Mary Poppins, one of the most beloved films and characters of all times, returns as a sequel this Christmas season.
Based on the book series by, P. L. Travers from 1922, the premise of the story is that a nanny with supernatural abilities mysteriously finds the Banks family, in turn of the century London, who are in need of a combination of discipline, compassion and magical adventures.
This whimsical musical sequel, directed by Rob Marshal, offers colorful costumes, mesmerizing special effects and inspiring music, which all translate into the extraordinary movie experience living up to its predecessor- the original 1964 movie, which starred the lovely Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins and Dick Van Dyke as Bert, her sprightly Chimney sweeping friend.
Similarly, this new version, staring the sassy Emily Blunt as Mary and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack, finds the second-generation Banks family, again in need of Mary’s special brand of enchantment.
Tidy, proper, well coifed and dressed, Mary has the ability to not only see below the surface, but also the ability of knowing just what to do.
She demands good manners, propriety, and pleasing presentation but offers joyful, heartfelt, full on wonder.
But where did the inspiration for the book come from? Like many children’s literature books, the story is filled deeper meaning and references to world’s religious and spiritual teachings.
Author Pamela Travers, born 1899 as Helen Lyndon Goff in Queensland, Australia, who later moved to England, was influenced by the poet, artist, and mystic, AE . He was a dominant figure in the Irish Literary renaissance that introduced her to the meaning of folklore, spirits and esoteric eastern religions, as well as the poetry of Nobel Prize winning WB Yeats.
It is told that it was AE who suggested that Travers write stories incorporating her interest in fantasy by bringing inanimate objects to life.
Mary Poppins first appeared in a series of early stories written for children in 1926 seeded with ideas of mythology, allusions to the Bible, Greek deities and Sufi parables along with the works of William Blake, Zen Buddhism and beliefs about the Hindu goddess Kali.
In later years, Travers, who taught university courses on symbols and mythology, regarded Poppins as an embodiment of a ‘mother goddess’. Even the name Mary, perhaps suggests a connection with Mother Mary.
Like other deities from religious teachings, Mary Poppins comes from beyond the clouds when her help is needed.
“If ever I lose my way, I just look up”, says Mary’s friend, Jack, a city lamp lighter, like one might utter about spiritual matters, as he watches Mary Poppins fly down with the kite.
Mary Poppins too, has strong moral character, purity, and described as “practically perfect in every way”. Her maternal compassion, though she had no children of her own, is like that of a Greek virgin goddess with a divine being’s ability to perform miracles!
The young Annabel Banks says, “Everything is possible”, to which Mary Poppins responds, “Even the impossible”. And after her work is done, tending to matters of human suffering, she ascends heavenward
Perhaps this was the reason for Traver’s great apprehension in giving over her work to Walt Disney- perhaps she was concerned that her ideas be made into a farce when she knew the gravity of the source they were built upon. This story of the reluctant Travers, played by Emma Thomas, was portrayed in the 2013 film, Saving Mr. Banks, Travers was reportedly disappointed when she saw the premier of Disney’s 1964 version staring Julie Andrews , despite the fact that it made her very wealthy.
Even nearly 100 years after the book was written, however, the mystical ideas that Travers was drawn to seem to remain at the essence of movie’s song lyrics written by by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.
The meaning of the song, The cover is not the Book, is that appearances can be false, one needs to look inside to get at the truth of things.
A cover is not the book
So open it up and take a look
‘Cause under the covers one discovers
That the king may be a crook
Chapter titles are like signs
And if you read between the lines
You’ll find your first impression was mistook
For a cover is nice
But a cover is not the book
Light has long been associated with knowledge, goodness or spiritual energy, like a halo, or an aura or the mandorla Jesus is often depicted in, and evident on the Buddhist term, ‘Enlightenment’. I Jack, who’s job it is, to illuminates the city of London, sings, Trip a little light Fantastic:
Let’s say you’re lost in a park, sure
You can give in to the dark or
You can trip a little light fantastic with me
When you’re alone in your room
Your choice’s just embrace the gloom
Or you can trip a little light fantastic with me
For if you hide under the covers
You might never see the day
But if a spark can start inside your heart
Then you can always find the way
So when life is getting dreary
Just pretend that you’re a leerie
As you trip a little light fantastic with me
The lyrics to The Royal Daultan Music Hall implies that we are never alone, and there is another world that we are not aware of, but it is aware of us:
In the nursery, you were never by yourself
There was quite another world upon your shelf (Hold on)
Where each day crowds make their way upon the sun’s descent
To a mythical, mystical, never quite logistical tent
The Place Where Lost Things Go agrees with many spiritual practices believe that the soul lives on long after the human skin is shed.
Do you ever dream
Wondering where to find
What you truly miss
Well maybe all those things
That you love so
Are waiting in the place
Where the lost things go
Memories you’ve shared
Gone for good you feared
They’re all around you still
Though they’ve disappeared
Nothing’s really left
Or lost without a trace
Nothing’s gone forever
Only out of place
In the finale musical number, Nowhere to Go But Up also seems steeped in religious ideology,
Life’s a balloon
That tumbles or rises
Depending on what is inside
Fill it with hope
And playful surprises
And oh, deary ducks
Then you’re in for a ride
Here the idea that those with virtue and faith will rise, elevate, even levitate.
Collectively, as a society, we seem to be like the Banks family, in need as well of the qualities that Ms. Poppins delivers. She not only returns to deliver her to the Banks family, but for us, like prophets and saints in the past, of these universal teachings of faith, compassion and wonderment.
By Masha Savitz