Picture this:

Your father has died before your tenth birthday, leaving your mother alone with three girls to support. She asks you to be a darling and watch your younger sisters while she goes and drowns herself in the creek behind the house.

Do you:

  1. Cling to her skirts?
  2. Get help from a neighbor or friend?
  3.  Hug your family tight and start praying?
  4. Make up stories to soothe your sisters fears?

I would have gone for option 2, but P. L. Travers chose option 4. Thus her Mary Poppins series was born from a child’s fear and the need for stability in her life.

What surprised me most about Mary Poppins (the book, not the Disney musical) is how callous the eponymous nanny seems. She’s vain, bossy, snappish, deceitful, and shows no compunction about manipulating and bullying children or adults. I wouldn’t have been surprised to find her standing over one of the sleeping babies with a knife and then barking at the other kids to go back to sleep. This is who Travers thought would make the ideal guardian as a child?  And why did Walt Disney spend so many years trying to get Travers’ permission for an adaptation when he’d basically rewrite the entire story and characters’ personalities?

Possibly Mary Poppins’ personality evolved as Travers herself changed. At least, I hope those younger sisters heard about a kind guardian as they waited to hear the splash in the back. Ugh. Anyway, after watching this documentary, Mary Poppins’ less attractive qualities seem to have been the author’s.

I’ll stick with Christianna Brand’s Nurse Matilda series, thanks. It too has a bossy care-taker and contains just as much violence, but Nurse Matilda (or Nanny McPhee as she is renamed in the movies) is genuinely kind and seeks to improve her charges’ behavior and character rather than trolling the entire family.


One thought on “Mary Poppins vs. Nurse Matilda

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