Extended families


A couple of weeks ago I went to see Saving Mr Banks, a film about the efforts of Walt Disney to secure the rights to the Mary Poppins books, written by PL Travers. By all accounts this was not an easy task – Travers had already denied Disney’s request to turn Mary Poppins into a film for twenty years, and even when she finally went to California in the early 1960’s to read through a possible script, she made the process quite difficult with her many edits and refusal to incorporate several of Disney’s ideas.

Her reluctance for her stories to be filmed stemmed from her deep attachment to her characters, and the fear they might be fundamentally changed should they appear on the big screen. Emma Thompson plays Travers well; as seemingly quite stuck up and snobbish, but getting to the real root of why she is so attached to her own creations – Mary, the children she takes care of, and their unknowing parents. It is all due to Traver’s source of inspiration in creating her characters – namely, her own family members; one in particular. In one heartfelt scene in the film, she tells Disney that “Mary Poppins is like family,” to try and get across to him the reasons why she seems like she is being so difficult. And, as it turns out, she really was family.

Disney with Travers at the premier of Mary Poppins, starring Julie Andrews. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But I don’t think that a character has to be directly inspired by a real person in the writer’s life for them to become so attached. Its all about the fact that the writer created these people, invested time in developing their personalities, and, particularly if it is their full time job, ends up spending so much time with their creations that they very well could be considered members of their extended family. I have written before about character attachment, with particular reference to character death in novels, and how that can affect writers as well as readers. Inspiration for and creation of people, their worlds, their backgrounds and their lives extends much further than those first words that are committed to paper.


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