Jan 7, 2010

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

Nearly everyone is at least passingly familiar with this story, I assume: Mary Poppins is about a nanny with magical powers who arrives one day to Cherry Tree Lane, blown by the East wind. Until she departs in a similarly mysterious manner, she takes the Banks children on several adventures: to the zoo at night, to a very curious gingerbread shop, around the world to meet magical animals, and even on an outer space adventure. And this just to give you a few examples.

I, too, was passingly familiar with the story. But to be honest, I can’t remember whether or not I’ve watched the movie, though I do seem to have images from it in my head. I think I probably did when I was very little, but can’t really remember much at all anymore. However, in this case my ignorance seems to have worked to my advantage. I’ve come across a few reviews from disappointed fans of the movie who did not at all take to the book. I approached it with no expectations, and that made a big difference. I notice that I tend to become attached to whatever version of a story I come across first, so if I loved the movie I might very well have been disappointed too.

The thing about Mary Poppins the novel is, it’s episodic. There’s no overall plot; just a series of adventures involving Mary Poppins and the Banks children. But due to my aforementioned lack of expectations, I was fine with this. I liked Mary Poppins overall, though I won’t be adding it to my list of favourite children’s classics. What I liked best was P.L. Traver’s storytelling voice—it manages to convey a mood of magic and enchantment in just a few words.

Also, I really liked the fact that some doubts were cast over the book’s fantastical elements. Readers are left wondering if the children really went on those adventures and Mary Poppins is just pretending nothing happen, or whether the stories are their own versions of much more ordinary events. I’m not sure whether this makes sense to anyone but me, but I thought it conveyed a kind of respect for the imagination and for childhood things that I really appreciated.

Have you ever had a book ruined for you because you watched the movie first? Which movies do you think are better than the books they were based on?

A few more opinions:
Rebecca Reads
Educating Petunia



  1. Oh, how I love Mary Poppins, the movie, so I would probably be disappointed in the book. I almost always like the book better, but I saw Forrest Gump before I read the book and liked the movie more.

  2. Now I'm curious to read Mary Poppins...I've seen the movie, but am not that attached to it, and your description makes the book sound very interesting.

    I also tend to cleave to the version of the story I was first exposed to. But I cant off hand think of a movie I liked more than the book, except for those sad books based on movies (Star Wars as a book?)

    And in some cases I avoid seeing the movie if I loved the book. Lord of the Rings, Inkheart and His Dark Materials ...

    The Book vs Movie story I immediately think of is The Never-ending Story. I love the book. Its nothing like the movie. Most people I know love the movie, and if they have read the book, find it awkward, or stilted.

    But I find the book version to be so profound, I've read it many times. Plus, it does not really work unless you read it. Reading a book about a little boy reading a book - that's what makes it work :)

  3. I'm pretty sure I read this one when I was younger and liked it, but didn't love it (it didn't make much of an impression on me if I did read it, or perhaps the movie has simply eclipsed it in my mind). Did P.L. Travers write several books with Mary Poppins in them? If so, I think I may have read one of those as well...

  4. I definitely need to check the book out in this case. I grew up Disney-fied (still love most of it) and so I know I watched (and may or may not own) the movie. Most of what you mentioned is NOT in the movie! (GASP!) I really shouldn't find that to be strange, and yet I do. (Hmmm...)
    In regards to books versus movies...that's a hard call. In most respects the book is better than the movie but sometimes the opposite does occur. For example (my opinion now), Michael Crichton's Jurrasic Park novel...loved the movie, book was TOO technical....BUT, Lost World (the sequel), LOVED the book, the movie was just so-so.

  5. I remember falling in love with Mary Poppins and the subsequent follow-ups when I was a kid. My library was scarce and I owned very few books so I re-read Mary Poppins many times and once I actually started reading it from the last page to the first (don't ask, lol!)
    I have never read it again since because I'm afraid the charm would dissipate and sometimes memories are just better.

  6. I have a sentimental attachment to the movie, as I watched it over and over again as a child. Therefore, I'd probably be in the disappointed camp with the book. I had a recent experience, which was very aggravating. A long time ago, my husband and I fell in love with the movie The Little Princess (not the Shirley Temple version but a later one). An enchanting movie. But when I read the book, there were HUGE departures between the two and it completely ruined the reading experience. I kept waiting for things to happen that didn't. Whoever made the movie did a huge, Hollywood disservice to the story!

  7. I have to admit this is another one of those books I have no interest in reading and never had. Even as a kid, I disliked Mary Poppins and avoided my mom's suggestions I read it or watch the old show. She had a 3-ft high Mary Poppins doll that was all messed up - hair coming out, raggedy, etc - because it was from when she was a kid. It creeped me out, but that isnt' why I didn't want to read the book. It just seemed to silly/saccharine for me.

  8. Hmmm...I've neither read Mary Poppins nor seen the movie. I think the only association I have with it is the song "A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down" which I had to play as a kid for piano lessons. Of course, with my track record today (you'll know what I mean if you've read my latest e-mail), it will probably turn out that song isn't really from the movie at all.

  9. I think I know exactly what you mean when you talk about the imagination thing. That sounds wonderful!

    That said, though, I am a huge fan of Mary Poppins, the movie. I think it's fabulous. Not sure if I should read the book, then. Hmmm...

  10. I loved the books as a child, but I don't know if I would like them now. I liked the movie less; I felt that Julie Andrews didn't fit the image I had formed from the books. If I see the movie first, however, it is the images of the characters from the movie that stay with me while I read.

  11. I have been a lifelong fan of the movie (I got a coveted Mary Poppins barbie-type doll for my fifth Christmas) and I also love the books (there's also Mary Poppins in the Park). The book Mary is sterner and even more magical than the movie one. But oh, Julie Andrews' voice!

  12. I loved the movie as a child and think I could enjoy the book if I set proper expectations going in.

  13. Love the movie, love the books! I just watched part of the movie with my daughter tonight, per her request. It's one of the first films I've shared with her (albeit a little bit at a time) but I'll have to wait a little bit more for the books!

    I've got them all, and even though the book Mary can be a bit of a grouch, so can we all. I was not any less fond of her than the Julie Andrews character, though I found her intimidating. Growing up is a bittersweet process and the books delve into that more than the movie, which I can appreciate. I also loved the way the books were presented as a series of adventures instead of a storyline. As a kid, I think that's how I tended to see things and only learned to tie everything together in tidy packages later on. It was part of the charm of the books for me.

    On the other hand, the soundtrack is pretty awesome as are the actors so it's hard not to love the movie. I figured my daughter would add "A Spoonful of Sugar" to her song collection but instead it was "It's a Jolly Holiday with Mary." Kids are full of surprises and I hope she'll enjoy the novels.

  14. I always feel like hitting myself upside my head whenever I find out that a book is out there from one of my favorite movies or childhood memories. Neat.

  15. I need to smack myself! I haven't read MARY POPPINS or watched it. But I am familiar with the songs! :D

  16. Lol, are you joining my personal Disney books to movies challenge? I read this as a kid but I didn't read all of the books. I plan on re-reading it sometime soon.

    Great question and I thought of this a few months ago but now I can't remember what I came up with! Bambi is the only thing that pops automatically to mind.

  17. I absolutely understood what you meant about the book's fantastical elements. I try not to watch a movie of a book that I really really want to read but every once in a while the book will fall short but it doesn't happen very often!

  18. As you know, I grew up with the movie, so yeah, this did not go well with me. I found Mary Poppins herself to be mean, while in the movie she was nice. I just didn't like character in the book at all, really.

    I'm glad you still liked it!

    I just read Swiss Family Robinson and I'm rewatching the movie and it's the ame thing. Disney is so much better!

  19. I read this to my kids and liked the book better than the movie. But I love the song Chim Chim Cheree. It makes me happy.

  20. Let's go fly a kite ,up to the highest heights bum bum bum... let's go... fly - a - kite!

    I just love the music from the movie, but I've never read the book.

  21. Mary Poppins was my very first movie ever as a young child. In fact, my parents waited patiently with me (who was not patient) through a whole showing before we were able to see it! I was a bit disappointed that the books' Mary looked nothing like Julie Andrews when I finally read them, but got over that quickly when the statue of the boy in the park came alive and the Cat Who Looked at the King appeared, etc. I loved all the books. And the movie remains a favorite. Two very different, and separate, treatments of the story (no desire to see the Disney version on stage, however. Enough is enough.).

  22. I really don't remember liking a movie more than a book.

    Haven't seen or read Mary Poppins, I guess I'll watch the movie then :)

  23. Hmmmm...this was one of my favorite movies when I was a kid. Not sure I'd love the book. (that sounds weird! I have so rarely liked a movie over a book!)

    Nice review, but don't think I'll be adding it to my list.

    Now...go out and watch the wonderful Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins!!

  24. I appear to be one of the few that isn't all the crazy about the Mary Poppins movie. I liked the bits I saw when I was a kid, but I only ever saw the entire thing as an adult and found it really "eh" at that point. Disappointing because I'd always considered myself a fan. The book sounds quite interesting though, and I like that you were left wondering about the kids' imagination. Kids' events have so many dimensions.

  25. I loved the film Mary Poppins and actually watched it again over Christmas with my kids. I am pretty sure I had the book whilst growing up, but I don't think I ever read it. I remember reading Bednobs and Broomsticks more and loving that one.

  26. I've watched the movie several times with my kids but I've never been very attached to it. I do agree that sometimes watching the movie version first can sort of spoil the book for you -- I'll always picture Mary as Julie Andrews. However, since I'm not terribly in love with the movie, I'd probably like the book better. I'll put it on my to-read list.

  27. Your comment on reality v. imagination makes perfect sense to me, and I always appreciate it when an author can write without directly revealing which events are real and which are the result of imagination.

  28. I should read Mary Poppins. I only remember bits of the movie, though.

    Usually I like books better than movies. I can't really think of one off-hand where that wasn't the case.

  29. The Princess Bride. The Princess Bride times infinity. I love that movie so much and I can't be bothered with the book at all.

  30. Another book that interestingly leaves to the imagination whether or not anything actually happened is 'Half Magic' which I just finished reading to the boys. It was similarly interesting in that it left a sort of framework to where things COULD be explained away, but in a way that rather than being condescending sort of... admitted the strengths of childhood in being able to stay unsure about whether or not the events are true

  31. Kathy: I actually didn't know Forrest Gump was a book :P

    Masha: Yeah, I've been known to avoid the movie versions of books I really love too, and His Dark Materials is one of them. I loved The Neverending Story movie when I was little, but when I read the book years later I loved it too even though it was so different. It's one I have to revisit, actually.

    Steph: She did, yes! There are five of them, I think.

    GMR: I've never read Jurassic Park, but yes, I can see how too technical would be a problem :P

    Lilly: lol, reading backwards sounds like an interesting experience, if nothing else :P

    Sandy: I remember your post about that! What a shame the book was ruined like that.

    Amanda: Eek, that does sound like a creepy doll.

    Debi: The song IS from the movie, so there :P

    Aarti: Well, some of the commenters are fans of both, it turns out! So it might be worth a try.

    Jill: That happens to me too!

    Jeanne: I actually really loved that she was so silent and mysterious and even sort of mean. So we agree :P

    Kathleen: I hope you do enjoy it!

    PardonMyFrench: It's nice to find someone who's such a big fan of both! I love what you said about the bittersweetness of growing up. Now I want to read the whole series :)

    Christina: lol, that happens to me too :P

    Alice: I know some of the songs too :D And now I really have to see the movie again.

    Ladytink: lol, it seems that I am :P

  32. Staci: It doesn't happen to me often either, but I'm a book-first-please kind of girl just in case :P

    Rebecca: She WAS mean, but I don't know, somehow I liked her all the same :P I guess I imagine her secretly kind, when the children's weren't looking :P

    Ali: I so need to watch the movie again. I only have vague memories of the songs.

    She: *flies a kite* :P

    ds: I love the fact that you were able to separate them and enjoy both! I have trouble doing that sometimes.

    Violet: It happened to me with Big Fish at first, but a second reading set me straight :P

    Stephanie: I will!

    Meghan: Yeah, I guess some things work better when you're exposed to them at the right age. I worry that'll happen to me too if I watch it now :\

    Vivienne: Well, I hope you enjoy it if you decide to read it at some point :)

    Karen: I always see the characters as the actors who played them too. I can't help it!

    Trisha: I really love it too. I can't think of many books that manage to pull that off, actually, but I love it when it happens.

    Carol: I think Big Fish the movie is as good as the book. I used to think it was better, but I changed my mind :P

    Jenny: Really? I enjoyed the book a lot! But then again, I read it first. And I can see how all the meta stuff could become annoying.

    Jason: Yes! That's exactly what I was trying to say. Must look for Half Magic...

  33. I've never read the book. I should!


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