P. L. Travers
Pamela Lyndon Travers (August 9 1899 – April 23 1996) was a British author, born Helen Lyndon Goff in Maryborough, Queensland, Australia, most famous as the creator of the "Mary Poppins" series of stories.
- See also
- Mary Poppins (1964 film)
- The silky hush of intimate things, fragrant with my fragrance, steal softly down, so loth to rob me of my last dear concealment.
- It is clear from Gurdjieff's writings that hypnotism, mesmerism and various arcane methods of expanding consciousness must have played a large part in the studies of the Seekers of Truth. None of these processes, however, is to be thought of as having any bearing on what is called Black Magic, which, according to Gurdjieff, "has always one definite characteristic. It is the tendency to use people for some, even the best of aims, without their knowledge and understanding, either by producing in them faith and infatuation or by acting upon them through fear. There is, in fact, neither red, green nor yellow magic. There is "doing." Only "doing" is magic." Properly to realise the scale of what Gurdjieff meant by magic, one has to remember his continually repeated aphorism, "Only he who can be can do," and its corollary that, lacking this fundamental verb, nothing is "done," things simply "happen."
- Could it be ... that the hero is one who is willing to set out, take the first step, shoulder something? Perhaps the hero is one who puts his foot upon a path not knowing what he may expect from life but in some way feeling in his bones that life expects something of him.
- "The World of the Hero" (1976)
- A writer is, after all, only half his book. The other half is the reader and from the reader the writer learns.
- As quoted in The New York Times (2 July 1978)
- A great friend of mine at the beginning of our friendship (he was himself a poet) said to me very defiantly, "I have to tell you that I loathe children's books." And I said to him, "Well, won't you just read this just for my sake?" And he said grumpily, "Oh, very well, send it to me." I did, and I got a letter back saying: "Why didn't you tell me? Mary Poppins with her cool green core of sex has me enthralled forever."
- “Myth, Symbol, and Tradition” was the phrase I originally wrote at the top of the page, for editors like large, cloudy titles. Then I looked at what I had written and, wordlessly, the words reproached me. I hope I had the grace to blush at my own presumption and their portentousness. How could I, if I lived for a thousand years, attempt to cover more than a hectare of that enormous landscape?
So, I let out the air, in a manner of speaking, dwindled to my appropriate size, and gave myself over to that process which, for lack of a more erudite term, I have coined the phrase “Thinking is linking.” I thought of Kerenyi — “Mythology occupies a higher position in the bios, the Existence, of a people in which it is still alive than poetry, storytelling or any other art.” And of Malinowski — “Myth is not merely a story told, but a reality lived.” And, along with those, the word “Pollen,” the most pervasive substance in the world, kept knocking at my ear. Or rather, not knocking, but humming. What hums? What buzzes? What travels the world? Suddenly I found what I sought. “What the bee knows,” I told myself. “That is what I’m after.”
But even as I patted my back, I found myself cursing, and not for the first time, the artful trickiness of words, their capriciousness, their lack of conscience. Betray them and they will betray you. Be true to them and, without compunction, they will also betray you, foxily turning all the tables, thumbing syntactical noses. For — note bene! — if you speak or write about What The Bee Knows, what the listener, or the reader, will get — indeed, cannot help but get — is Myth, Symbol, and Tradition! You see the paradox? The words, by their very perfidy — which is also their honorable intention — have brought us to where we need to be. For, to stand in the presence of paradox, to be spiked on the horns of dilemma, between what is small and what is great, microcosm and macrocosm, or, if you like, the two ends of the stick, is the only posture we can assume in front of this ancient knowledge — one could even say everlasting knowledge.
- "What the Bee Knows" in Parabola : The Magazine of Myth and Tradition, Vol. VI, No. 1 (February 1981); later published in What the Bee Knows : Reflections on Myth, Symbol, and Story (1989)
- The Sphinx, the Pyramids, the stone temples are, all of them, ultimately, as flimsy as London Bridge; our cities but tents set up in the cosmos. We pass. But what the bee knows, the wisdom that sustains our passing life — however much we deny or ignore it — that for ever remains.
- What the Bee Knows : Reflections on Myth, Symbol, and Story (1989)
- The Irish, as a race, have the oral tradition in their blood. A direct question to them is an anathema, but in other cases, a mere syllable of a hero's name will elicit whole chapters of stories.
