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P. L. Travers

P.L. Travers, while appearing in the role of Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream
Born Helen Lyndon Goff
9 August 1899(1899-08-09)
Maryborough, Queensland, Australia
Died 23 April 1996 (aged 96)
London, England
Occupation Writer, actress, journalist
Nationality Australian
Genres Children's literature
Children 1 adopted son

Pamela Lyndon Travers OBE (9 August 1899 – 23 April 1996) was an Australian novelist, actress and journalist, popularly remembered for her series of children's novels about the mystical and magical nanny Mary Poppins. Her popular series has been adapted many times, including in the 1964 film starring Julie Andrews, and in the new and extremely popular Broadway musical which originally took a turn at London's West End.



Travers began publishing her poems while still a teenager and wrote for The Bulletin and Triad while also gaining a reputation as an actress. She toured Australia and New Zealand with a Shakespearean touring company before leaving for England in 1924. There she dedicated herself to writing under the pen name P. L. Travers [1] (the initials were used to disguise a woman's name). Travers also greatly admired and emulated J.M. Barrie, the writer most famous for authoring Peter Pan, which bears many structural resemblances to Travers' own greatest works, the Mary Poppins series.

In 1925 while in Ireland, Travers met the poet George William Russell (AE) who, as editor of The Irish Statesman, accepted some of her poems for publication. Through Russell, Travers met William Butler Yeats and other Irish poets who fostered her interest in and knowledge of world mythology. She had studied the Gurdjieff System under Jane Heap and in March 1936, with the help of Jessie Orage, she met the mystic Gurdjieff who would have a great effect on her, as well as on several other literary figures.[2]

The 1934 publication of Mary Poppins was Travers' first literary success. Five sequels followed (the last in 1988), as well as a collection of other novels, poetry collections and works of non-fiction.

Disney Mary Poppins

The Disney musical adaptation was released in 1964. Primarily based on the first novel in what was then a sequence of four books, it also lifted elements from the sequel Mary Poppins Comes Back. Although Travers was an adviser to the production, she disapproved of the dilution of the harsher aspects of Mary Poppins's character, felt ambivalent about the music and disliked the use of animation to such an extent that she ruled out any further adaptations of the later Mary Poppins novels. At the film's star-studded premiere, she reportedly approached Disney and told him that the animated sequence had to go. Disney responded by saying "Pamela, the ship has sailed." and walked away. Travers would never again agree to another Poppins/Disney adaptation, though Disney made several attempts to persuade her to change her mind.

So fervent was Travers' dislike of the Walt Disney adaptation and due to the way she had been treated during the production, that well into her 90s, when she was approached by producer Cameron Mackintosh to do the stage musical, she only acquiesced upon the condition that only English born writers (and specifically no Americans) and no one from the film production were to be directly involved with the creative process of the stage musical. This specifically excluded the Sherman Brothers from writing additional songs for the production even though they were still very prolific. Original songs and other aspects from the 1964 film were allowed to be incorporated into the production however. These points were stipulated in her last will and testament.

Although she never married, at the age of 40 Travers adopted a baby boy from Ireland named Camillus, separating him from his twin brother (she refused to take both children; the boys reunited years later).

Travers was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1977. She died in London in 1996.

Work upon once upon a time



  • Mary Poppins (1934)
  • Mary Poppins Comes Back (1935)
  • I Go By Sea, I Go By Land (1941)
  • Mary Poppins Opens the Door (1943)
  • Mary Poppins in the Park (1952)
  • Gingerbread Shop (1952)
  • Mr. Wigg's Birthday Party (1952)
  • The Magic Compass (1953)
  • Mary Poppins From A-Z (1962)
  • Friend Monkey (1971)
  • Mary Poppins in the Kitchen (1975)
  • Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane (1982)
  • Mary Poppins and the House Next Door (1988)


  • Stories from Mary Poppins (1952)
  • Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane / Mary Poppins and the House Next Door (1999)
  • Mary Poppins Omnibooks (1999)


  • About the Sleeping Beauty (1975)
  • What the Bee Knows: Reflections on Myth, Symbol and Story (1989)

Books on P. L. Travers

  • Out of the Sky She Came: The Life of P.L. Travers, Creator of Mary Poppins Valerie Lawson 1999 ISBN 0-7336-1072-2
  • A Lively Oracle: a Centennial Celebration of P. L. Travers, Creator of Mary Poppins. Ellen Dooling Draper and Jenny Koralek, editors. (New York: Larson Publications, 1999).
  • Mary Poppins She Wrote. Lawson,V., Aurum Press, 2005. ISBN 1-84513-126-6


External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

There are worlds beyond worlds and times beyond times, all of them true, all of them real, and all of them (as children know) penetrating each other.

