Who WAS Mary Poppins, anyway? Well, as one who grew up with P.L. Travers' fabulous books, I can tell you who she was not. She did not give medicine with a spoonful of sugar, she was not a nauseatingly sweet airhead with an umbrella, and--guess what--she was NOT A NICE PERSON!
Which is exactly why I and my friends loved her. Other reviewers have found all kinds of hidden meanings, from satanism to British racism, to describe this and the other Mary Poppins books, probably because of the shock of finding that the real thing has so much more depth than the sickening movie version.
As a child in the 50s, I had no notion of British sensibilities or history, no clue about so-called satanism, and my sweet little child mind was ripe for all kinds of dire cult messages. But somehow, what I gleaned from these books was the best kind of adventure: an adult who wasn't really a parent, wasn't really a teacher, was definitely in charge--and yet strange magical things constantly happened in her presence. There were lessons to be learned: if Jane and Michael, the older children, misbehaved, the magic went awry. Badly awry. There was danger. There were consequences to their actions. Have a tantrum, and you just might wind up on the wrong end of an antique plate--trapped inside with no way out. Be rude to adults and other children, and your nice little world will change in ways you don't want to know about. But always, in the end, Mary Poppins was there to save the day without saying "I told you so." She was what so many modern children sorely lack: a strong parent figure. There was no spoiling, no giving in to whining demands (who would dare whine at Mary Poppins anyway?), and no indulgence. But there was also love and protection and security.
Is it wrong to expose today's children to literature such as this that may be politically incorrect? That is a debate that is larger than this review. I can only say from experience that even as a child, I took these books for what they were: fiction. And I loved them. Give me my nasty, vain, pompous REAL Mary Poppins any day of the week. In my view, she wears well. Very, very, well.