Mary Poppins – by P L Travers

21 07 2015

Most people have seen the film Mary Poppins, but not many have read the book. However, last year I saw the film Saving Mr Banks, which is all about when the story was sold to Disney to be made into a film, told alongside Travers’ childhood story, and it stirred my interest in reading the original children’s book. (Trailers for both films can be found at the bottom of this post)

mary poppins

I was surprised at how different it was; I didn’t like the character of Mary Poppins at all. But before I get into that, some other major differences between the book and the film.

  • There are four Banks children in the book: Jane & Michael who we know from the film, but also twin babies John and Barbara.
  • Bert (the chimney sweep) barely gets a look in. He’s in the first chapter, and gets a mention in the last, but doesn’t appear at all in between.
  • Mr Banks doesn’t have any trouble with his job at the bank at all (I wonder if this comes up in a later book?)

If I had to describe Ms Poppins in 5 words from this book I would go with: Vain, Stern, Conceited, Serious, Grumpy. I know in the film she is quite stern and serious, but at least she smiles and has fun sometimes. I think she was Disneyfied for the film; in the book she doesn’t smile once. She also has a complete fascination with how she looks – I quote from the penultimate chapter while they are out Christmas shopping:

“May we look at the windows first?” said Michael hopping excitedly on one leg.
“I don’t mind” said Mary Poppins with surprising mildness. Not that Jane and Michael were really very surprised, for they knew that the thing Mary Poppins liked doing best of all was lookinh in shop windows. They knew, too, that while they saw toys and books and holly-boughs and plum cakes Mary Poppins saw nothing but herself reflected there.
[…]
“Just look at you!” said Marry Poppins to herself, particularly noticing how nice her new gloves with the fur tops looked. They were the first pair she had ever had, and she thought she would never grow tired of looking at them in the shop windows with her hands inside them. And having examined the reflection of the gloves she went carefully over her whole person – coat, hat, scarf and shows, with herself inside – and she thought that, on the whole, she had never seen anybody looking quite so smart and distinguished.

So all in all I did not like this woman!

The book is essentially a set of short stories. The first chapter covers Mary Poppins’ arrival, and the final chapter, her departure, but each of the others is its own little adventure or story, so I guess in the childrens’ book world, you could read a chapter a night as a bedtime story. I’m aware this is me as an adult reading a childrens’ book that was not designed for me!

One thing I noticed was that in the film Saving Mr Banks, P L Travers says she doesn’t want anything red in it “I’ve simply gone off the colour”, and yet in the book, there’s a whole chapter about The Red Cow! That said, maybe at that point she knew which parts of the book would be coming across and so knew that that wouldn’t be included.

I definitely felt a little disheartened after reading this book as Mary Poppins wasn’t at all appealing as a person, but the stories were definitely fun and imaginative!

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