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THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
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I've decided to stop accepting review copies. The downside of getting buried in free books is that reading increasingly becomes an obligatory act. After some seven years of blogging books, it's time for me to return to the simple pleasure of reading only the books I want to read, when I want to read them.



  
From a random review:

  

« Greenlaw, Linda: Slipknot | Main | Sebold, Alice: The Almost Moon »

Travers, P.L.: Mary Poppins

  

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Harcourt © 1997 (orig. pub. 1934), 224 pages
2.5 stars

There must have been fans of P.L. Travers's Mary Poppins who were unhappy when the Disney movie based on the book was released in 1964. Changes made to a story when translating it to film can be jarring and are often for the worse. Movies are so often paler versions of the novels that preceded them. But in this case the reverse is true: Walt Disney's classic film is much, much better than the original book. Readers coming to the book after seeing the movie will, I think, be bored and disappointed with Travers's story.

The character of Mary Poppins in the original book is similar to her portrayal in the movie: she is proper and vain and easily irritated; she possesses magical powers whose limit and source are never explained; she is wont to play mind games with the children. In the book, however, despite the children's affection for her, she is not a particularly likable character. It is easier to like the softer-edged Mary Poppins of the movie. Apart from its portrayal of Mary Poppins herself, the book differs markedly from the movie. Some of the differences are insignificant: in the novel there are four Banks children rather than two--Jane and Michael have a pair of twin siblings who are about a year old; Mrs. Banks in the book does not spend her time cavorting with suffragettes; Travers's Bert is not a chimney sweep. The most important difference, however, is this: the story that Travers tells lacks a story arc. Mary Poppins comes to the Banks's home at the beginning of the book. She leaves at the end. The intervening episodes are filler: the chapters could be rearranged or omitted without any loss to the storyline. This in itself would be okay, if less than ideal, except that the middle episodes are, many of them, excruciatingly boring.

Mary Poppins the film, on the other hand, tells the story of the transformation of Mr. Banks--who hardly figures at all in the novel--from a work-obsessed martinet into a man who understands the importance of family, who recognizes the ephemerality of childhood, whose value system has been shattered and rebuilt for the better. Mary Poppins is the agent of this change, but the chimney sweep Bert is also responsible for some of Mr. Banks's growth. The climactic scene of the movie, wherein Banks's transformation is effected, is a small one: his children apologetically surrender to him the tuppence that had caused such a stir at the bank, where he works, leading to his being fired. Ironically, it is this gift of a tiny sum of money that finally turns Mr. Banks, who has been obsessed with the accumulation of wealth, into a man for whom wealth is secondary.

I understand that it's not really fair to find Travers's book lacking because it differs so significantly from a movie that was released thirty years after its publication. But it is impossible not to compare the book to the iconic film and to find it, well, nothing special. Disney injected heart and depth into a mediocre story that had, for reasons that elude me, attracted an audience. In so doing he turned the commonplace into something extraordinary.

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Comments

1.

This is an example I always use when showing that sometimes (rare though it may be) the movie IS in fact better than the book.

2.

I'm glad you agree! Man, that was really not what I was expecting when I started the book. I'll point out to people who haven't read the book among other oddities that Mary Poppins is...THE COUSIN OF A SNAKE! Why why why?!

3.

Very interesting and thoughtful review! I always loved the movie. I think I still want to read the book to see where it came from, but I'll keep these things in mind as I do so.

4.

I've always loved the books and the movie but it's definitely a case of how times have changed in both instances.

5.

Thanks for the comments!

Rebecca, I'll be curious to see what you think when you read it.

6.

I wonder if some of the scenes you mention from the movie appeared in later books in the series?

7.

It's possible. I haven't the stomach to read more of them to find out, though!

And even if the meatier stuff does appear later on, the movie is to my mind far superior because it weeds out the awful stuff.

8.

Debra, I've read it. I completely agree. The book was just so horrible in comparision. I just wrote my review without rereading yours and I said pretty much the same things (I'm posting it in the morning so it's not quite up yet).

I really disliked the Mary Poppins in this book, and I agree about not being able to "stomach" the sequels. By reading the Wikipedia summaries, however, it doesn't look like the favorite scenes show up. In fact, the sequels get weirder.

9.

Hi, Rebecca. I just read your review and of course agree! The worst thing for me was the lack of plot. What, in the end, was the point? It was excruciating, I though. The movie, by comparison, is brilliant.

I don't know the background of this, but I listened to some of the commentary on the DVD with Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews, and I believe Dick Van Dyke said that Travers was particularly insistent that Bert and Mary Poppins have only a platonic relationship. And yet in the book it seems to be more than that.

Whatever. Hateful book. I don't know why it spawned so many sequels.




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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  






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