It is a common knowledge that people always thought of something that would make their life easier. Charms and topics related with them have always attracted the attention of different writers who created stories and fairy-tales where people achieved everything they wanted by means of magic not even lifting a hand. Magical stories have always been of great interest to children who, as it is known, cannot appease with reality that magic does not exist and whose little creative minds have always been thinking of something that would involve them into unforgettable adventures. Not of less interest are such stories to grown ups the mind of which is concentrated on how to make life more simple and get at least some of the things necessary for living without putting any efforts to it. “Mary Poppins” written by Pamela Lyndon Travers is one of the first stories of this kind. A great number of fairy tales about magical people and magical creatures appeared after it. Perhaps, another writers inspired by “Mary Poppins” decided to explore the magical world by themselves and join the ranks of those who are discussing the question how much the magic would help in everyday life if it really existed.
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Pamela Lyndon Travers was not only the famous writer of eight parts of the children’s book “Mary Poppins” but an actress and journalist as well. Her contribution to the fantasy for youth is very significant though compared with modern stories about wizards and magical world this book may seem a little primitive. “Mary Poppins” was written in 1934 and was one of the first books describing something magical, this is why there is no way criticizing it and comparing it with modern fantasies some of which can be regarded as absurd as they are oversaturated with pure invention and cannot even closely be related to reality. “Mary Poppins” is a classical fantasy and the charms are not abused in this story. They bear entertaining character letting the imagination fly and helping get absorbed in reading. Namely depending on the presentation of magic and charms in the book a number of criteria may be worked out in order to evaluate the merits of “Mary Poppins” viewed as a book of fantasy for youth.
The list of criteria opens the one which helps consider the book according to the degree of distortion of reality. It is not a secret that excess distortion of reality is a common fault of books written in the genre of fantasy. When reading these books one can get an idea of getting into another world without any connections with the world ordinary humans live in. “Mary Poppins” belongs to the books which describing the Land of Wonders still keeps the reader in the real world reminding him or her all the time that this all is nothing but invention. One of the main means for that is representing in the story ordinary children who could never think of something magical until Mary Poppins entered into their lives. This was the aim of the author. Pamela Lyndon Travers wanted to express certain universal truths in her book in a way so that children could understand them: “She believed childhood was a sorrowful time’ and came from an age when most writers for children expected a lot from their young readers and tried to convey to them serious moral values, many of which would now be dismissed as middle class’ “ (Jane Kelly, 25). That’s why distortion of reality was not her purpose. The author aimed at making the story easy to comprehend as the audience the book is intended for is children and the book for them should “become part of their world” and should be “repeatedly read and enjoyed by children” (Douglas Street, XV).
Another contribution into the world of fantasy made by Pamela Lyndon Travers’s “Mary Poppins” may be evaluated taking into consideration the effect it produces on the reader. Most of the modern books written in the genre of fantasy usually cause some negative emotions in readers, fear and aversion belonging to these emotions. The main purpose of each piece of writing, especially in a genre of fantasy, is to impress the reader. To reach this purpose the writers resort to description of some unbelievable adventures of the main characters, the adventures which as a rule are dangerous and sometimes lead to death and injuries. Some of the authors try to impress the reader too hard and sometimes they go too far turning their stories into fearful ones, especially when they are writing about charms and curses. Nothing like this can be found in “Mary Poppins” as the magic described their actually belongs to the kind of innocent pranks. Mary Poppins is not a witch in any way and in her story one won’t find something even close to occultism or witchcraft as well as no spells, curses or applications of practical magic can be observed. Magic is something she is doing for fun: “Mary Poppins can levitate the children to have tea on the ceiling. She can glue stars to the sky. […] Mary can speak to animals and interpret animal speech for humans. But she always maintains that nothing extraordinary has happened” (Anita Silvey, 129). In “Mary Poppins”, unlike other fantastical stories abounding with descriptions of dark forests or deserted castles, there is nothing mysterious and frightful. Only the house in the Cherry-Tree Lane which is “dilapidated and needs coats of paint” (P. L. Travis, 1) shows the reader that something interesting is going to happen in it.
