Friday, October 17, 2008

Mary Pan-ins?

I had promised in my post about P.L. Travers’s Mary Poppins that I would tell you which part of it seemed very Barrie-like.

You might recall that the Disney movie eliminated two of the Banks children. As I said in the post, it’s understandable. They’re babies and don’t have much to do with the rest of it. Well, in the book, John and Barbara Banks have one chapter practically all to themselves:
John and Barbara’s Story

And what do they do in their chapter? Quite the magical pursuits. Or perhaps they are not so magical. It depends on your perception. You see, since they are babies, they have a natural talent that is beyond our scope as grown-ups. To be more precise, they are even more advanced than children.
I don’t believe I’ll ever understand Grown-ups. They all seem so stupid. And even Jane and Michael are stupid sometimes.
What makes John and Barbara superior? They converse with not only a Starling, but also the likes of sunlight* and Wind. Already this situation is akin to Barrie. Although Peter Pan doesn’t talk to sunshine, he does speak to birds. But he very well may be able to PLAY sunshine on his pipes.

Mary Poppins (who understands the chatter of the babies, mind you) explains to them that Jane and Michael at one time could understand the sunlight and trees and stars. Peter Pan can talk to stars, too.
But–how is it that they’ve forgotten it all? asks John. Mary Poppins explains. Because they’ve grown older.
John and Barbara consider it a stupid reason and vow to never forget how to talk to Starling and the rest of Nature. The bird and Poppins inform them that alas, forgetting is inevitable. They argue, of course, to no avail. Then, as part of his “sorry but no” speech, Starling says: There never was a human being that remembered after the age of one – at the very latest – except, of course, Her.° The babies naturally ask: Why not her? The Starling replies: She’s different. She’s the Great Exception.

Quite intriguing. Travers does not elaborate. We’re left to wonder the wherefore of that, too. I don’t expect to have an answer. Nor do I feel she should have given us one. It’s part of the mystery of Mary Poppins. We already know she’s a magical woman. In this case an explanation would ruin the fun. Thus, she is like Peter Pan in this way, too. Peter is the other Great Exception, if such a thing is possible. Of course, they are different stories, so each is an exception unto their own world.

Do not misconstrue that I am claiming some sort of umbrage at the similarities between the works. On the contrary, I am pointing it out because I find it delightful.

Let’s hope that at one time we understood birds and trees, too.

*Curiously, Travers did not capitalize sunlight, but did so with the Starling and Wind.
° Travers capitalizes it, but not later on the page when also referring to Mary in conversation.

No comments: