Literature: Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins never told anybody anything...

Mary Poppins is a children's book by P.L. Travers, with seven sequels.

Mary Poppins is a Magical Nanny, who enters the life of the Banks family of 1930s London, England via a gust of wind. She acts very stern and vain, but the Banks children (Jane, Michael, John, Barbara, and Annabel) become involved in the most mystical occurrences while in her company.

Walt Disney's 1964 film adaptation uses some events and characters from the first book, but also has a slightly less episodic plot and some different characterizations (eg, toning down Mary Poppins' sternness).


Chapter Books

  • Mary Poppins (1934)
  • Mary Poppins Comes Back (1935)
  • Mary Poppins Opens the Door (1943)

Collections Of Short Stories

  • Mary Poppins in the Park (1952)
  • Mary Poppins From A to Z (1962)
  • Mary Poppins in the Kitchen: A Cookery Book With a Story (1975)note 

Short Stories

  • Mary Poppins and the Match-Man (1926)note 
  • Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane (1982)
  • Mary Poppins and The House Next Door (1988)

The books provide examples of:

  • Baby Language: It's revealed that babies can talk to each other, and also to animals and inanimate objects, but lose the ability around the time they get their teeth. One of the things that makes Mary Poppins special is that she has somehow retained the ability into adulthood.
  • Babysitter from Hell: Mr. Banks' childhood governess, Miss Andrew, never has anything nice to say. He refers to her as a "holy terror".
  • Back for the Finale: The last chapter of the second and third books each feature re-appearances by people the children met.
  • Bag of Holding: Mary Poppins's carpetbag.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Michael makes three wishes on a star, expecting none of them to come true. The third wish is to go somewhere where no one could disturb him, so he becomes whisked to a planet of talking cats who enslave children.
  • Big Entrance: Mary Poppins demonstrates a knack for this in the chapter books.
    • In Mary Poppins, the wind blows her onto the Banks family's doorstep.
    • In Mary Poppins Comes Back, an attempt to pull Michael's kite out of a tree results in the Banks children finding her at the other end of the string.
    • In Mary Poppins Opens the Door, she falls out of a firework burst on Guy Fawkes Day.
  • Broken Record: In the first book, the Bird Woman speaks only in the phrases, "Feed the birds! Tuppence a bag!" The sequels reveal that she can also speak other words, when not selling birdseed.
  • But Now I Must Go: Mary Poppins does this at the end of each of the chapter books.
  • Character Title
  • Christmas Episode: The "Christmas Shopping" chapter of the first book. Maia of the Pleiades joins Mary Poppins and the Banks children on their shopping trip.
  • Cool Old Lady: A few of Mrs. Corry's talents include possessing a memory that goes as far back to at least the creation of the Earth, and baking delicious gingerbread that comes with gold paper stars. When night falls, Mrs. Corry and Mary Poppins glue these paper stars to the sky, turning them into real stars.
  • Creator Cameo: P.L. Travers makes an appearance in one of the pictures from the chapter about people flying with monogrammed balloons, as does illustrator Mary Shepard.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mary Poppins and Michael have their moments.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Mary Poppins and the Match-Man describes Mary Poppins' age as 17, and also has a plot in which the Banks children play a minimal role. The latter bit of weirdness stayed intact when P.L. Travers re-wrote the story as "The Day Out".
    • Instead of denying that she and the Match-Man did anything magical (see Or Was It a Dream? below), Mary Poppins straight-up tells the Banks children that they visited her personal "Fairyland."
  • Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: The Park-Keeper, the Sweep, and the Match-Man, among others. The Match-Man does sometimes go by his first name, Bert, and even uses his full name, Herbert Alfred, at church. Meanwhile, the Park-Keeper's last name becomes confirmed as "Smith", and his first initial as the letter F.
  • Excuse Plot: Mary Poppins in the Kitchen introduces some traditional English food to children through a storyline in which Mary Poppins and her friends and relatives give the Banks children a week's worth of cooking lessons, in the usual chef's absence.
  • Full-Name Basis: It's rare for anyone to use less than Mary Poppins' full name.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Mary.
  • Guardian Entity: Implied for Mary Poppins: Every time she leaves the Banks family, the household falls into chaos, but then she comes and restores order.
  • Growing Up Sucks
  • Halloween Episode: The "Hallow'ween" chapter of Mary Poppins in the Park, in which Living Shadows hold an early birthday party for Mary Poppins.
  • Hammerspace: Where Mary Poppins unpacks most of her belongings in Mary Poppins Comes Back and ...Opens the Door after returning to the nursery.
  • Homeless Pigeon Person: The Bird Woman
  • Inexplicably Awesome: Mary is a classic example.
  • Insane Troll Logic: In Mary Poppins Opens the Door, Mary Poppins tells Jane and Michael, "I'll stay til the door opens", then clarifies that she refers to the "other door" of the nursery. Michael interprets this to mean that she will never leave, because the nursery only has one door, and therefore the "other door" will never open. Mary Poppins eventually leaves through the door's reflection on the window.
  • Interquel: P.L. Travers explains in the introduction to Mary Poppins in the Park that the stories within happened during Mary's stays in the first three books. Since the books written from the 1960s through the '80s do not begin with Mary Poppins making a dramatic entrance back into the Banks' lives, these probably take place during those visits as well.
