It may be St. Patrick’s Day, but we’re also still in Women’s History Month! So today I’m writing about P. L. Travers, author of the Mary Poppins books. Though Travers grew up in Australia, her father was Irish, and while in her twenties she moved to London, often visiting Ireland in the decades she lived there.
When I was a little girl, enchanted by Marie Poppins the movie, I had no idea then that there were books, several of them, in which a very different Mary Poppins existed. (Too be fair, I was five.) This Mary Poppins was vain, cranky, and mysterious.
Turns out Travers hated the movie and went toe to toe with Walt Disney himself during its making. Did you see Saving Mr. Banks? Those tears at the end weren’t that she loved the movie, though that’s what the film might have led you to believe.
As a fellow writer, this realization broke my heart. Travers is not the first or last author to dislike the movie adaptation of a book, but I guess this was the first time I thought about how devastating it must be to see your baby contorted into something you never intended.
Recently, curious about Travers and wanting to learn more about her life, I read Mary Poppins: She Wrote by Valerie Lawson. Travers started out as an actress, then turned to writing. In an age when women were mostly housewives, Travers carved out a successful career that led to the Mary Poppins series. She was outspoken, often abrasive, and impatient with small talk. In other words, my kind of gal.
Turns out she and I have a lot in common. We share, unfortunately, a lot of anxiety and odd ailments. Like Travers, my life has been an ongoing spiritual search, and we both came across some charlatans along the way. And also like Travers, later in my life I have become deeply fascinated with fairy tales and am delving more into their history. That was an odd parallel I didn’t expect!
Deeply private, Travers didn’t want a biography written about her. Though Lawson does her best, she can’t penetrate Travers’ deeper thoughts and feelings because Travers took all that with her. So if we want to know who she was and what matters to her, I suspect the bread crumbs are in all her books. Best get reading.
If you enjoy this blog, please consider purchasing one of my novels. Information is available here. The Factory Girl and the Fey is coming October 2021! Details coming soon.