all happy books are based on sadness -- 4/7/14

Today's selection -- from Mary Poppins, She Wrote by Valerie Lawson. Pamela Travers was the highly unconventional and slightly subversive author of the beloved Mary Poppins books first published in 1934. Unlike the saccharine version from Walt Disney, Travers's fictional Poppins is "as peculiar as she is kind, as threatening as she is comforting, as stern as she is sensual, as elusive as she is matter of fact." Travers own childhood was filled was tragedy -- poverty and rootlessness, a father who died when she was seven, and a mother who attempted suicide:

Pamela Lyndon Travers

"Travers said all happy books are based on sadness. She must have had her own in mind. Pamela Travers, too, was full of sorrow. As she knew, 'the cup of sorrow is always full. For a grown-up it's a flagon, for the child, it's a thimble, but it's never less than full.'

"She thought 'we are all looking for magic. We all need to feel we are under a spell and one day a wand will be waved and the princes that we truly feel ourselves to be will start forth at last from the tattered shapeless smocks. But indeed we have to wave the wand for ourself. If only we could refrain from endlessly repairing our defenses. To be naked and defenseless. Oh we need it.'

 Floating away over the roofs of the houses,
Mary Shepard

"She needed that but didn't find it, creating more defenses and masks with age. The writer Salman Rushdie summarized such a life -- and so many of our lives -- in his comment to an interviewer: 'We live in a world of disappointment. You begin with high hopes and the beautiful innocence of childhood but you discover that the world isn't good enough, nor are our lives and nor are we. But there are moments in life when we can have an experience of transcendence, feel part of something larger, or simply our hearts burst inside.'

"Travers experienced that marvelous transcendence more than most, I believe. It came unexpectedly, as it always does, in the pleasure of her search for a pattern and meaning in her life. As she told one of her favorite writers, Jonathan Cott:

"'There's a wonderful line in a poem by Theodore Roethke which says "you learn by going where you have to go." You can't learn before you set out, can you? You go along the road and learn as you go.' "



Valerie Lawson


Mary Poppins, She Wrote: The Life of P. L. Travers


Simon & Schuster


Copyright 1999 by Valerie Lawson


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