Book Club: Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
July 4, 2011
I would love to say this book was “practically perfect in every way” ….but really it’s an odd little book. Unlike the movie or the stage show it doesn’t really have a linear story. It is a bit like’ The Magic Far Away Tree’ by Enid Blyton, an enjoyable collection that, at times, leaves the reader wondering what on earth was going on in the authors mind when they wrote it. The type of books that seemed quite common for an era but don’t seem to be published any more.
Now it’s confession time. I chose this book with the idea of having a book club excursion to the stage show. Most of us had seen the movie, but no-one had read the books and the stage show was only created recently, so I thought it would be a great comparative excercise.
We did go…last Wednesday on our first book club excursion to see Mary Poppins and it was ‘practically perfect in every way’ or ‘Supercalafragilisticexpealidoucious’ (please don’t check my spelling). If you get a chance to see it before it finishes, it’s worth every dollar. We went for $45 each. Pretty good I thought. If you are still unconvinced check out the video promo.
But enough about the show and back to the book.
We only had a short discussion of the book, over dinner before we went…and a little after the show for the sake of comparison. It’s hard to talk about the book without letting the movie and the show influence our conversations. The chapter ‘Bad Tuesday’ about Michael getting up on the wrong side of the bed was a great one to talk about because it only appears in the book. Comments of ‘Oh it made me feel better as a Mother because I have days like that’ to ‘Why was that chapter in the book?’ to ‘Loved that chapter it was so fiesty.’
One of the most fascinating things for me personally was the way stories are interpreted for the stage and the screen. Some characters vanish (the twins…..siblings to Jane and Michael), some characters (like Mr Banks and Bert) are given whole major character story lines in the film and show…. but are only fleeting in the book. Mary Poppins herself is the most meddled with character of all. While the book paints her as an extremely vain, forthright and cold nanny who denies the extraordinary things that have happened when the kids mention them later!… Ouch!…. the movie makes her as a loveable nanny who is a little vain but is mostly enchanting…..and the stage show gives us a somewhat magic Mary Poppins a little like Nanny McPhee.
Travers had big issues with the Disney movie and it wasn’t until she was in her 90’s that she allowed any further adaptations of her novels to be made….and only by the English (which is curious as she was Australian)….leaving specific instructions in her will in case she wasn’t round to enforce them. She also has some interesting beliefs which if you know what you are looking for are peppered throughout any version of Mary Poppins you care to consume. Most of us will just enjoy the story, music, magic and personalities at face value….. nothing to worry about here.
Next Month…. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.