Thursday, December 12, 2013

Blavatsky and Mary Poppins

London’s New Statesman for December 12 looks at “The strange life of the creator of Mary Poppins,” P. L. Travers, whose career is the subject of a new film, Saving Mr Banks, with Emma Thompson portraying Travers and Tom Hanks taking the role of Walt Disney. The film focuses on the clash of their different visions for bringing Mary Poppins to the screen. P. L. Travers was the name taken by Australian born writer Helen Lyndon Goff (1899-1996). Goff travelled to Ireland 1925, met the poet George “Æ” Russell, and “Intoxicated by Irish myths and folklore, Travers joined in the Dublin literati’s embrace of eastern philosophy, theosophy, Madame Blavatsky and other gurus.”  She met the spiritual teacher George Gurdjieff, studied Zen in Japan, and “In the 1960s Travers gravitated, as Isherwood and Huxley had earlier, to Jiddu Krishnamurti.”

Travers is best known for Mary Poppins, the story of the quintessential English nanny published in London in 1934. The film that has occasioned the New Statesman piece, Saving Mr Banks, sees Walt Disney’s attempt to get the film rights for Travers’ book as a contest between entrepreneurship and rigid idealism. Travers’ concern was, as she later wrote, that “Magic conveyed in a book by words and the silence between words, inevitably, in a film, becomes trick.” The writer in the New Statesman, Valerie Grove, believes that for his 1964 movie adaptation, “Disney was right to excise from Mary Poppins the Zen mysticism and symbolism, about which academics had preposterously written lectures and learned papers.”

Manuscript page of P.L. Travers
Is there anything Theosophical about Mary Poppins? John Algeo, Professor Emeritus of English in the University of Georgia who has written on Theosophy, thinks so, and his study Theosophy, Fantasy, and Mary Poppins, has just been made available as an e-book from Theosophy Forward.

H.P.B.’s friend, George Russell, said of the book: “Had [Mary Poppins] lived in another age, in the old times to which she certainly belongs, she would undoubtedly have had long golden tresses, a wreath of flowers in one hand, and perhaps a spear in the other. Her eyes would have been like the sea, her nose comely, and on her feet winged sandals. But, this age being the Kali Yuga, as the Hindus call it, . . . she comes in habiliments suited to it.”

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