-long-time-ago book.

It is very different from the movie. While some of the events carried over, (like the tea party on the ceiling with Uncle Albert) and some of the characters remained (like Admiral Boom and Miss Lark and her dog Andrew), most of the book is not to be found on the screen.

Mary Poppins is a curt, conceited, strict nanny. She isn't the sweet and pretty Julie Andrews. Nevertheless, she cares for Michael and Jane and their little brother and sister, the twins. Yes, these two children have disappeared in the transition from page to screen.

The magical happenings come often and are often rather strange. They filmmakers seem to have toned these down. It becomes a little tedious, as if Travers felt she had to fill every moment with magic because, after all, it is a children's book.

I liked this book and will read at least the next one in the series to see if it contributed anything to the movie. I also am reading a biography of P.L. Travers because I find her to be such an intriguing person. I also want to read about her views of the movie, which I know she hated.

There have been only two movies I've come to dislike after reading the books: Circle of Friends and, especially, The Object of My Affection. I liked the movies before reading the books. But, of course, I had only seen each one time and had no emotional attachment to either.

With Mary Poppins and The Wizard of Oz, both of which I have seen dozens of times, I feel that the movie and the book are two completely different entities.

Mary Poppins, the movie, is such a wonderful musical. Everything about it is just right. I didn't like the book enough to lose my loyalty to Julie Andrews.

By the way... I read a version with the un-revised chapter called "Bad Tuesday." I'm sure that P.L. Travers didn't mean to be offensive. But she does, indeed, have Poppins and the children visit the North Pole where they meet some Eskimos eating whale blubber soup. They go to China and meet a Chinese Mandarin who speaks in Confucious-speak. In the West they meet real live "red indians." And, worst of all, in the South they meet black natives from Africa who speak with a sho' nuff southern American dialect. "Ah bin 'specting you a long time, Mar' Poppins...You bring dem chillun dere to ma li'l house for a slice of watermelon right now...!"


From a twenty-first century viewpoint, the entire chapter seems a bit gratuitous. She rounded up and wrote about as many racial stereotypes as she could pack into one chapter.

In the revised edition, the children and their nanny see polar bears, a panda, a macaw and a dolphin. Interesting.

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