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We learn in this fascinating collection of essays and interviews that P.L. Travers, the British creator of Mary Poppins, bristled when asked about dates and places and influences because she knew that banal facts could never convey her sense of living in the midst of a great mystery. Offering only the barest sketch of her outer life (Travers was born in Australia and became a student of the mystic G.I. Gurdjieff, W.B. Yeats and others), this work celebrates Travers as an oracle of insights and connections that came to her because she had mastered the art and discipline of opening up to reality. Draper, former editor of Parabola magazine (which Travers helped found), and Koralek, an English children's author and friend of Travers's, present a Travers who is not the sum of her biographical parts but a soul in question, a pilgrim on an ever-deepening journey toward an unknown home. "Perhaps we are looking for miracles," wrote Travers. "Most certainly we are looking for meaning. We want the fox not to eat the hare, we want the opposites reconciled." Not every piece here shines. Reminiscences by Jim George and Paul Jordan-Smith come off as self-aggrandizing rather than illuminating. The best entries, however, including interviews by Jonathan Cott and Sir Laurens Van der Post, and essays by Martha Heyneman and others, explore the work and mind of a woman who was seeking that place of profound connection and reconciliation we read about in fairy tales, "where the fox and the hare say goodnight to each other." This is an unusual, rewarding volume. (Dec.)
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The original Mary Poppins was not as "saccharine" as the movie character, says Lawson, and her bittersweet biography of the supernanny's elusive creator, Travers (1899–1996), convincingly portrays a writer who created her character out of the childhood sorrows that haunted her. Drawing on archival sources and private papers, Lawson, a writer for the Sydney Morning Herald, sensitively traces Travers's emotionally deprived girlhood in Australia, where she was raised largely by an elderly aunt; her early career as an actress and columnist; and her 1924 emigration to London, where she worked as a journalist and theater reviewer. Emphasizing how Travers's desire for the father who had died when she was seven affected both her life and work, Lawson explores mythological and literary influences on the six Mary Poppins stories, written over 54 years (the first was published in 1934). Never married, Travers adopted an Irish baby boy; Lawson movingly reveals the emotional fallout of their failed relationship. After detailing Travers's fussy movie negotiations with Walt Disney and the downplaying of her authorship in the 1964 hit film, Lawson captures the melancholy of Travers's retreat into isolation and old age. 2 photo inserts
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