- As quoted in No Word for Time: The Way of the Algonquin People (2001) by Evan T. Pritchard
- You do not chop off a section of your imaginative substance and make a book specifically for children, for — if you are honest — you have no idea where childhood ends and maturity begins. It is all endless and all one.
- As quoted in Sticks and Stones : The Troublesome Success of Children's Literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter (2002) by Jack Zipes
- You can ask me anything you like about my work, but I'll never talk about myself.
- As quoted by Valerie Lawson, in an interview: "The Mystic Life of P.L. Travers" (7 May 2003)
- For me there are no answers, only questions, and I am grateful that the questions go on and on. I don't look for an answer, because I don't think there is one. I'm very glad to be the bearer of a question.
Mary Poppins (1934)
- If you want to find Cherry-Tree Lane all you have to do is ask the Policeman at the cross-roads. He will push his helmet slightly to one side, scratch his head thoughtfully, and then he will point his huge white-gloved finger and say: "First to your right, second to your left, sharp right again, and you're there. Good-morning."
And sure enough, if you follow his directions exactly, you will be there — right in the middle of Cherry-Tree Lane, where the houses run down one side and the Park runs down the other and the cherry-trees go dancing right down the middle.
If you are looking for Number Seventeen — and it is more than likely that you will be, for this book is all about that particular house — you will very soon find it.
- Ch. 1 "East-Wind"
- Jane and Michael sat at the window watching for Mr. Banks to come home, and listening to the sound of the East Wind blowing through the naked branches of the cherry-trees in the Lane. The trees themselves, turning and bending in the half light, looked as though they had gone mad and were dancing their roots out of the ground.
"There he is!" said Michael, pointing suddenly to a shape that banged heavily against the gate. Jane peered through the gathering darkness.
"That's not Daddy," she said. "It's somebody else."
Then the shape, tossed and bent under the wind, lifted the latch of the gate, and they could see that it belonged to a woman, who was holding her hat on with one hand and carrying a bag in the other. As they watched, Jane and Michael saw a curious thing happen. As soon as the shape was inside the gate the wind seemed to catch her up into the air and fling her at the house. It was as though it had flung her first at the gate, waited for her to open it, and then had lifted and thrown her, bag and all, at the front door. The watching children heard a terrific bang, and as she landed the whole house shook.
"How funny! I've never seen that happen before," said Michael.
- Ch. 1 "East-Wind"
- Presently they saw their Mother coming out of the drawing-room with a visitor following her. Jane and Michael could see that the newcomer had shiny black hair — "Rather like a wooden Dutch doll," whispered Jane. And that she was thin, with large feet and hands, and small, rather peering blue-eyes.
"You'll find that they are very nice children," Mrs. Banks was saying.
Michael's elbow gave a sharp dig at Jane's ribs.
"And that they give no trouble at all," continued Mrs. Banks uncertainly, as if she herself didn't really believe what she was saying. They heard the visitor sniff as though she didn't either.
"Now, about reference —" Mrs. Banks went on.
"Oh, I make it a rule never to give references," said the other firmly.
- Ch. 1 "East-Wind"
- Mrs. Banks did not notice what was happening behind her, but Jane and Michael, watching from the top landing, had an excellent view of the extraordinary thing the visitor now did.
Certainly she followed Mrs. Banks upstairs, but not in the usual way. With her large bag in her hands she slid gracefully up the banisters, and arrived at the landing at the same time as Mrs. Banks. Such a thing, Jane and Michael knew, had never been done before. Down, of course, for they had often done it themselves. But up — never! They gazed curiously at the strange new visitor.
- Ch. 1 "East-Wind"
- What I want to know is this: Are the stars gold paper or is the gold paper stars?
- Jane in Ch. 8 "Mrs. Corry"
- Tonight the small are free from the great and the great protect the small.
- Hamadryad, the King Cobra in Ch. 10 "Full-Moon"
- It may be that to eat and be eaten are the same thing in the end. My wisdom tells me that this is probably so. We are all made of the same stuff, remember, we of the Jungle, you of the City. The same substance composes us — the tree overhead, the stone beneath us, the bird, the beast, the star — we are all one, all moving to the same end. Remember that when you no longer remember me, my child.
- Hamadryad, the King Cobra in Ch. 10 "Full-Moon"
- "Bird and beast and stone and star — we are all one, all one —" murmured the Hamadryad, softly folding his hood about him as he himself swayed between the children.
