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Mary Poppins, She Wrote: The Life of P.L. Travers

2.94  ·  Rating details ·  1,304 ratings  ·  253 reviews
The only comprehensive biography of P.L. Travers—the fascinating woman who created Mary Poppins, the events in this book inspired Disney’s movie Saving Mr. Banks, starring Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks.The story of Mary Poppins, the quintessentially English and utterly magical children’s nanny, is remarkable enough. She flew into the lives of the unsuspecting Banks family in ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published December 3rd 2013 by Simon Schuster (first published September 1st 1999)
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2.94  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,304 ratings  ·  253 reviews

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I found Lawson's thoughts on Travers' work (the Mary Poppins books particularly) interesting and worth reading (especially the section on the making of the Mary Poppins film), but I didn't think she did as good a job on her life or character.

Although Lawson reports the surface of Travers' life in great detail, there's little insight into Travers' emotional life; her need for a male mentor is simplistically (and repetitively) referred to as a search for "Mr. Banks" (clearly equated with her bank
I'm giving up on this book after two months of trying to get interested in it. I got about halfway through, and that was a struggle. It turns out that I really want to read literary criticism, not a biography. Also, Travers wrote a lot for newspapers and magazines, but not in such a way that interested me. i really only wanted to read about her writing Mary Poppins and its sequels. Those are my failings.

I will say that another reason I gave up on the book is that the writing was sloppy. The au
The Mary Poppins books were part of my childhood. I didn't actually like Mary Poppins herself – she was scary and mean – but I liked the adventures she took the Banks children on. Their combination of magic with ordinary life is the kind of fantasy I like. It turns out my mother grew up with Mary Poppins, too. One night her father was listening to Alexander Woollcott's "Town Crier" radio show and he reviewed this new kid's book. My grandfather bought it and read a bit to my mother every night. S ...more
Sep 04, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Read due to upcoming Disney picture "Saving Mr Banks." Film previews look great. The author did a good job researching and writing about someone who did not want to be known.

Learned from the book that PL Travers lived a rather sad lonely life. She was always looking for a solution to her health problems. It's a shame that she wasted a lot of her life going from one spiritual guru to another. Her life would have been much richer if she was more focused on others rather than her perceived short co
Jennifer Johnson
who's the real Mary Poppins?

There's only one person who can answer that- the woman who dreamed up Mary Poppins in the first place- P.L. Travers. I picked up Mary Poppins She Wrote by Valerie Lawson to get some answers..

To say that P.L. Travers was a big eccentric is understating. Travers, using a name of her own invention, always insisted upon mystery and anonimity. (Which, upon reading this made me feel slightly guilty for reading her biography... not guilty enough to STOP mind you.) She refuse
Oct 17, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
You know the expression, "S/he wore his/her learning lightly"? Well, in this book, Valerie Lawson does just the opposite...she wears her research heavily. So heavily that it weighs her down.

Parts of this biography were very interesting; unfortunately, what was most interesting was the analysis of the Mary Poppins books that P.L. Travers wrote and her experience of the making of the movie; in fact, on the last page comes the title of the movie about Travers, Disney, and the making of "Mary Poppin
Kressel Housman
Oct 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
I became interested in this book because of the biopic about Pamela Travers, “Saving Mr. Banks,” but what turned it into a must-read was finding out from other reviews that Travers was a devotee of Gurdjieff. I dabbled in the Gurdjieff method myself in college, and I had been profoundly affected by the adventure with Maia in Mary Poppins as a child, so I wondered: did P.L. Travers plant a seed in my soul that led me to her own spiritual path a decade later? Upon reading her biography, my concl ...more
Sharon Gray
Mar 02, 2014 rated it it was ok
I wanted to read this book after seeing the movie Saving Mr. Banks, which had both an excellent cast and strong writing. I normally love biographies, but this one honestly was boring and difficult to finish. The author, Valerie Lawson, did lots of research, and at times tried (rather heavy handedly) to make a story out of the material, but in reality, it comes across as disjointed and confusing. She seems to cite almost EVERYTHING, but at other times makes blanket statements that left me wonderi ...more
Jan 13, 2014 rated it it was ok
I saw Saving Mr Banks earlier this year, which was based on this book, so I thought the book would be a very interesting read, however it started out quite a bit drier than I had anticipated. I did learn things about Pamela Travers which I hadn't been aware of previously, but she was very into esoteric and Eastern kinds of philosophy, which I found quite tedious and difficult to keep track of. Actually, I think I remember reading the Mary Poppins books many years ago and thinking they were a lit ...more
Mar 24, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
P.L. Travers Mary Poppins books are among my favorites, and I'm a great admirer of her lifelong quest to reveal the myth and folklore in our everyday human lives. I'd never wanted to read a biography of Travers, having learned my lesson to 'love the art, not the artist.' However, I was given Mary Poppins, She Wrote as a gift and, after letting it sit on the shelf next to my Poppins collection for several years, finally began to read. I wish I hadn't. There's nothing wrong with Lawson's account. ...more
Dec 29, 2013 rated it it was ok
I had high hopes for this book and ended up quite disappointed. Lawson focused too much on Travers' early life and over analyzed every single event and idea. She especially over analyzed Travers' supposed "search for Mr. Banks", or rather a father figure. She always refers to every new adult male in travers life as "her next mr.banks". I don't believe that to be accurate at all. She loved her father and was not searching for a new father figure at all.

In addition, the writing style is similar to
Feb 02, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: biography
As a child I loved reading Mary Poppins and enjoyed the Disney movie. Last Summer when I saw the trailer for Saving Mr. Banks, I anxiously waited the next six months till it was released. I was not disappointed. After seeing the movie, I immediately [on the way home from the movies] checked Wikipekia on P.L. Travers and was hooked on learning more about her!

This book was so disappointing and a total bore! I've read other books on authors of the early 20th century and enjoyed them very much. Of c
I found the author a little opinionated at times. I think this detracted from her story,since it didn't allow me to form my own opinion. Otherwise, it was intriguing to read about the woman behind the books.
Laurel Bradshaw
Jan 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Meticulously researched and detailed. I found P.L. Travers (Helen Lyndon Goff) to be a fascinating, though difficult and self-absorbed woman. Her interest in mythology, Zen Buddhism, and theosophy sheds much light on the character of Mary Poppins, but her constant lifelong search for "Mr. Banks" - her own spiritual mentor/guru - reveals her as sad and unfulfilled. She made Mary Poppins the embodiment of the maiden, mother, crone archetype - and lived her own life with the same enigmatic characte ...more
Mike Shoop
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was ok
As this book was used as source material for the film "Saving Mr. Banks," I was curious enough to read it. But in the end, the only part of it that was truly interesting to me was the Disney section. Travers' life was definitely different, but mostly comes off as rather sad and pathetic. Born Helen Lyndon Goff (and called Lyndon) in Australia, her father died when she was 7 1/2, her mother experienced several breakdowns, the three daughters were often sent to live with relatives. Lyndon often st ...more
Doug Clark
Feb 19, 2014 rated it liked it
It’s been a couple of months since I last wrote a book review. Since the stack of books needing a review just keeps growing, perhaps it’s time to make a start. On December 22, Elaine Gibbs and I saw Saving Mr. Banks. It was a wonderful film, and yes, I know it was a PR piece for the Disney brand, and yes, I know it wanted us to feel good for the holidays. But guess what? I don’t care. I loved the movie and thought Emma Thompson was wonderful as P. L. Travers. I’m just sorry she didn’t receive an ...more
P.L. Travers, best known as the author of the Mary Poppins books, initially had dreams of becoming an actress and a poet. Discovering that journalism paid the bills she wrote pieces of all kinds for a number of British and Australian newspapers, finally focusing on theatre reviews. She continued writing poetry, and was connected to the literary circles of W.B. Yeats and others.

Continually on an unsatisfied quest for fulfillment, she became a follower of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, and later of Kri
This book is the story of the life of Pamela Travers, the lady who wrote Mary Poppins and who is featured in the movie, Saving Mr. Banks.

That being said, I haven't yet seen Saving Mr. Banks. After having read this book, I'm not sure I like Pamela Travers and I don't know if that is because Pamela Travers was unlikable or the author presented her as unlikable.

I still don't feel like I know very much about Pamela. She was into Gurdjieff and Zen. She sounded like a very interesting woman. She went
Aug 20, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
I wanted to read this because I saw the movie "Saving Mr.Banks" I read a couple of the Mary Poppins books when I was a child.I even read one recently for the fun of it. I also loved the movie "Mary Poppins" and even saw the stage Musical "Mary Poppins" so I was interested to read about the author that started it all. Especially after seeing the movie "Saving MR.Banks" made me wonder about this woman P.L.Travers. she had a sad childhood, her beloved father Travers Goff was an alcoholic, they move ...more
Jan 13, 2014 rated it it was ok
This book had two problems. The first is that the subject was a not that interesting, kind of horrible bitch. The second was the the author didn't go far enough into Travers' life to actually MAKE her interesting. There are some hints and allegations that we don't go into--hi there, Ms. Lawson, I thought you were writing a biography which means it's totally cool to ACTUALLY find out if Travers was a lesbian and not just dance around it like it's some sort of horrible thing. Lesbians stopped bein ...more
Stephen Wayne Smith
Jan 23, 2019 rated it liked it
When reading about the life of the creator of the Mary Poppins books Pamela Lyndon Travers, a common misconception seems to reoccur. Many writers have portrayed her as someone who was ashamed of her birthplace in Maryborough, Queensland. According to them, she deliberately went out of her way to deflect the truth that her life began in this part of the world. In their opinion, her connection to the town was an accident of birth and she never returned.

It is true that she changed her name from Hel
Diane Heath
Apr 08, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
This is the story behind Mary Poppins and also the one on which the movie "Saving Mr Banks" is based. Helen Lyndon Goff grew up in Australia. She took her father's name of Travers as a surname and became Pamela Travers aka P.L. Travers as an adult in her writing. The story drags at various points as the author forces the "Saving Mr. Banks" aspects by claiming that young Pamela tried to replace her father (who died when she was young) with varied Mr. Banks who supported her in one manner or anoth ...more
Jan 23, 2014 rated it it was ok
This really gets 2.5 stars. Some of the problems with this book can be tied to the fact that Travers was not, in my opinion, a very sympathetic person. On the other hand, this could be the fault of the author in not portraying her more sympathetically? Travers had a somewhat bumpy start in life--born in Australia, her father died when she was young, and her mother became dependent on relatives for support. This being said, it appears that the family was never destitute and they had reasonable op ...more
Apr 05, 2014 added it
Shelves: non-fiction
I usually enjoy reading a person's life story, but this particular book I didn't enjoy very much at all. After seeing Saving Mr. Banks, I wanted to learn more about P.L. Travers. The book started out good providing a look into Travers' childhood. However, the further I read the more things lagged. There was so much information about the various gurus or the "Mr. Banks's" that Travers was constantly seeking through out her life that it seemed at times the book was about them instead of her. It se ...more
Mar 13, 2014 rated it it was ok
Oh dear, I really struggled with this one. I'm not sure if it was the writing or the life of Travers, actually, but I quickly began to find it tedious and at times just indecipherable. I found the links between Travers, her beliefs and her own life with Mary Poppins very interesting, and the fact that the film bore no resemblance to the books (haven't read them). Her interest in myths and their influence on her work is also interesting. The constant search for spiritual satisfaction, though, and ...more
Feb 09, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was longer that it needed to be. It dealt a lot on some of the poets P L Travers met and tried to be like. It did get into her life as a child and how her father's death had an effect on her.

She did have a hard life but really enough is enough. Many people have a had life and are not as self-centered as she was. The way she was depicted in the movie "Saving Mr Banks" was not far from the way she was in the book.

The book does have pictures of P L Travers (Helen Lyndon Goff). I always li
Nov 19, 2014 rated it liked it
A thorough exploration of the many lives of PL Travers, a Australian writer who moved to London, then lived in the US in NYC and New Mexico in turns. A small part of this book became the oversimplified movie Saving Mr Banks, about the scripting the Disney children's movie made almost comically about a grumpy old lady with issues.
Sometime when people are complicated we oversimplify. This book doesn't shy from her belief she was essentially Irish, her long term dedication to gurus, her intense sa
Jun 27, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked this biography of a most intriguing author. Lawson has done a fine job of a difficult subject because Travers tried to obscure the facts about her life. The stoush with Walt Disney film of Mary Poppins is most illuminating! To see my review please visit
The Library Lady
I think I'd have preferred to read an "Annotated Mary Poppins", because the only truly wonderful thing about this was insight into where Travers got her ideas from--many bits were based on real people or on her own childhood games and dreams. Otherwise this is thoroughly depressing and not really worth the time I spent reading it.
Nov 21, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author rambles a bit but it was otherwise good to read.
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“Mary Poppins’s greatest precept: Never Explain.” 0 likes
“the concept of Mary Poppins is even stronger, implying a secure childhood and an answer to women’s perennial problem: how to balance their lives between their needs and their family’s demands.” 0 likes
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