Thursday, December 19, 2013

Saving P.L. Travers (With Fairy Tale Thoughts Thrown In)


(US / UK Links)

I wanted to make sure no one misses “Saving Mr. Banks” But Throwing P.L. Travers Under the Bus by Jerry Griswold on the SDSU Children's Literature Blog. It should be read and forwarded in hopes that some people will separate fact from screen fiction.

I admit I am a fan of Disney's Mary Poppins--it is perhaps my favorite Disney film. But I also understand how Travers was wrecked by the adaptation. The film is not her story. She was never happy with it and some of the changes in the more recent Disney stage production--which I saw in London and I myself DO NOT like--were made to try to appease her memory and desires for the story's portrayal.

I am bemused over the need to rewrite history and record on film Travers portrayed as someone she wasn't. And that's not to say that "Saving Mr. Banks" isn't an excellent film acted by two of my preferred actors--Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks. But I admit I am verklempt over seeing it for I know the real story--well at least a more accurate version than the one offered on theatre screens this holiday season.

Anyway, I offer no solutions and really don't want to belabor the point. I will always be bewildered by Hollywood's money machine, even more so after living in the midst of it for three years. I understand its workings all too well anymore and perhaps that is why I gravitate to BBC productions--I am further removed from their production.

But as for P.L. Travers, well, again, don't miss Griswold's article. And don't miss his links to his earlier articles about Travers, especially his interview, P. L. Travers, The Art of Fiction No. 63 Interviewed by Edwina Burness, Jerry Griswold in the Paris Review.

Such as this:

INTERVIEWER

But is Mary Poppins perhaps instructing the children in the “difficult truths” you mention in “Only Connect” as being contained in fairy tale, myth and nursery rhyme?

TRAVERS

Exactly. Well, you see, I think if she comes from anywhere that has a name, it is out of myth. And myth has been my study and joy ever since—oh, the age, I would think . . . of three. I’ve studied it all my life. No culture can satisfactorily move along its forward course without its myths, which are its teachings, its fundamental dealing with the truth of things, and the one reality that underlies everything. Yes, in that way you could say that it was teaching, but in no way deliberately doing so.

And this gem:

Once, when Maurice Sendak was being interviewed on television a little after the success of Where the Wild Things Are, he was asked the usual questions: Do you have children? Do you like children? After a pause, he said with simple dignity: “I was a child.” That says it all.

But don’t let me leave you with the impression that I am ungrateful to children. They have stolen much of the world’s treasure and magic in the literature they have appropriated for themselves. Think, for example, of the myths or Grimm’s fairy tales—none of which were written especially for them—this ancestral literature handed down by the folk. And so despite publishers’ labels and my own protestations about not writing especially for them, I am grateful that children have included my books in their treasure trove.

And another:

INTERVIEWER

Do you read much before or during writing?

TRAVERS

No. I read myths and fairy tales and books about them a great deal now, but I very seldom read novels. I find modern novels bore me. I can read Tolstoy and the Russians, but mostly I read comparative mythology and comparative religion. I need matter to carry with me.

And finally:

INTERVIEWER

What do you think of the contemporary interest in religion and myth, particularly among young people? Do you sense that in the last few years a large number of people have grown interested in spiritual disciplines—yoga, Zen, meditation, and the like?

TRAVERS

Yes, definitely. It shows the deep, disturbed undercurrents that there are in man, that he is really looking for something that is more than a thing. This is a civilization devoted to things. What they’re looking for is something that they cannot possess but serve, something higher than themselves.

I’m all with them in their search because it is my search, too. But I’ve searched for it all my life. And when I’m asked to speak about myth, I nearly always find it’s not known. There’s no preparation. There’s nothing for the words to fall on. People haven’t read the fairy tales.

INTERVIEWER

What reading would you recommend for children and adults?

TRAVERS

I should send people right back to the fairy tales. The Bible, of course. Even the nursery rhymes. You can find things there. As I was saying, when you think of “Humpty-Dumpty”—“. . . All the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again”—that’s a wonderful story, a fable that some things are impossible. And when children learn that, they accept that there are certain things that can’t be, and it’s a most delicate and indirect way to have it go into them.

I feel that the indirect teaching is what is needed. All school teaching is a direct giving of information. But everything I do is by hint and suggestion. That’s what I think gets into the inner ear.

Want to read more about Travers' thoughts on fairy tale and folklore? Then read What the Bee Knows (Codhill Press).

“The Sphinx, the Pyramids, the stone temples are, all of them, ultimately, as flimsy as London Bridge; our cities but tents set up in the cosmos. We pass. But what the bee knows, the wisdom that sustains our passing life—however much we deny or ignore it—that for ever remains.” —P. L. Travers

Travers also wrote about Sleeping Beauty, a fairy tale that resonated with her, in her About the Sleeping Beauty. The book is small with her own interpretation of the tale as well as five other variants, all of which are found on SurLaLune these days as well as in my own Sleeping Beauties: Sleeping Beauty and Snow White Tales From Around the World (Surlalune Fairy Tale).

The book is worth the admission for her story and afterword about the tale, of course. I have several passages marked in my copy. The other five tales included for comparison are the Grimms' Dornroschen (Briar-Rose); Perrault's La Belle au Bois Dormant (The Beauty Sleeping in the Woods); Basile's Sole, Luna, e Talia (Sun, Moon, and Talia); The Queen of Tubber Tintye, or The King of Erin and the Queen of the Lonesome Island (from Myths and Folk-lore of Ireland by Jeremiah Curtin); and The Petrified Mansion (from Bengal Fairy Tales by Francis Bradley-Birt).

Here's a scan of the cover of my copy:


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