"Child and serpent, star and stone — all one."
- Ch. 10 "Full-Moon"
Mary Poppins Opens the Door (1943)
- In the village where I live, in Sussex, we made our bonfire in the Vicarage paddock and every year, as soon as it was lit, the Vicar's cow would begin to dance. She danced while the flames rose up to the sky, she danced till the ashes were black and cold. And the next morning — it was always the same — the Vicar would have no milk for his breakfast. It is strange to think of a simple cow rejoicing at the saving of Parliament so many years ago.
- NOTE (on Guy Fawkes' Day)
- Since 1939, however, there have been no bonfires on the village greens. No fireworks gleam in the blackened parks and the streets are dark and silent. But this darkness will not last forever. There will some day come a Fifth of November — or another date, it doesn't matter — when fires will burn in a chain of brightness from Land's End to John O' Groats. The children will dance and leap about them as they did in the times before. They will take each other by the hand and watch the rockets breaking, and afterwards they will go home singing to the houses full of light...
- NOTE (on Guy Fawkes' Day)
- Mary Poppins herself had flown away, but the gifts she had brought would remain for always..
- Ch. 8 "The Other Door"
- We'll never forget you, Mary Poppins!
- Ch. 8 "The Other Door"
Quotes about Travers
- Mary Poppins arrives with the wind, and intervenes in the lives of ordinary humans, making magic, but never admitting that it has taken place. She understands the language of animals and birds, and between her visits to mortals returns to some secret source. Although the Poppins books have much in common with other works of children's literature — all the way back to the early 19th century and ETA Hoffmann's inspiration of making toys come alive — Travers was adamant that she didn't write specifically for children, and that there was no such thing as children's books. Poppins, she said, "had come up of the same well of nothingness as the poetry, myths and legends that had absorbed me all my writing life." This was something else that connected Travers to Disney, who maintained that his films were not directed at children, but at the innocence within us all.
- Throughout their children's novels, Lewis and Travers bring together heterogeneous collections of characters from all orders of being — humanity, mythology (Greek, Norse, Christian), the animal world (both talking and nontalking beasts), and other fictional sources (for example, nursery rhyme and fairytale figures) — and have them mingle in festival-like gatherings reminiscent of medieval carnival celebrations. ... the interaction among these disparate characters often results in the suspension of hierarchical barriers...
- Mary Poppins advocates the kind of family life that Walt Disney had spent his career both chronicling and helping to foster on a national level: father at work, mother at home, children flourishing. It is tempting to imagine that in Travers he found a like-minded person, someone who embodied the virtues of conformity and traditionalism. Nothing could be further from the truth. Travers was a woman who never married, wore trousers when she felt like it, had a transformative and emotionally charged relationship with an older married man, and entered into a long-term live-in relationship with another woman. As she approached forty, she decided that she wanted a child. After a bizarre incident in which she attempted to adopt the seventeen-year-old girl who cleaned her house, she travelled to Ireland and adopted an infant, one of a pair of twins, and raised him as a single mother. Her reverence for the delights of family life was perhaps as intense as Disney's, but her opinion about the shape such a life might assume was far more nuanced.
Children's authors are not known for their happy childhoods, and Helen Goff — the little girl who at twenty-one changed her name to Pamela Travers and never looked back — endured one that was almost archetypal in its sadness and its privations. She was born in Australia in 1899, the eldest daughter in a household of girls. Her father, Travers Goff, was a bank manager and a drinker, and he died when she was seven.... Her mother, Margaret, who was pretty and feckless, soldiered on for a few years, and then, when Helen was ten, she did what a mother is never supposed to do. She gave up.
One night, in the middle of a thunderstorm, Margaret left Helen in charge of the two younger children, telling her that she was going to drown herself in a nearby creek. As an old woman, Travers wrote about the terrifying experience: "Large-eyed, the little ones looked at me — she and I called them the little ones, both of us aware that an eldest child, no matter how young, can never experience the heart's ease that little ones enjoy." Helen stirred the fire and then they all lay down on the hearth rug and she told them a story about a magical flying horse, with the small ones asking excited questions ("Could he carry us to the shiny land, all three on his back?"). As she tried to distract her siblings, she worried about the future. ... Margaret came back that night, having been unsuccessful in her suicide attempt, but Helen's mind was made up. She no longer cleaved to her unreliable, dithering mother but, rather, to a formidable maiden great-aunt, Helen Morehead. Aunt Ellie, as she was called, bossed everyone around, but her fierceness disguised a kindness she would have been embarrassed to admit. ... Obviously, Travers did not write her books to commemorate a happy childhood, but she did seem interested in rewriting her bad one. The Banks family is a reformed version of the Goffs, their charming features magnified and their failures burnished away. Father is a banker, although not a drunk; mother is a flibbertigibbet, although not a suicidal one. And Mary Poppins, like Aunt Ellie, is the great deflater, the enemy of any attempt at whimsy or sentiment.