Pamela Lyndon Travers (1899-08-09 - 1996-04-23) was a British author, born Helen Lyndon Goff in Maryborough, Queensland, Australia, best known as the creator of the "Mary Poppins" series of stories.

See also : Mary Poppins (1964 film)



  • It is clear from Gurdjieff's writings that hypnotism, mesmerism and various arcane methods of expanding consciousness must have played a large part in the studies of the Seekers of Truth. None of these processes, however, is to be thought of as having any bearing on what is called Black Magic, which, according to Gurdjieff, "has always one definite characteristic. It is the tendency to use people for some, even the best of aims, without their knowledge and understanding, either by producing in them faith and infatuation or by acting upon them through fear. There is, in fact, neither red, green nor yellow magic. There is 'doing.' Only 'doing' is magic." Properly to realise the scale of what Gurdjieff meant by magic, one has to remember his continually repeated aphorism, "Only he who can be can do," and its corollary that, lacking this fundamental verb, nothing is "done," things simply "happen."
  • A writer is, after all, only half his book. The other half is the reader and from the reader the writer learns.
    • As quoted in The New York Times (2 July 1978)
  • A great friend of mine at the beginning of our friendship (he was himself a poet) said to me very defiantly, "I have to tell you that I loathe children's books." And I said to him, "Well, won't you just read this just for my sake?" And he said grumpily, "Oh, very well, send it to me." I did, and I got a letter back saying: "Why didn't you tell me? Mary Poppins with her cool green core of sex has me enthralled forever."
  • The silky hush of intimate things, fragrant with my fragrance, steal softly down, so loth to rob me of my last dear concealment.
    • From a poem (c. 1920) in the Australian publication The Triad, as quoted in Out of the Sky She Came: The Life of P.L. Travers, Creator of Mary Poppins (1999) by Valerie Lawson, ISBN 0733610722 [U.S. and U.K. title: Mary Poppins, She Wrote : The Life of P. L. Travers (2006) ISBN 0743298160]
  • The Irish, as a race, have the oral tradition in their blood. A direct question to them is an anathema, but in other cases, a mere syllable of a hero's name will elicit whole chapters of stories.
    • As quoted in No Word for Time: The Way of the Algonquin People (2001) by Evan T. Pritchard
  • You do not chop off a section of your imaginative substance and make a book specifically for children, for — if you are honest — you have no idea where childhood ends and maturity begins. It is all endless and all one.
    • As quoted in Sticks and Stones : The Troublesome Success of Children's Literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter (2002) by Jack Zipes

Mary Poppins (1934)

ISBN 0152017178
  • If you want to find Cherry-Tree Lane all you have to do is ask the Policeman at the cross-roads. He will push his helmet slightly to one side, scratch his head thoughtfully, and then he will point his huge white-gloved finger and say: "First to your right, second to your left, sharp right again, and you're there. Good-morning."
    And sure enough, if you follow his directions exactly, you will be there — right in the middle of Cherry-Tree Lane, where the houses run down one side and the Park runs down the other and the cherry-trees go dancing right down the middle.
    If you are looking for Number Seventeen — and it is more than likely that you will be, for this book is all about that particular house — you will very soon find it.
    • Ch. 1 "East-Wind"
  • Jane and Michael sat at the window watching for Mr. Banks to come home, and listening to the sound of the East Wind blowing through the naked branches of the cherry-trees in the Lane. The trees themselves, turning and bending in the half light, looked as though they had gone mad and were dancing their roots out of the ground.
    "There he is!" said Michael, pointing suddenly to a shape that banged heavily against the gate. Jane peered through the gathering darkness.
    "That's not Daddy," she said. "It's somebody else."
    Then the shape, tossed and bent under the wind, lifted the latch of the gate, and they could see that it belonged to a woman, who was holding her hat on with one hand and carrying a bag in the other. As they watched, Jane and Michael saw a curious thing happen. As soon as the shape was inside the gate the wind seemed to catch her up into the air and fling her at the house. It was as though it had flung her first at the gate, waited for her to open it, and then had lifted and thrown her, bag and all, at the front door. The watching children heard a terrific bang, and as she landed the whole house shook.
    "How funny! I've never seen that happen before," said Michael.
    • Ch. 1 "East-Wind"
  • Presently they saw their Mother coming out of the drawing-room with a visitor following her. Jane and Michael could see that the newcomer had shiny black hair — "Rather like a wooden Dutch doll," whispered Jane. And that she was thin, with large feet and hands, and small, rather peering blue-eyes.
    "You'll find that they are very nice children," Mrs. Banks was saying.
    Michael's elbow gave a sharp dig at Jane's ribs.
    "And that they give no trouble at all," continued Mrs. Banks uncertainly, as if she herself didn't really believe what she was saying. They heard the visitor sniff as though she didn't either.
    "Now, about reference —" Mrs. Banks went on.
    "Oh, I make it a rule never to give references," said the other firmly.
    • Ch. 1 "East-Wind"
  • Mrs. Banks did not notice what was happening behind her, but Jane and Michael, watching from the top landing, had an excellent view of the extraordinary thing the visitor now did.
    Certainly she followed Mrs. Banks upstairs, but not in the usual way. With her large bag in her hands she slid gracefully up the banisters, and arrived at the landing at the same time as Mrs. Banks. Such a thing, Jane and Michael knew, had never been done before. Down, of course, for they had often done it themselves. But up — never! They gazed curiously at the strange new visitor.
    • Ch. 1 "East-Wind"
  • What I want to know is this: Are the stars gold paper or is the gold paper stars?
    • Jane in Ch. 8 "Mrs. Corry"
  • Tonight the small are free from the great and the great protect the small.
    • Hamadryad, the King Cobra in Ch. 10 "Full-Moon"
  • It may be that to eat and be eaten are the same thing in the end. My wisdom tells me that this is probably so. We are all made of the same stuff, remember, we of the Jungle, you of the City. The same substance composes us — the tree overhead, the stone beneath us, the bird, the beast, the star — we are all one, all moving to the same end. Remember that when you no longer remember me, my child.
    • Hamadryad, the King Cobra in Ch. 10 "Full-Moon"
  • "Bird and beast and stone and star — we are all one, all one —" murmured the Hamadryad, softly folding his hood about him as he himself swayed between the children.
    "Child and serpent, star and stone — all one."
    • Ch. 10 "Full-Moon"

