Saturday, February 22, 2014

Mary Poppins, She Wrote by Valerie LawsonShe wa

Mary Poppins, She Wrote: The Life of P.L. Travers by Valerie Lawson --- 361 pages

This is the biography of P.L. Travers --- author of the Mary Poppins books --- that inspired the film Saving Mr. Banks, starring Emma Thompson as the notoriously difficult Pamela Travers and Tom Hanks as the persevering Walt Disney who ultimately persuaded Travers (against all her instincts) to allow him to turn her books into a film.

Disclaimer: I inherited copies of the Mary Poppins books from my older sister when I was a child, and found them magical. By the time I was done with them they were worn to rags and so I bought new copies for my first niece as soon as she was born. Unfortunately, she and her sister were seduced by the Disney film, starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. I walked out of the theater outraged. This slick, cheery and saccharine-sweet concoction was the complete antithesis of everything that I loved about Mary Poppins.

Years later when I became a children's librarian I was relieved to discover that I was not the only person who loathed what Disney had done to Mary Poppins. But curiously, I never wondered about the author of the books. As a child I had somehow gotten the notion that books were only published and put into libraries after their authors were dead. No doubt that is a state of affairs that many film makers would appreciate --- it would be easier to deal with heirs, who presumably are less invested in the artistic legacy of the book than in the monetary value of the copyright.

Lawson's book was originally published in 1999 and has been re-issued to take advantage of the release of Saving Mr. Banks and the fiftieth anniversary of the premiere of the Disney film. Lawson, an Australian, has written a revealing biography of the woman who wiped the dust of her early life in Australia from her feet and never looked back. Travers created a new persona for herself and spent the rest of her life filling in the blank spaces, searching for validation but never quite achieving the recognition she privately craved and publicly repulsed.


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