Sunday, August 9, 2009

Birthday Girl: "Something Strange and Extraordinary"

P.L. Travers was a spiky, eccentric, mystic who happened to write a story - expanded over time into eight novels, published between 1934 and 1988 - that somehow preserved her darkling personality and struck a chord with readers (children and adults) with a sense of deep joy.

Mary Poppins and the books that followed are an enormous (and, one suspects, more than occasionally disconcerting) surprise to anyone who knows only the Disney version, which even more than usual in the Mouse's adaptations strips away any undertow of anxiety or fear (although for no good reason "Feed the Birds" terrified me as a child).

Both anxiety and fear - along with melancholy, loss, and, as balance, humor, delight, and wonder - are very much part of Travers's original mix. Her Mary was more Margaret Hamilton than Julie Andrews, and the adventures that Mary led her charges on had less to do with cartoon carousels than the disposition of the cosmos: "you could not look at Mary Poppins and disobey her. There was something strange and extraordinary about her – something that was frightening and at the same time most exciting."

Travers was born 110 years ago today. She spent the last thirty years of her life hating the film made from her best-known book and enjoying the money she made from it (she had five percent of the gross). If you haven't read the books, you really ought to; the bit about the gingerbread lady and the stars can still make me, sometimes, cry.

1 comment:

  1. When the twins can't speak to the animals anymore always makes me misty. Thank you for reminding me.