Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Lively Oracle: A Centennial Celebration of P. L. Travers, Original Creator of Mary Poppins

Lively Oracle: A Centennial Celebration of P. L. Travers, Original Creator of Mary Poppins

by Ellen Dooling Draper, Jenny Koralek (Editor)

Everyone knows Mary Poppins—at least her Disneyfied version—but how many know her creator was a brilliant, mysterious woman with many other fascinating accomplishments?


Everyone knows Mary Poppins—at least her Disneyfied version—but how many know her creator was a brilliant, mysterious woman with many other fascinating accomplishments?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Many authors of children's books claim not to have written specifically for children. Lewis Carroll, for instance, did not write of Alice's adventures for children, or even for the specific child Alice. Fairy tales were not originally written for children. And four books of stories about one of the world's most beloved characters, Mary Poppins, were written by an erudite, talented woman who felt that, rather than her choosing children as her readers, children chose her books to read and love. This volume is a compilation of essays by and about Travers and her work. In five of six parts, authors and scholars try to ferret out the magic behind her "worlds beyond worlds." They try to analyze her life in Australia, England and the U.S., although her insistence on privacy makes analysis difficult. They determine the themes of her books besides the Mary Poppins series, and link Travers to mythology and fairy tales. There are lectures, essays, interviews, plus three articles by Travers herself. An "Afterword" in alphabet-book form, contributors' biographies, and a detailed index make the book complete¾so complete, in fact, that between content and style, there is nothing here for younger children. Philosophically, the book ranges from Tolkien to Gurdjieff to Zoroastrian scripture. Even a reasonably well-educated adult will find it difficult, if captivating, reading. Keep an encyclopedia handy. For adult fans of Travers' work. 1999, Larson Publications, $15.95. Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Judy Silverman

Product Details

Larson Publications NY
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.56(w) x 8.44(h) x 0.62(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


by Ben Haggarty

Pamela Travers was born in the Australian outback in the penultimate year of the nineteenth century, "caught," as she said, "between the horns of an Irish father and a mother of Scottish and Irish descent." There she and her two younger sisters had an upbringing which she called "traditional," marked by a rugged simplicity. Everyone worked hard when hard work was called for and made entertainment at home—through stories, music, song, and dance—when the time could be afforded, or occasion demanded it. There were books in the house: a basic collection of classics, some Irish poetry, and two red volumes of the Grimm's Tales.

    She refers a great deal to her parents in her writing because "parents are a child's first gods and responsible, whether they know it or not, for many seeds of fate." In 1910, the children were woken in the middle of the night by their mother to see Halley's comet—an experience which made a profound impression on Pamela. It merged with a memory of her father's favorite oath "By the Lord Harry!" to become "Harry's comet—a symbol of a remote and fiery-tailed God, far away yet destined to return again and again. Her father had died three years before and the loss of his rich presence marked her deeply. "I remember his melancholy, which was the other side of his Irish gaiety, and know it was catching and inheritable."

    From an early age she exhibited her bold spirit. Because her father had often spoken wistfully of "home," that "mostdistressful country," she, who sometimes saw herself as a boy, yearned to buy the 19/11d Air Gun advertised on the back of a "Buffalo Bill" penny book (which claimed it could kill an elephant at five yards). She had no doubts that she would then "slay the enemies of Ireland."

    "So much depends of the quality of Grown ups," she wrote later in an essay about education. The important "Grown ups" of her childhood were "a trinity known as Father, Mother, and Mat." Matilda was an Irish washerwoman who endlessly told the children "grims"—a word the young Pamela took to be a generic term for narrative. Mat sowed a seed.

    Pamela's impression of the Australian bush perfectly evokes the palpable presence of the mythic dimension which had so strongly influenced her as a child:

By night you went about cautiously lest the Pleiades catch in your hair. ... All was present and immediate, everything whole and complete, not a thing was missing.

    Here, she would stand for hours, "listening to silence."

Be still long enough, I thought, and the trees would take no notice of me and continue whatever it was they were doing or saying before I happened upon them. For nothing was more certain, to my mind, than that they lived a busy and communicative life which ceased—as at a command given—whenever I appeared.

    After a period as a dancer and actress in a traveling theater company (to which she referred with glee in later years), she crossed the ocean in her early twenties, to arrive in Dublin. There, the Celtic Twilight, which had "cast its long blue light" over her childhood, "had practically turned into night." But she "caught it by the tail." She met the writer and artist A.E. (George Russell) "whose thought was crystal clear and hard—and still had room for Dryads." He became her great mentor, a second father. Through him she met Yeats, Padraic Colum, James Stephens, Lady Gregory, Bernard Shaw and a host of other spirits—all of whom "cheerfully licked [her] into shape like a set of mother cats with a kitten." A Dublin uncle didn't like her "gallivanting around with men who see fairies." But such disapproval only redoubled her enthusiasm and, with AE's whole-hearted encouragement, she continued to produce articles and poetry for publication in The Irish Statesman.

    The aftermath of "The Great War" witnessed an intense and urgent interest in questions of metaphysics and spirituality. Yeats was translating the Upanishads, and, through AE, Pamela was introduced in England to A.R. Orage, who published her work in The New English Weekly. That was the beginning of a path which led her to C.S. Nott, P.D. Ouspensky, and G.I. Gurdjieff.