  • Invisible to Adults: Being able to see magical creatures is part of the special baby powers package mentioned above.
  • It Runs in the Family: Each of the chapter books contains a chapter in which Mary Poppins and the children visit one of her relatives, who each seem to have an odd quirk: uncle Albert Wigg sometimes floats because "laughing gas", cousin Arthur Turvy sometimes becomes forced to do the opposite of what he wants (eg, standing on his head when he wants to stand normally), and cousin Fred Twigley occasionally gets to have seven wishes granted.
    • Mary Poppins in the Park reveals one of Jane's plasticine figures, Samuel Mo, as another of Mary's cousins.
    • Mary Poppins claims that the Man in the Moon is another uncle of hers. This becomes confirmed in Mary Poppins and The House Next Door, which also reveals him as a hoarder of things that people on Earth misplace.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Mary Poppins.
  • Jerkass Ball: Held by Michael in the "Bad Tuesday" chapter of the first book, and Jane in the "Bad Wednesday" chapter of the second.
  • Letter Motif: Each chapter of Mary Poppins From A To Z begins by introducing a specific letter of the alphabet, then tells a short story containing an exorbitant amount of words beginning with that letter.
  • Living Statue: Neleus and his dolphin.
  • London Town
  • Magical Guardian
  • Magical Nanny: The original, endlessly referenced and parodied.
  • Mind Screw: Watching Mary Poppins and Mrs. Corry glue the paper stars to the night sky makes Jane wonder whether the stars in the sky are made of gold paper, or the paper stars came from real ones..
  • Mister Muffykins: Andrew, the spoiled and pampered lapdog of the rich and elderly Miss Lark. He is revealed to absolutely hate this treatment and wish for a simpler dog's life. And with Mary Poppin's help, he gets it.
  • Narcissist: Mary Poppins loves to stare at herself in anything reflective.
  • Or Was It a Dream?: Mary Poppins always denies taking the children on strange adventures, but the children tend to find signs that their exploits actually happened.
  • Parasol Parachute: Inverted when Mary Poppins uses her umbrella to let the wind drift her up.
  • Politically Correct History: Travers was one of the few classic authors to live long enough to have to personally edit her books to eliminate racist terms and stereotypes. In other cases, such as Enid Blyton, this was done posthumously.
  • Portal Picture: Bert's pavement drawings.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Where did Mary Poppins come from and where does she go? And why? Who is she exactly and where do her magical powers come from? Whenever she's asked, she refuses to answer.
  • Rule of Three: The introduction to the fourth book explains to readers that Mary Poppins visited the Banks family three times because "three is a lucky number."
  • Sequel Hook:
    • Mary Poppins ends with Jane receiving a letter from Mary signed, "Au revoir," explained as French for, "To meet again."
    • Mary Poppins Comes Back has Mary Poppins purchase a two-way ticket before flying away on the carousel, admitting, "You never know. It might come in useful." In the following book, she tells the Park Keeper to collect this ticket after she returns to the Banks children.
  • Series Continuity Error: The introduction of Mary Poppins From A to Z seems to imply that the book's stories take place during Mary Poppins. This seems contradicted by the presence of Annabel, who wasn't born yet when Mary Poppins first visited the Banks family.
  • Ship Tease: Mary Poppins and the Match-Man often have one.
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: Mary Poppins can talk to animals. Everyone can while they are babies, but lose the ability (and forget having it) when they get older.
  • Strictly Formula: The first three books each follow a format in which Mary Poppins swoops into Cherry Tree Lane, takes the Banks children on some strange adventures, introduces them to one of her quirky relatives, tells them a fable, teaches them not to be rude, becomes the guest of honor at at least one party held by talking animals, then swoops out of Cherry Tree Lane. (The order of those events always changes, though, except for Mary Poppins' entrances and exits.) The next book does not include any chapters about Mary Poppins reuniting with or abandoning the Banks family, and the seventh and eighth books then decrease the number of adventures.
  • Suddenly Voiced: The parrot on the handle of Mary Poppins' umbrella speaks for the first time in the "Topsy-Turvy" chapter of Mary Poppins Comes Back.
  • Teleporters and Transporters: Mary Poppins' compass (which becomes Michael's shortly before Mary Poppins' first departure) can teleport its user(s) to the any of the four corners of the world.
  • Trickster Mentor: Mary Poppins
  • Weirdness Magnet: Although by all measures Mary Poppins is a typical British nanny in appearance and behavior (commutation via wind and fireworks notwithstanding), eight books' worth of weirdness occurs around her (and, just as tellingly, stops whenever she leaves, a fact the Banks children notice and bemoan).
  • Written Sound Effect: In the chapter of Mary Poppins From A to Z regarding the letter X, P.L. Travers admits that she could not think of any useful words that begin with that letter, other than "xylophone." So, she points out that people writing letters often use the letter X to represent a kiss, and proceeds to tell a story with lots of kissing.

Other adaptations (apart from the Disney film and musical) provide examples of:

  • Token Romance: The 1983 Russian movie tacks on a romance between Mary Poppins and the Banks hippy uncle. Sure, it culminates in great tear jerker of a song but is still doesn't really fit the rest of the film.