Mary Poppins – P.L. Travers

Welcome to Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane, home of the Banks family. Recently deposited on the doorstep is Mary Poppins and she’s about to teach the Banks children the wonders of impossible things made possible.

“How did you come?” Jane asked. “It looked just as if the wind blew you here.” “It did,” said Mary Poppins briefly.

In 1987, Stacey McGill from The Baby-Sitters Club introduced me to her favourite movie. Mary Poppins quickly became my first Disney obsession, the VHS one of my most prized possessions. One of my proudest achievements, as someone whose age had yet to reach double digits, was teaching myself how to spell supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Needless to say, I was completely blindsided by my passionate hatred of this book when I first read it in my 20’s. This isn’t the Mary Poppins I know and love, I thought to myself. Where’s the kite flying? Where’s the practically perfect in every way? Why is Mary Poppins so grumpy all the time? Isn’t she supposed to consist almost entirely of sunshine and spoonfuls of sugar?

There was something strange and extraordinary about her – something that was frightening and at the same time most exciting.

I think part of the problem I had during my first read was the way Mary Poppins’ speech was described: “she said threateningly”, “she said shortly”, “said Mary Poppins, contemptuously”, “said Mary Poppins rudely”, “said Mary Poppins haughtily”, “Mary Poppins sounded ferocious”. Not exactly warm and fuzzy sounding.

Heading into this reread, some [redacted] years later, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Mary Poppins references have made up a significant portion of some of my conversations during the past year so, although I haven’t revisited my well worn DVD copy for longer than I’d care to admit, my ability to scrounge up Mary Poppins quotes for pretty much any occasion remains.

It turns out I had essentially blocked my entire experience of reading this book the first time from my brain. I was shocked to discover the movie erased two entire Banks children, twins John and Barbara.

The ones who remain, Jane and Michael, probably wish they were Disney kids because they’re not invited to the chalk painting adventure in the book. Incidentally, in the book, Bert sells matches when he’s not drawing pavement pictures rather than sweeping chimneys. Well, there goes that song…

Although, in the book, Jane and Michael don’t have to clean up the nursery. Another song deleted…

Some staples remain: Admiral Boom is busily steering his ship, Jane and Michael are dosed by their nanny, Mary Poppins’ carpet bag is still a Tardis and she’s brought the right umbrella with her, only P.L. Travers neglected to give the umbrella a voice box.

One thing about the book version absolutely delighted me; at no time during my countless Disney binges did I have an inkling that Mary Poppins smells of toast! Meanwhile, on the potentially disturbing side of things, there is a scene in the book that makes cannibalism sound positively yummy.

Missing from the movie are entire chapters of material. There’s no dancing cow, no gingerbread and you never get to discover what happens when “the Birthday falls on a Full Moon”, just to name a few.

I wondered if the author had a particular dislike of fat people. Multiple people are described first and foremost as fat and Katie Nanna’s weight seemed to be one of the reasons why the children never liked her.

She was old and fat and smelt of barley-water.

This is the first time I’ve ever picked up on Mary Poppins’ gaslighting of Jane and Michael. On several occasions, the children experience a magical, impossible adventure with Mary Poppins. Shortly after it’s finished, one or both of the children are practically bursting with excitement. All they want to do is gush about the experience with Mary Poppins. Her response? She gets all snippy, pretends she doesn’t know what they’re talking about and does her damnedest to get the kiddies to question their reality.

This time around I felt like I understood Mary Poppins a bit better and, although the book isn’t destined to become a favourite like the movie was, I am interested in continuing the series to see what other adventures await me.

Oh, and expect to hear me say “Strike me pink!” whenever I’m pleased in the near future.

“Which way is the wind blowing?”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

From the moment Mary Poppins arrives at Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane, everyday life at the Banks house is forever changed.

It all starts when Mary Poppins is blown by the east wind onto the doorstep of the Banks house. She becomes a most unusual nanny to Jane, Michael, and the twins. Who else but Mary Poppins can slide up banisters, pull an entire armchair out of an empty carpetbag, and make a dose of medicine taste like delicious lime-juice cordial? A day with Mary Poppins is a day of magic and make-believe come to life! 

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