One more criteria for evaluating the merits of “Mary Poppins” will be according to the state of confusion. There is a number of books belonging to the genre of fantasy which describe events of the past or sometimes future reading which you start losing the train of thought and the story itself stops making any sense. This may happen because of numerous events taking place one after another very rapidly or flashbacks to the past which happen very vaguely and without any notice. The story itself gets confused and not interesting at all. In “Mary Poppins” the events are described very clearly and the reader does not have to guess what exactly was supposed to happen at this or that stage of reading. The story is coherent and references to the past are not confusing. In fact, each book about Mary Poppins, and there are eight of them, is to some extent a flashback to the past by itself. Once having read a book the reader is able to definitely say what the book is about and to enumerate the events which took place there. This means that the book is easy to read and understand.
Furthermore, some authors of books about magic invent special terminology and notions which are difficult to memorize. Reading such a book one may come across terms which require some explanations or returning to the beginning of the story where you can get these explanations. “Mary Poppins” does not contain any incomprehensible names or notions. Everything that children and Mary Poppins encounter is something well-known but viewed from the different perspective. This makes the book simple and children who read it do not have to learn and remember the names of magical creatures or spells which would help them understand the following chapter.
And finally, “Mary Poppins” can be assessed according to the uniqueness of its contents. In other words this criterion is aimed at finding out whether this story is analogous to some other stories or whether the situation described in it is unique. It is often the case that one and the same story is written in different interpretations and all it takes is to read one of them and you will be able to discuss at least three books. As “Mary Poppins” is one of the first books of its kind it is the first story where “supernatural nanny comes to rescue” (Toby Creswell, Samanthe Trenoweth, 225). It is worth mentioning that other possible analogues of this story were written after it and sometimes even on the basis of it. The story of Mary Poppins was made up by P.L. Travers because when being a child the author herself had a number of nannies she had to stay with this is why the variant that she took somebody’s story as an example falls away.
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The book “Mary Poppins” by P.L. Travers consists of eight separate books which are connected with each other. Each book contains the description of the adventures children and their Nanny experience. East Wind blows Mary Poppins to the house children live in. Though the nanny is quite strict, children like her because what makes her wonderful for them is that she can work magic. Children have fun during the tea parties on the ceiling, travels to the sky, meeting people who live under dandelions, riding peppermint horses and learning to cook. This is not a full list of adventurous which made the children’s life more colorful as even a trip to the moon is not a problem for such a nanny.
Everybody knows that fantasy is a very popular genre which attracts both children and adults. There exist a number of books about charms and magic and all they differ from each other in the contents and means to present the story. “Mary Poppins” is written in the genre of fantasy and to figure out the merits of namely this book five criteria have been worked out. As a work of fantasy “Mary Poppins” can be evaluated first of all, according to the degree of distortion of reality, secondly, according to the effect produced on the reader, thirdly, according to the state of confusion, then the complexity of language should be taken into consideration, and the last criterion is the uniqueness of the contents.
Taking into account all the five criteria it can be concluded that “Mary Poppins” is a good example of fantasy for youth. Its story was not met in the works of other writers, it does not distort the reality, it is able to impress the readers without scaring them, the story is coherent and the language it is written in is simple and easy to understand. All in all, it is evident now why this book was so popular in times it was published and continues to be one of children’s favorite books these days.
- P.L. Travers. Mary Poppins (Odyssey Classics). NY: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1997.
- Anita Silvey. 100 Best Books for Children: A Parent’s Guide to Making the Right Choices for Your Young Reader, Toddler to Preteen. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005.
- Toby Creswell, Samantha Trenoweth. 1001 Australians You Should Know. Pluto Press Australia, 2006.
- Douglas Street. Children’s Novels and the Movies. F. Ungar Pub. Co., 1983.
- Jane Kelly. “So Supercali but Mary Poppins Made Her Creator Sob”. The Daily Mail. 1996: 25.