I’m sure you’re familiar with P.L. Travers and her Mary Poppins. Or, to better put it, I’m sure lots of you are familiar with the Disney movie (and I hope not as many of you are familiar with the appalling sequel). The books, however, are wonderful, I had a boxed set as a child (I’m […]
I’m sure you’re familiar with P.L. Travers and her Mary Poppins. Or, to better put it, I’m sure lots of you are familiar with the Disney movie (and I hope not as many of you are familiar with the appalling sequel). The books, however, are wonderful, I had a boxed set as a child (I’m sure it’s still there in my family’s lakeside house or something). They also follow a seasonal cycle, in a fashion, like other books I’ve been taking stories from, and they have that urban fantasy flavour I adore in contemporary authors like Neil Gaiman. Today, in short, I’d like to draw your attention to a portion from the first book, published in 1934, where the witchy nanny takes Jane and Michael on a magical Christmas shopping trip with a star from the Pleiades. Original illustrations were done by Mary Shepard, in black and white, but I also found some other illustrators I was not aware of.
This is the last story of the book, after which Mary Poppins fly away with her iconic umbrella.
Instead of being helped by Maia, the star, the star herself is presented as the youngest of her sisters and she needs suggestions for Christmas presents to bring up in the sky, so Jane and Michael are glad to help.
The chapter is quite extensive and basically features all the Pleiades, one by one, with their personalities and the big question: what might they like for Christmas?
At this address, you can find a far better post than I would do, with some amazing illustrations by Júlia Sardà, but let me try and sum it up for you: the children and Mary Poppins go to the Largest Shop in the World and, while Mary is content enough of looking at her own reflection in windows (and I cannot blame her), they look for presents for their family. Mary Poppins however gets into an argument with Father Christmas and it gets late for tea, something an appropriate British family would never miss, and they leave the Toy Department.
But Mary Poppins hurried on and they had to go with her. Behind them Father Christmas was waving his hand, and the Fairy Queen on the Christmas Tree and all the other dolls were smiling sadly and saying. “Take me home, somebody!” and the aeroplanes were all beating their wings and saying in bird-like voices “Let me fly! Ah, do let me fly!” Jane and Michael hurried away, closing their ears to those enchanting voices, and feeling that the time in the Toy Department had been unreasonably short.
It’s at this point that they meet young Maia, the second star of the Pleiades, coated in flickering light and trying herself to find presents for her sisters.
the child had practically no clothes on, only a light wispy strip of blue stuff that looked as though she had torn it from the sky to wrap round her naked body.
The eldest sister is the one tending to the house and, of course, they have a lot of stardust, so Maia selects a stripped broom, for her, alongside a little stove with silver saucepans. I bet she’ll be delighted.
For the youngest, she picks a humming-top and a rubber duck.
When she’s done, she goes away but not before Mary Poppins gives her a present: her own winter gloves.
…she began to walk up, step by step, climbing ever higher, as though there were invisible stairs cut into the grey sky. She waved to them as she went, and the three of them waved back.