Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Not a Jolly Holiday

This past weekend I read the original Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers and it seriously pains me to put the following words to page (or screen, as it may be).  This book may have been charming in 1934 when it was published, but it has not aged well.

First, it probably didn't help that I've seen the movie version a gazillion times and I was constantly comparing book Mary Poppins to Julie Andrews' Mary Poppins.  While Mary Poppins in the movie is stern but kind, whimsical but sensible, Mary Poppins in the book is vain, mean and self-centered.

Second, the use of magic in the book seems somewhat backwards to me.  In the movie, while she's sometimes reluctant to use magic, Mary Poppins makes wonderful things happen.  The magic is a way for Mary Poppins to relate with the children: Jane and Michael.  In the book on the other hand, she happens to have this magical thing about her but she constantly denies that anything magical has happened.  Rather than the magic bringing Mary Poppins closer to the children, she uses it as a way to push the children away.  Magic is supposed to be what makes Mary Poppins such a wonderful nanny, but book Mary Poppins seems reluctant to share her magical world with Jane and Michael.

Die-hard fans of the book may argue in favor of the book's superiority to the movie because it includes so many scenes and elements that the movie omits.  A few examples:
  • Only the two oldest Banks children appear in the movie.  The book also includes two toddler twins: John and Barbara.
  • Mary and the children go shopping and meet Maia, one of the Pleiades.
  • Mary has a birthday party in the Zoo with the animals.  The children attend.
  • Mary takes the children around the world using a magic compass.
  • The children and Mary go to Miss Corry's shop to buy gingerbread square.
There's a reason the musical omits these elements: they're not exactly as charming in execution as they sound from the descriptions.  My biggest disappointment with the book: the character of Bert (who's not a chimney sweep but a match man) only appears in one adventure at the very beginning of the story, and all he seems to be able to say is "Golly!"

In the end, I'm sorry to say that it would take a lot more than a spoonful of sugar to make this medicine go down.

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