I was intrigued when Veronica, over at Toddled Dredge, put forth the Before There was Disney Reading Challenge. The idea was to read books that had been made into children's movies - to find the book behind the audio/visual sensation. I am a bit intimidated by writing this, as I am rather out of practice of writing papers about books.
I chose to "read" the book of one of my favorite movies, Mary Poppins, by P.L. (Pamela Lyndon) Travers. I put "read" in quotes because I ended up listening to the book on tape. Even unabridged, a book on tape is not quite the same thing as reading it yourself, because not only do the author's words create pictures in your head, but the reader's voice conjures pictures and adds a certain tone. That being said, I really enjoyed the reader, British actress Sophie Thompson.
It has been a while since I have watched the whole Mary Poppins movie. MQ watches it now and then, and I will watch a little with her, but usually I use that time to get things done around the house. Very few of the adventures in the book actually make it into the movie, and, of course, they have changed a bit in the translation.
The Bert character, played in the movie by the fabulous Dick Van Dyke, is a small character in the book. However, he very notably appears in the only adventure we see Mary Poppins undertake without the children. When Mary comes to take Bert to their weekly date for tea, Bert finds he has no money. Both Bert and Mary seem quite surprised when they step into a chalk painting, and enjoy a lovely tea and carousel ride (no dancing penguins here, sorry).
The thing that struck me most about the book was how cross Mary is so often, and how many things she said to the children that were just appalling - things that parenting books rail against, such as telling Michael that "the sight of him was more than any self-respecting person could be expected to stand."
There were times when I wondered why Jane and Michael liked her at all, apart from the adventures they went on with her. This bothered me, because I liked to think of Mary Poppins as firm but loving, but she could be rather mean. I wonder if perhaps I had read the book, rather than listening to it in the car (which often means stopping in the midst of a chapter, etc) I would have made more of a connection between the adventures and lessons the children were learning from them. Also, when reading a book I may go back and read a piece again to make a connection, and don't do that when listening.
The adventures in the book are both lovely and terrifying. There is the star that greats the children while Christmas shopping and receives all her gifts for free (lovely). Then there is the woman in the bakery who breaks off her fingers and feeds them lovingly to Jane, Michael, and their twin siblings, yet yells and demeans her own children, and later has Mary Poppins steal the paper stars that come on the gingerbread loaves from the boxes where the children hide them, so they can be glued onto the sky (terrifying AND lovely, in turns).
And in the end, the wind changes, and Mary Poppins leaves, just as she said she would. The children are changed, I suppose, by their adventures, but there is not the change in the parents that we see in the movie. The movie sort of lovingly pokes fun at the parents in their distracted and workaholic oblivion to their children, and they are taught by Mary Poppins to see and appreciate the wonder of it all. The book seemed a bit kinder to the parents, who chose to have more children rather than the prettiest house on Cherry Tree Lane, until the very end, where the mother is so distraught over Mary's leaving only because she has left her high and dry with no one with watch the children, and they must be left with another one of the servants while Mrs. Banks keeps her appointment.
I enjoyed listening to the story, and hearing new adventures. Some of the phrases and pictures that P.L. Travers creates are fantastic. And yet... at the end I felt sad, because I wanted to love Mary Poppins even more, and I found her instead to be a crank... a crank who enjoyed some fun adventures, true, but who nonetheless seemed dissattisfied with the world. Perhaps I was to feel that she was dissatisfied because those around her didn't see the joy and the adventure all around, sad because people lost the ability to talk to the animals just as the twins do before they turn 1, frustrated by the commonplace when there is adventure to be had. Instead, I just felt like Michael and Jane needed someone who would hug them.