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Intertextuality and Psychology in P. L. Travers’ «Mary Poppins» Books

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Julia Kunz

As we approach the seventieth anniversary of the first appearance of Mary Poppins, interest in P. L. Travers’ most famous creation is still strong and the time is right for a reassessment of a work that is rich in meaning for child and adult readers alike. This book attempts to analyse some of the reasons behind the longevity and the ongoing appeal of the Mary Poppins material, with particular reference to intertextuality and the presence of what Freud described as «the uncanny». By comparing and contrasting the Mary Poppins material with previous texts, it can be seen that Travers has been drawing, consciously and subconsciously, on the great myths and archetypes of the collective human storytelling experience. The idea therefore emerges that the Mary Poppins stories touch on some fundamental aspect of the psyche – an aspect where the symbiosis of security and fear, the familiar and the unknown, are made manifest to the reader, whether as children finding their way into adulthood or as adults recalling their beginnings.
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V. Small Feet in the River of Literature, or References to the Classics of Children’s Literature

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V.Small Feet in the River of Literature, or References to the Classics of Children’s Literature

There is a curtain, thin as gossamer, clear as glass, strong as iron, that hangs for ever between the world of magic and the world that seems to us to be real. And when once people have found one of the little weak spots in that curtain which are marked by magic rings, and amulets, and the like, almost anything can happen. (Nesbit 179)

Apart from intertextual connections to fairy tales and myth, P.L. Travers Mary Poppins series exhibits a number of intertextual links to Victorian and Edwardian children’s classics, for example, to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, to George MacDonald’s “The Light Princess” and notably, to the works of E. Nesbit, who was one of Travers’s favourite writers in her own youth.

5.1Of Neverlands, Shadows and Childhoods

Analysts of Travers’s writings have on a number of occasions noted the similarity of the Mary Poppins stories to Barrie’s Peter Pan, much to Travers’s contempt–at one such suggestion, she snapped “Must you say that?” (qtd. in Lawson 156). Mary Poppins’slinks to Peter Pandeserve examination, and we will see that despite a number of similarities, the underlying message of Travers’s work differs crucially from Barrie’s outlook on life as promoted in Peter Pan.

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