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P. L. Travers – British author, critic, and lecturer, 1899- 1996
Pamela Lyndon Travers was as unwilling to “explain” herself as a writer as she was to explain the staunch and unbendable character for whom she is so well known — a British nanny in a 1930s household. Mary Poppins was published in 1934 and has since been translated into twenty-five languages and sold copies in the millions.
It was the basis for a 1964 Disney film that had tremendous success despite its lack of favor with those loyal to the original book. Travers went on to write eight more books about Mary Poppins, including Mary Poppins Comes Back (1935), Mary Poppins Opens the Door (1943), Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane (1982), and Mary Poppins and the House Next Door (1988). Critics have praised Travers for continuing to expand and explore her themes in the later books and for the enduring liveliness and unpredictability of her main character.
Mary Poppins has confounded critics over the years by being full of contradictions and impossible to characterize in a few simple words. She has been called stern, vain, proud, no-nonsense, unsentimental. She has the complete loyalty of her charges — Jane and Michael Banks and their younger brother and sister. In the series of episodes that make up Mary Poppins, she takes the children on adventures that both delight and amaze them. Whether she is gluing stars to the sky, having a tea party on the ceiling, or dancing under a full moon at the zoo, she leaves the children baffled and perplexed by her actions — never ceasing to deny that anything out-of-the-ordinary has taken place.
P. L. Travers drew her themes from a childhood rich in fairy tale and myth, a love of Shakespeare and the Bible, and later study of Eastern religion and philosophy She grew up in Australia, daughter of an Irish father and a mother of Scottish and Irish descent. At eighteen, she traveled to England, determined to discover her roots — and made her home there. As a young woman she worked as a dressmaker, a dancer, an actress, and a reporter — first to help support her family in Australia after her father died and later to support herself in England, where she became established as a drama critic, travel essayist, and reviewer.
She also wrote poetry and was taken under the wing of the Irish writer-editor George Russell, who published her work in the Irish Statesman and encouraged her literary growth and development for the rest of his life. Travers wrote several other children’s books, including I Go by Sea, I Go by Land (1941), The Fox at the Manger (1962), and Friend Monkey (1971), as well as adult books — Moscow Excursion (1934) and About the Sleeping Beauty (1975). Although these titles haven’t achieved the acclaim or success of the Mary Poppins books, they continued faithfully to explore the themes and ideas that intrigued their author.
In her writing P. L. Travers has a strongly mystical bent; she often said that she didn’t create Mary Poppins at all; rather Mary Poppins found her way into Travers’s consciousness and demanded that her story be told. Just as the character of Mary Poppins has continued to occupy the mind and writings of Travers over several decades, so the books have continued to be rediscovered by new generations of readers.
Source: Children’s Books and their Creators, Anita Silvey.
P. L. Travers Works
- Mary Poppins, London: Gerald Howe, 1934
- Mary Poppins Comes Back, London: L. Dickson & Thompson Ltd., 1935
- I Go By Sea, I Go By Land, London: Peter Davies, 1941
- Aunt Sass, New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1941
- Ah Wong, New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1943
- Mary Poppins Opens the Door, London: Peter Davies, 1943
- Johnny Delaney, New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1944
- Mary Poppins in the Park, London: Peter Davies, 1952
- Gingerbread Shop, 1952 (an adapted version of the “Mrs. Corry” chapter from Mary Poppins)
- Mr. Wigg’s Birthday Party, 1952 (an adapted version of the “Laughing Gas” chapter from Mary Poppins)
- The Magic Compass, 1953 (an adapted version of the “Bad Tuesday” chapter from Mary Poppins)
- Mary Poppins From A to Z, London: Collins, 1963
- The Fox at the Manger, London: Collins, 1963
- Friend Monkey, London: Collins, 1972
- Mary Poppins in the Kitchen, New York & London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975
- Two Pairs of Shoes, New York: Viking Press, 1980
- Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane, London: Collins, 1982
- Mary Poppins and the House Next Door, London: Collins. 1988.
- Stories, 1952
- Moscow Excursion, New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1934
- George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, Toronto: Traditional Studies Press, 1973
- About the Sleeping Beauty, London: Collins, 1975
- What the Bee Knows: Reflections on Myth, Symbol and Story, New Paltz: Codhill Press, 1989