Mary Poppins Opens the Door (1943)

ISBN 0152058222
  • In the village where I live, in Sussex, we made our bonfire in the Vicarage paddock and every year, as soon as it was lit, the Vicar's cow would begin to dance. She danced while the flames rose up to the sky, she danced till the ashes were black and cold. And the next morning—it was always the same—the Vicar would have no milk for his breakfast. It is strange to think of a simple cow rejoicing at the saving of Parliament so many years ago.
  • Since 1939, however, there have been no bonfires on the village greens. No fireworks gleam in the blackened parks and the streets are dark and silent. But this darkness will not last forever. There will some day come a Fifth of November—or another date, it doesn't matter—when fires will burn in a chain of brightness from Land's End to John O' Groats. The children will dance and leap about them as they did in the times before. They will take each other by the hand and watch the rockets breaking, and afterwards they will go home singing to the houses full of light...
  • Mary Poppins herself had flown away, but the gifts she had brought would remain for always.
    • Ch. 8 "The Other Door"
  • We'll never forget you, Mary Poppins!
    • Ch. 8 "The Other Door"

Quotes about Travers

  • Mary Poppins arrives with the wind, and intervenes in the lives of ordinary humans, making magic, but never admitting that it has taken place. She understands the language of animals and birds, and between her visits to mortals returns to some secret source. Although the Poppins books have much in common with other works of children's literature — all the way back to the early 19th century and ETA Hoffmann's inspiration of making toys come alive — Travers was adamant that she didn't write specifically for children, and that there was no such thing as children's books. Poppins, she said, "had come up of the same well of nothingness as the poetry, myths and legends that had absorbed me all my writing life." This was something else that connected Travers to Disney, who maintained that his films were not directed at children, but at the innocence within us all.
  • Mary Poppins advocates the kind of family life that Walt Disney had spent his career both chronicling and helping to foster on a national level: father at work, mother at home, children flourishing. It is tempting to imagine that in Travers he found a like-minded person, someone who embodied the virtues of conformity and traditionalism. Nothing could be further from the truth. Travers was a woman who never married, wore trousers when she felt like it, had a transformative and emotionally charged relationship with an older married man, and entered into a long-term live-in relationship with another woman. As she approached forty, she decided that she wanted a child. After a bizarre incident in which she attempted to adopt the seventeen-year-old girl who cleaned her house, she travelled to Ireland and adopted an infant, one of a pair of twins, and raised him as a single mother. Her reverence for the delights of family life was perhaps as intense as Disney's, but her opinion about the shape such a life might assume was far more nuanced.
    Children's authors are not known for their happy childhoods, and Helen Goff — the little girl who at twenty-one changed her name to Pamela Travers and never looked back — endured one that was almost archetypal in its sadness and its privations. She was born in Australia in 1899, the eldest daughter in a household of girls. Her father, Travers Goff, was a bank manager and a drinker, and he died when she was seven.... Her mother, Margaret, who was pretty and feckless, soldiered on for a few years, and then, when Helen was ten, she did what a mother is never supposed to do. She gave up.
    One night, in the middle of a thunderstorm, Margaret left Helen in charge of the two younger children, telling her that she was going to drown herself in a nearby creek. As an old woman, Travers wrote about the terrifying experience: "Large-eyed, the little ones looked at me — she and I called them the little ones, both of us aware that an eldest child, no matter how young, can never experience the heart's ease that little ones enjoy." Helen stirred the fire and then they all lay down on the hearth rug and she told them a story about a magical flying horse, with the small ones asking excited questions ("Could he carry us to the shiny land, all three on his back?"). As she tried to distract her siblings, she worried about the future. ... Margaret came back that night, having been unsuccessful in her suicide attempt, but Helen's mind was made up. She no longer cleaved to her unreliable, dithering mother but, rather, to a formidable maiden great-aunt, Helen Morehead. Aunt Ellie, as she was called, bossed everyone around, but her fierceness disguised a kindness she would have been embarrassed to admit. ... Obviously, Travers did not write her books to commemorate a happy childhood, but she did seem interested in rewriting her bad one. The Banks family is a reformed version of the Goffs, their charming features magnified and their failures burnished away. Father is a banker, although not a drunk; mother is a flibbertigibbet, although not a suicidal one. And Mary Poppins, like Aunt Ellie, is the great deflater, the enemy of any attempt at whimsy or sentiment.
  • On September 6, 1995 La Stampa, Turin's daily newspaper, titled at full page "Is Mary Poppins really Satan?". Many readers were, understandably, surprised but no reader was more astonished than the undersigned. In fact I learned from the article that I had accused Mary Poppins to have "clear links with the esoteric and satanic thought". I was credited for having discovered that "under the gentle mask of the extraordinary nanny a dangerous creature was hidden, with features no less than satanic". The same journalist, appropriately, interviewed an exorcist who complained that "Introvigne normally minimizes the presence of Satan in our life" (a reference to my book on Satanism, where I argue that the number of real Satanists is minimum compared to the number of those who promote Satanism scares). But this, for the exorcist, amounted to still more convincing evidence that Mary Poppins was really satanic: "If someone like Massimo Introvigne has written such a thing, this could only mean that the danger is really there". The problem was, however, that I had never written such a thing.
  • In an interview which appeared in The Paris Review in 1982 the interviewers asked Travers whether "Mary Poppins' teaching — if one can call it that — resemble that of Christ in his parables". Travers replied:
    "My Zen master, because I've studied Zen for a long time, told me that every one (and all the stories weren't written then) of the Mary Poppins stories is in essence a Zen story. And someone else, who is a bit of a Don Juan, told me that every one of the stories is a moment of tremendous sexual passion, because it begins with such tension and then it is reconciled and resolved in a way that is gloriously sensual".
    The answer is clarified by the following question: "So people can read anything and everything into the stories?". "Indeed"
    • Massimo Introvigne in "Mary Poppins Goes to Hell. Pamela Travers, Gurdjieff, and the Rhetoric of Fundamentalism" (1996)
  • Mary Poppins seems the epitome of the punishing governess, the bullying woman who has an apt saying for every occasion, and who subdues children as they were subdued in the Victorian age, when they were seen and not heard. ... She carefully hides her compassion. Almost sadistic at times, Mary is never really nasty but often very sharp. She is a controlling force, making order from disorder, making magic, and then never admitting magic took place. ... Mary Poppins threatens to leave at a point of time which only she controls. She tells her charges she will be with them until the wind changes or until her necklace breaks. She never tells them where she has come from, where she intends to go or who she really is. But she leaves many clues. Like Francis of Assisi, she is close to animals and birds, with whom she can talk. Like Jesus she helps the poor and weak. She understands the universe and seems to take part in its creation and renewal. She is known as the Great Expectation, the Oddity, the Misfit.
    • Valerie Lawson, in Out of the Sky She Came: The Life of P.L. Travers, Creator of Mary Poppins (1999) by Valerie Lawson, ISBN 0733610722 [U.S. and U.K. title: Mary Poppins, She Wrote : The Life of P. L. Travers (2006) ISBN 0743298160]
  • She felt very much alone. She did not make friends very easily, but I don't want to make out that she was always miserable. When she was in middle age, she was quite a charming and lively person, because the actress in her would come out. She'd been an actor, as I said earlier on. It wasn't until she became a guru herself after Gurdjieff died, that she became a rather self-important, morose kind of Pamela.
  • Pamela Travers appears and disappears as magically as the nanny she created. The New Yorker is the latest to discover the real Travers, the Australian who invented Mary Poppins 70 years ago. Travers told me in 1995, a year before her death, that she would talk of her work, but never of herself. In her lifetime, a biography was impossible, partly because she left so many false trails.
    Luckily, she also left a paper trail of truth at her London home and in a Sydney library.
  • I actually believe she liked the film a lot more than she let on publicly ... You have to remember that she was, above all, a great storyteller. And in the long line of storytellers who have faith in an oral tradition, who believe that for a great book or books to survive, they have to be retold or reinvented for each generation

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