Last weekend we went to see Saving Mr. Banks, and I enjoyed it hugely. The first movie I ever saw was Mary Poppins; it was several years later that I discovered there were books. As a kid, I loved the story about popping into paintings and the one about the gingerbread stars. As a parent, I was charmed all over again, reading the stories to my kids. Eleanor, in particular, delighted in Mary Poppins’ curt replies to questions she didn’t want to answer.
After they’d read Mary Poppins, Mary Poppins Comes Back, Mary Poppins Opens the Door, and Mary Poppins in the Park, we showed our kids the movie and took them to see the stage musical in Chicago. We had a Mary Poppins cookbook, Mary Poppins in the Kitchen, from which we made Welsh Rarebit. My favorite story as an adult is from Mary Poppins Opens the Door, about the Cat that Looked at a King.
Especially because of the curt replies and unwillingness to explain or elaborate on her refusals, Mary Poppins has always reminded me of my mother. So I am more fond of the character of Mary Poppins than I’ve found other people tend to be.
I reacted the same way to Saving Mr. Banks—with recognition and delight at the way the character of P.L. Travers reacts to the rest of the world—mostly in terms of not having much use for it. She was a bit of a termadgeon, which is my invented word combining curmudgeon and termagant. In the movie, Mrs. Travers does not approve of invented words, commanding the user of one to “un-invent it.”
I’ve also been leafing through the Christmas books and those unpacked from our travels in a mostly desultory way, reading a bit here and there, re-reading parts I’d mostly forgotten, and occasionally looking up from one—like Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None—to find I’d read the whole thing through again. I didn’t remember much from my first reading except that I’d thought the plot was terribly clever. This time through, though, I found myself much less in sympathy with the idea of anyone sitting in judgment on other people.
Many of the reviews of Saving Mr. Banks mention that P.L. Travers appears “cranky” and “self-centered.” I believe it’s the New Yorker that gets it closest to right, saying that Travers “was a self-conscious, self-aware, free-thinking artist whose personal life couldn’t have been more different from Disney’s normative sentimentalism.” It may be startling, but it was more than merely “cranky” for Travers—or her character, or my mother–to go her own way and not care what other people think.
There is a certain mind-set I get into when I’ve read a book and sit down to collect my thoughts, and I’ve not been inclined to bend my head to that yoke lately; our holidays have been prolonged by the continued presence of adult children to talk to, cook for, and share books and movies with. I have indulged in a prolonged abnegation of my usual rounds for reading and writing, and an unwillingness to explain.
And that’s certainly more than you needed to know.