As an ardent fan of children’s fantasy literature, I have always wondered how I missed reading the Mary Poppins series, growing up. I had seen the movie of course and thought it was fine. But then Disney made ‘Saving Mr.Banks’ (the true story of how Walt Disney persuaded P.L.Travers – the thorny author of the series – to let him make her book into a movie) and of course I immediately wanted to see how the movie actually compared with the book. So I treated myself to the omnibus edition with all six original stories (plus some extras for the fans) and prepared to meet Pamela Travers’ version of Julie Andrews.
Imagine my surprise when I found that the real Mary Poppins was NOTHING like the sugary sweet screen version. The original Mary Poppins is a strict, no-nonsense, caustic young woman, whose acerbic wit and very original sense of humour spares none. She is vain about her appearance, thinks she is “practically perfect in every way”, is not above a white lie and through all the adventures that she takes the children on (to a celebration at the bottom of the sea, a tea party while floating near the ceiling, a party at the zoo at night and while soaring into the sky on balloons along with half the village), she will not once admit that she is magical! In fact if you were to even suggest it gently, it is a certainty that she would cast on you a withering look of great distaste and coldly turn on her heel to walk away after a sharp “Magic? A decent young woman like me? How dare you sir!” It is never quite clear in fact what manner of being Mary really is (it is vehemently opposed that she is of fairy origin!). And in the end, you (and the children in the book) love Mary, not for her magic, but for her eccentricities, her good sense and her underlying kindness.
Summary: Mrs. Banks, a young mother at the end of her wits managing her four (and later in the book, five) young children who cannot keep a nanny, is much relieved when a strange young woman appears at her door and offers her services. Her only conditions are that she would give no references and when the wind changes, she would leave without notice. Despite the strange terms, Mrs.Banks is happy to engage Mary Poppins as the new nanny. The children aren’t too pleased with the arrangement however, until they discover that when Mary is around even the mundane becomes magical!
Recommendation: If you are a child, read it! If you missed the book as a child, kick yourself once and then read it anyway! Mary Poppins brings magic back, even into tired, world-weary eyes.