Although I know I watched Mary Poppins (1964) at least once as a child, my only vivid memories of it were scenes of the penguins dancing at that garden restaurant and the chimney sweeps dancing on rooftops (a coincidence that these scenes both involve tap dancing?!). However, after recently watching the film with Wheaton’s Film Club this past spring, I fell in love with it all over again. I adored the music and the witty writing and the fun adventures and the impressive dance numbers. And who doesn’t adore Julie Andrews? The film was everything I remember it being and much, much more.
Imagine my excitement when I was scrolling through the audiobooks available via my local library and realized that Mary Poppins is also a book series. I’m not quite sure why this realization took twenty-two years to dawn on me, but it did. Mary Poppins actually began as a book series, with the first one written by P.L. Travers in 1934. There are eight books in the series, and for the sake of convenience (it was the only one available from my library in that moment) I started with the third one, Mary Poppins Opens the Door.
I wasn’t quite certain what to expect from a book version of the onscreen story I had come to know and love, but I was delighted to find that the novel fit well within my already established idea of Mary Poppins. It felt a bit strange jumping into the third book of the series, but I felt like I got the gist of the story from having seen the film. The writing was clever and imaginative, just as I had hoped it would be. And besides a few discrepancies–Bert featured a lot less in the book, and Mary Poppins was more curt in the novel than in the movie–I was surprised by how effective the transition from page to screen had been in terms of feeling and atmosphere.
Mary Poppins Opens the Door is set up almost as a series of distinct adventures, little episodes that are simultaneously separate and interconnected. Not only do Mary Poppins and the children act as a common thread throughout all of them, but so does the conflict between discipline and creativity. Many such binaries exist when Mary Poppins is around in the children’s lives: order and chaos, schedules and spontaneity, reason and emotion, familiarity and exploration. Yet rather than oppose one another, these binaries somehow merge together and coexist under Mary Poppins’ watchful eye. Here Travers shows that you don’t have to have one or the other to raise a child, or even to live a happy life; rather, you need both sides of the spectrum together, balancing one another out. This is the irresistible flawlessness of Mary Poppins: her ability to call upon the perfect measures of both sides of the spectrum at the exact right times for the situation at hand. It’s a lesson we can all take away from this marvelous, magical woman.
Overall, I really enjoyed this bookish foray into the world of Mary Poppins, and I’m looking forward to reading more books in this series (hopefully in order this time!).
Have you ever read any Mary Poppins books? Do you have a favorite one? Let me know in the comments section below!