Mary Poppins (character)

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Mary Poppins
Mary Poppins character
Mary Poppins5.jpg
Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins
Created by P. L. Travers
Portrayed by Numerous (see below)
Gender Female
Occupation Nanny
Family Mr. Twigley (uncle; novel canon)
Albert (uncle; film canon)
Nationality English
Birth 1894

Mary Poppins is a fictional character and the eponymous protagonist of P. L. Travers's Mary Poppins books and all of their adaptations. A magical English nanny, she blows in on the East Wind and arrives at the Banks home at Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane, London, where she is given charge of the Banks children and teaches them valuable lessons with a magical touch.[1] Travers gives Poppins the accent and vocabulary of a real London nanny: cockney base notes overlaid with a strangled gentility.[2]

Julie Andrews, who played the character in the 1964 film adaptation, won the Academy Award for Best Actress. British film magazine Empire included Poppins (as played by Andrews) in their 2011 list of 100 greatest movie characters.[3]

Description of character[edit]

A quintessential English nanny, Mary Poppins is a slightly stern but caring woman, who uses magic and self-control to take care of the Banks children.[1] She is usually identifiable by her sensible hat and parrot umbrella which she brings with her wherever she goes on outings. She is kind towards the children, but can be firm when needed. She is "practically perfect in every way." In the film version, she is a young woman, with an air of grace and elegance about her.

Author P.L. Travers was very firm about Mary Poppins' appearance in the novel's illustrations, working closely with illustrator Mary Shepard to create an image of the character. Eventually they based Mary Poppins' appearance on that of a Dutch doll: tall and bony, with short black hair, large blue eyes, a snub nose, and a prim, pursed mouth. Travers originally objected to the casting of Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins, claiming Andrews was too attractive for the role; however, upon meeting Andrews in person for the first time, Travers allegedly examined the actress for a few moments before conceding, "Well, you've the nose for it."[4]


Mary Poppins in P. L. Travers' books is strict and no-nonsense, asserting her unusual brand of discipline over the four (later five) Banks children in her charge. Mary is very vain and is always admiring herself in the mirror and other reflections. She constantly scolds the children for their "bad" behaviour, especially when they point out the magical things she does, for she constantly denies she is anything but a prim and proper lady. Mary only shows her gentler side around her friends, among them the Matchman (Bert), Mrs. Corry, and Nellie-Rubina.

Mary has many relatives, each with their own supernatural or otherwise eccentric nature, at least one of whom appears in each book. She appears to be well known to every sort of magical entity (sorcerers, talking animals, etc.) that appear in the books, some of whom love her dearly and others who are quite terrified of her. Some characters, most notably an impudent jackdaw seen in the first two books, call her "The Great Exception," meaning, among other things, she is the only human being who has retained the magical secrets infants possess (such as the power to communicate with animals) until they grow up and forget about them. Some of her adventures occur in London, others in strange realms which later writers might identify as magical dimensions. In literary terms, she might be described as a character who exists in every conceivable fantasy genre (gothic, mythic, urban, etc.) at once: There are many strange people and phenomena in the world, but only Mary Poppins is familiar with them all.


Mary Poppins in the Disney film, as portrayed by Julie Andrews, is also fairly stern but at the same time more gentle, cheerful, and nurturing of the two Banks children of whom she is in charge. Mary also has a friendship with Bert (Dick Van Dyke), a jack-of-all-trades who is quite at home with Mary's brand of magic. She also is less vain and selfish (although there are a couple of references to her vanity when she replaces a dingy wall mirror with a more elegant one, and sings a duet with her reflection), and far more sympathetic towards the two children than the nanny in the original stories. Emily Blunt was announced as Mary Poppins in the sequel Mary Poppins Returns.[5][6]

Stage musical[edit]

In both the West End and Broadway versions of the stage musical, the Mary Poppins character is more deliberately mysterious than in the movie version. She is slightly stricter with the children (who are also naughtier than their book and movie counterparts) but only because she wants them to become the best they can be. Mary in the stage version is also more aware of Bert's feelings towards her.


Mary Poppins first appeared in the short story Mary Poppins and the Match Man in 1926, and in several early bits and pieces of the first novel.[7] P.L. Travers later changed the story of the character's origins, stating that it appeared fully formed in her mind in 1934.[7][8]

Notable portrayals[edit]


Neil Gaiman's short story "The Problem of Susan" mentions a posthumously (for P. L. Travers) published work Mary Poppins Brings in the Dawn, in which Mary Poppins was Jesus's nanny.[9]

Mary Poppins appears in Alan Moore's third League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novel, in the Black Dossier when it returns to Margaret Cavendish's Blazing World. She later reappears in Century: 2009, where she defeats the Antichrist created by Oliver Haddo. In this appearance, she and other characters hint that she may be a personification of God.

In a sequence during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games which celebrated British children's literature, a group of Mary Poppinses descended on flying umbrellas to fight and defeat the nightmares which were haunting children's dreams. The sequence is called "Second to the right and straight on till morning."[10]

Terry Pratchett's Susan Sto Helit character satirizes Mary Poppins in various ways, most explicitly in the novel Hogfather.

In The Simpsons season 8 episode "Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala(Annoyed Grunt)cious", Marge hires a new housekeeper for the family, named Shary Bobbins (voiced by Maggie Roswell), who attempts to helps them become better people.

Natalie Schafer (as Lovey Howell) plays a "Mary Poppins"-like character named Mary Poppedin in a dream sequence of the Gilligan's Island episode "And Then There Were None".

Michael Rooker as Yondu in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) shouts, "I'm Mary Poppins, y'all!"[11]


  1. ^ a b Joanne Shattock (1993). "The Oxford Guide to British Women Writers". p.430. Oxford University Press, 1993
  2. ^ "What Saving Mr Banks tells us about the original Mary Poppins". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 May 2017
  3. ^ "The 100 Greatest Movie Characters". Empire. Archived from the original on 2011-11-07. Retrieved 2016-02-04. 
  4. ^ Lawson, Valerie. "The Americanization of Mary." Mary Poppins, She Wrote: The Life of P.L. Travers. 1st ed. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. 216. Print.
  5. ^ Kroll, Justin (February 24, 2016). "'Hamilton's' Lin-Manuel Miranda in Talks for 'Mary Poppins' Sequel (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved February 26, 2016. 
  6. ^ Pedersen, Erik (May 31, 2016). "'Mary Poppins' Sequel Gets Title & Release Date From Disney". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved May 31, 2016. 
  7. ^ a b Kathryn Hughes (3 December 2005). "A spoonful of bile". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 March 2014. 
  8. ^ David Jones (25 October 2013). "How the sexual adventuress who created Mary Poppins wrecked the lives of two innocent boys: Exploits of P L Travers that you won't see in new film Saving Mr Banks". Daily Mail. Retrieved 9 March 2014. 
  9. ^ "Saving Mary Poppins". Salon. Retrieved 27 February 2018
  10. ^ Adams, Ryan (27 July 2012). "Danny Boyle's intro on Olympics programme". Awards Daily. Retrieved 21 May 2016. 
  11. ^ "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Michael Rooker met Mary Poppins, y'all" EW. Retrieved 10 October 2017

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