- On September 6, 1995 La Stampa, Turin's daily newspaper, titled at full page "Is Mary Poppins really Satan?". Many readers were, understandably, surprised but no reader was more astonished than the undersigned. In fact I learned from the article that I had accused Mary Poppins to have "clear links with the esoteric and satanic thought". I was credited for having discovered that "under the gentle mask of the extraordinary nanny a dangerous creature was hidden, with features no less than satanic". The same journalist, appropriately, interviewed an exorcist who complained that "Introvigne normally minimizes the presence of Satan in our life" (a reference to my book on Satanism, where I argue that the number of real Satanists is minimum compared to the number of those who promote Satanism scares). But this, for the exorcist, amounted to still more convincing evidence that Mary Poppins was really satanic: "If someone like Massimo Introvigne has written such a thing, this could only mean that the danger is really there". The problem was, however, that I had never written such a thing.
- In an interview which appeared in The Paris Review in 1982 the interviewers asked Travers whether "Mary Poppins' teaching — if one can call it that — resemble that of Christ in his parables". Travers replied:
"My Zen master, because I've studied Zen for a long time, told me that every one (and all the stories weren't written then) of the Mary Poppins stories is in essence a Zen story. And someone else, who is a bit of a Don Juan, told me that every one of the stories is a moment of tremendous sexual passion, because it begins with such tension and then it is reconciled and resolved in a way that is gloriously sensual".
The answer is clarified by the following question: "So people can read anything and everything into the stories?" "Indeed."
- Massimo Introvigne in "Mary Poppins Goes to Hell. Pamela Travers, Gurdjieff, and the Rhetoric of Fundamentalism" (1996)
- Mary Poppins seems the epitome of the punishing governess, the bullying woman who has an apt saying for every occasion, and who subdues children as they were subdued in the Victorian age, when they were seen and not heard. ... She carefully hides her compassion. Almost sadistic at times, Mary is never really nasty but often very sharp. She is a controlling force, making order from disorder, making magic, and then never admitting magic took place. ... Mary Poppins threatens to leave at a point of time which only she controls. She tells her charges she will be with them until the wind changes or until her necklace breaks. She never tells them where she has come from, where she intends to go or who she really is. But she leaves many clues. Like Francis of Assisi, she is close to animals and birds, with whom she can talk. Like Jesus she helps the poor and weak. She understands the universe and seems to take part in its creation and renewal. She is known as the Great Expectation, the Oddity, the Misfit.
- She felt very much alone. She did not make friends very easily, but I don't want to make out that she was always miserable. When she was in middle age, she was quite a charming and lively person, because the actress in her would come out. She'd been an actor, as I said earlier on. It wasn't until she became a guru herself after Gurdjieff died, that she became a rather self-important, morose kind of Pamela.
- Pamela Travers appears and disappears as magically as the nanny she created. The New Yorker is the latest to discover the real Travers, the Australian who invented Mary Poppins 70 years ago. Travers told me in 1995, a year before her death, that she would talk of her work, but never of herself. In her lifetime, a biography was impossible, partly because she left so many false trails.
Luckily, she also left a paper trail of truth at her London home and in a Sydney library.
- I actually believe she liked the film a lot more than she let on publicly ... You have to remember that she was, above all, a great storyteller. And in the long line of storytellers who have faith in an oral tradition, who believe that for a great book or books to survive, they have to be retold or reinvented for each generation
- Brief profile at American Society of Authors and Writers
- Bibliography and links
- Bibliography at Fantastic Fiction
- P. L. Travers at IMDb
- "Becoming Mary Poppins : P. L. Travers, Walt Disney, and the making of a myth" by Caitlin Flanagan in The New Yorker (19 December 2005)
- "P L Travers : Why is her creation, Mary Poppins, still so popular?" BBC Interview (13 December 2004) (Realplayer audio)