Thursday, August 07, 2014
Mary Poppins, Saving Mr. Banks, P. L. Travers and the reality of things!
It's poetic injustice really. 50 years ago Walt Disney shamelessly hijacked what can easily be considered the most important literary achievement of P. L. Travers, Mary Poppins. Now, some half a century later, Hollywood takes the story of P. L. Travers herself, twists it into something politically correct, soft and sweet and easy to sell, and feeds it to the world. How many times is P. L. Travers going to be betrayed by the entertainment industry?
Admittedly, up to very recently I had not really read the Mary Poppins books. Not that I wouldn't have wanted to, Mary Poppins simply didn't find her way to my shelf which was usually crowded with Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and the rest of the sci-fi universe, with a touch of Hermann Hesse and W. Somerset Maugham migrating over from my mom's shelf. Point is, I didn't really read much specifically "children's" books.
My first introduction to Mary Poppins was unsurprisingly through the movie, which I watched with googly eyes when I was about 5 or so the first time. And loved it, really really loved it. And have even watched it many more times since then.
Recently, I watched "Saving Mr. Banks", which was supposedly the story of how Walt Disney approached P. L. Travers to get the rights for the movie, and her reactions, and how the movie was eventually made. Nice movie, which at the same time felt full of plot holes for something that was supposed to be based on a true story. I had a feeling that there was more to the story than met the screen.
So I went and started the research. Did my fair share of reading on P. L. Travers, found what seems to be the most accurate and detailed, and the least "interpreted" biography of her out there, titled "Mary Poppins, She Wrote" by Valerie Lawson. After finishing this book and some more articles and shorter books about her, I read the original Mary Poppins books. All 9 of them.
And now, after all the reading, I am… well… angry.
As P. L. Traverse herself had said many times before, the Mary Poppins books are not exactly children's books. They're certainly books that children can enjoy reading, but the way I see it they're somewhat comparable to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's "Little Prince". They're more philosophy books than anything else, and they're nothing like the pink and fluffy image of the Walt Disney movie.
As much as I enjoyed the Disney movie as a child, right now I wish I had never seen it, that it had never been made. From what I understand, what Disney did to Mary Poppins was the source of agony for P. L. Travers for the rest of her days, and it also manage to frustrate just about anyone who had any kind of an actual understanding of the point of the books. Now after having read the books I can understand why. Disney basically took the shell and left the soul behind.
But then, this is not really what "Saving Mr. Banks" shows, is it? The movie is unfortunately yet another bit of fluff, created to please the audience. Everything I've read, everything I've dug out, shows that unfortunately Mr. Disney was not at all the fair and decent character shown in the movie. He basically ambushed P. L. Travers into finally selling him the rights to make a movie [after years of harassing her for it], and then slowly pushed her out of the picture. Despite the fact that he originally promised her that her ideas will be respected, he eventually disregarded all of the very important points that she had made in order for the movie to stay faithful to the books.
The nice and emotional conversations between Disney and P. L. Travers in the movie are all pretty much fictional, and at the end Disney had actually no intention of having P. L. Travers present at the premiere at all. To him, she was only a nuisance. The movie shows a rigid and difficult Pamela, without making any mention of why she was the way she was. Quite unfair.
It's of course even more of a horror reading some of the articles that showed up online after the release of "Saving Mr. Banks". Clueless people writing completely misguided articles about P. L. Travers, her role in the creation of the Poppins movie, and even her personal life and her relationship with the people around her, and with her son. Following the movie, these articles picture P. L. Travers as a despiteful unloving and unloved character, who was responsible for destroying the life of her adopted son. For heaven's sakes, do your research before writing this nonsense. A bit of digging will show you that the horrendous rubbish couldn't possibly be further from the truth.
P. L. Travers was an amazing person with a wonderful mind, and what's being done to her is a crime. This should be stopped.