    All this fertilized the ground onto which Mary Poppins dropped in 1933, borne fully formed by the East Wind. She was "The Great Exception"—the only one who didn't forget—who could remember the language of the trees, the sunlight and the stars.

    She wrote two other children's novels, Friend Monkey and I Go by Sea, I Go by Land, as well as the haunting Christmas meditation The Fox at the Manger. However, the legacy of her writing for adults is what now deserves a wider public acknowledgement than it received during her lifetime.

    Throughout her life she wrote and spoke publicly about the creative process—most famously in her 1966 address to the Library of Congress, titled, after E.M. Forster, "Only Connect." In this she mapped out many of the concerns that would occupy her over the next thirty years, including Myth, Fairy Tale, and the Metaphysics of the Nursery Rhyme; The Aboriginal Dreaming; Zen; Woman and Her Role in Life; and the Proximity of the Mythic to the Everyday.

    In 1976, in New York, her friend D.M. Dooling (at the age of sixty-six) began a new venture—Parabola, The Magazine of Myth and Tradition. This quarterly journal took a theme for each issue which, under Mrs. Dooling's firm editorial direction, was activated by questioning.

    Pamela at seventy-seven had a lifetime of rich experiences behind her. She had listened to the silence of the bush, played Shakespearean roles in the outback, crossed the world to plunge barefoot though Irish bogs, brought the cosmos into Cherry Tree Lane, received a secret name from Navajo elders, dined at the table of G.I. Gurdjieff, raked gardens of sand in Japan ... She now found in Parabola the medium in which all that experience could be brought together, in response to great themes such as The Witness, Repetition and Renewal, Death, The Trickster, Sacrifice and Transformation. Through this writing she would leave a fine nectar to feed us—"the Grown Ups"—the ones responsible for the education of future generations.

    Her first essay in Parabola, on "The World of the Hero," changed my life. I had just finished school and was confronted fair and square with a challenge and a set of questions that had never been put to me before:

Everybody has to be the hero of one story: his own.... Not to be the hero of one's own story—could one agree to that?

Whenever Parabola arrived, I would read Mrs. Dooling's "Focus," and then immediately turn to Pamela's piece. It was always surprising, full of stars yet absolutely grounded—her hair was never caught in the Pleiades—as she ranged freely through the mythologies of the world, setting up true resonances between diverse cultures and traditions, always finding an appropriate place from which to ponder an image or situation.

    Pamela's public talks and lectures during the 1970s and 80s had an audacious charm. She played freely not only with ideas and symbols but with her audiences as well. I'll never forget her coaxing two hundred reserved English adults into singing, with great abandon and joy, the nursery rhymes they had probably not sung since childhood.

    For her, creativity and life merged in the phrase "thinking is linking." This didn't mean indulging in random association but, rather, linking attention in a special way with a consciousness that she likened to both the Aboriginal Dreaming and the Celtic Cauldron. When we confided our thoughts to her, she would say "put them in your cauldron—and never conclude!"

The cauldron of plenty in each of us seethes with its ferment, sweet and bitter—the world to be carried and no plaint made; love to suffer long and be kind, not vaunting, not puffed up; the seed that we carry to be threshed, freed from its crusty husk; the aching question of who we are and for what made, answered only by its echo; the need to stand before the unknown and never ask to know; to take our leave of the world, head high, no matter how hard the parting ...

    That was Pamela's way. That was the way she tried.

    For many, many years Pamela lived in preparation for death. As she finally approached, barefoot, the flower-shaped central stone (known variously as Ciel, Jerusalem, The Holy City, and la Mort) of the Maze at Chartres, she came to the following:

Well, Death, what have I to bring you? Only this—my burden! And, as well, certain scraps of meaning. For, if my life happened to me, there have been moments—may they be counted—when I have happened to it.... Let me not, therefore, be a Sabine woman, part of your plunder, borne off in protest. I would encounter darkness as a bride and eat of the pomegranate!

    She wrote her own obituary in the Parabola issue on "Memory and Forgetting," in a piece called "Lively Oracles" It is an ecstatic dialogue with Taliesin, whom she calls the "Soul's Remembrancer," and it ends in this way:

A Dieu, Taliesin, Bard of Elphin! Where the center holds and the end folds into the beginning there is no such word as fare-well....

My shadow follows me as I walk westward. The sunset spreads it along the grass, taller and lordlier, now, than I. What will be remembered in it, this changing incorporeal shape—compact of myself and the sun? When the tides of evening come flowing in we shall both be lost to sight. May the Lord have mercy on me and my shadow.

    And so we return to silence, the silence that she listened to as a child in the bush. The silent way of being that she admired so much in the Navajo people. The silence of linking, of connecting. The fine, vibrating, light yet deep silence to which she listened for so long, so consistently and so carefully. Which spoke through her. And which she has now become.

What People are Saying About This

Ursula K. LeGuin
...a truly extraordinary writer.
Jacob Needleman
This book will help us see why we have been so touched and delighted by P.L. Travers.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews