Finding the Gothic in Mary Poppins

mary poppins “When I’m writing for kids …I’m always assuming that a story, if it is loved, is going to be re-read. So I try and be much more conscious of it than I am with adults, just in terms of word choices. I once said that while I could not justify every word in American Gods, I can justify every single word in Coraline.”(Neil Gaiman)

These are Neil Gaiman’s comments on the importance of writing for children in the recent  article Childrens’ Books are Never Just for Children. His remarks here are typically insightful but I am surprised and curious about the books that he thinks should be re-read. He chose The Chronicles of Narnia which are far from Gothic (or are they?), Wind in the Willows (which could be considered reactionary by some in its celebration of hierarchies, homosociality and an unchanging English idyll) and Mary Poppins (again she is far from Gothic but I like the idea of a Goth version of her with perhaps Spike rather than Dick van Dyke as her mockney side kick!!). One must not confuse the film with the book however but I don’t know anyone who has actually read the book and people have sadly seldom heard of the author P.L. Travers (I do have Mary Poppins in a nice faded Puffin). Gaiman is clearly a fan of symbolism, magic and talking animals. Anyone who has similar tastes might enjoy Tess Cosslet’s Talking Animals in British Children’s Fiction (a book I wish I had written myself for the title alone).

There are so many interesting debates around children’s and young adult fictions just now. For my own part I am re-reading Peter Pan. Such a powerful precursor to YA’s immortal vampire teen. Shadowless, Peter is both liminal and unsettling, an egotist, and a haunter of thresholds. He is probably the most iconic child in literature ever (and that is a big claim). What are you re-reading now? Is it possible to find the Gothic in Mary Poppins? I would love to know….

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About Lucy Northenra

Senior Lecturer in Literature, University of Hertfordshire
This entry was posted in Critical thoughts, Generation Dead: YA Fiction and the Gothic news and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

0 Responses to Finding the Gothic in Mary Poppins

  1. Someone has already uncovered the Gothic in Mary Poppins, Sam!

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