Monday, November 15, 2010

The Children in the Story

In the book "Mary Poppins in the Park," there's a very sweet chapter in which the characters of a fairy tale Jane and Michael are reading come to life. Jane and Michael believe they have gone into the story of "The Three Princes," but the Princes (and their unicorn) believe they have traveled into the story of Jane and Michael. Which is amusing on different levels-the reader knows that Jane and Michael are, in fact, only characters in the story, yet it still causes you to think that maybe the characters we read about are just as real as we are...and, in fact, in a way the characters are more permanent:
""But-" she protested. "How can it be? You are in Once Upon a Time. And that is long ago."
"Oh, no!" said Veritain. "It's always. Do you remember your great-great-great-great-grandmother?"
"Of course not. I am much too young."
"We do," said Florimund, with a smile. "And what about your great-great-great-great-granddaughter? Will you ever see her, do you think?"
Jane shook her head a little wistfully. That charming far-away little girl-how much she would like to know her!
"We shall," said Veritain confidently.
"But how? You're the children in the story!"
Florimund laughed and shook his head.
"You are the children in the story! We've read about you so often, Jane, and looked at the picture and longed to know you. So today-when the book fell open-we simply walked in. We come once into everyone's story-the grand-parents and the grand-children are the same to us. But most people take no notice." He sighed. "Or if they do, they forget very quickly. Only a few remember."
Jane's hand tightened on his sleeve. She felt she would never forget him, not if she lived to be forty."
The princes, in the book, step out of the Silver Fairy Book. Which, when I read it, I assumed was one of the Andrew Lang colored fairy books. After searching for it, it turns out that there is no Silver Fairy Book, or a story about the three Princes Veritain, Florimund, and Amor, that I could find. It would have been nice if it were more well-known fairy tale children, like Hansel and Gretel, because the reader could relate to them more. Later in the chapter, the adults in the story are tested and all fail to recognize the fairy tale characters but for a brief moment when they remember their childhood-except, of course, for Mary Poppins and Bert, who always remember.
The movie "Mary Poppins" is possibly the only movie to ever be better than the books on which it was based, so the books tend to get overshadowed (I might put "Pinocchio" into this category as well, I found the book a bit frustrating...). But this is not for lack of quality in the books, so they are definitely worth reading, for children or adults.

The Mary Poppins books were written by P.L. Travers and illustrated by Mary Shepard.


  1. I realize that it's more than a year since you
    posted this, but I recently discovered that
    "The Silver Fairy Book" really does exist.
    I, too, thought for years that it was one
    of Andrew Lang's many fairy books, but it isn't.
    The author/compiler is unknown, but the book was illustrated by Harold Robert Millar.

  2. Fascinating! Thanks for sharing! Is the story of the three Princes in there? I guess that's another level of irony-the Prince characters claim to be the eternal ones, but their names have been forgotten, whereas Jane and Michael Banks are actually household names now...

  3. I have been trying to find the Silver Fairy Book for ages, ever since reading the Mary Poppins books as a child. Thanks to this thread, I was able to find details of the Silver Fairy Book online. It is an old fairy tale compilation that was published in 1895. However there is no story called "The Three Princes" listed in its table of contents. There *is* a story listed called "The Unicorn." I was able to find a copy of that online, and the three princes are not in that story. My guess is that PL Travers referenced an actual antique fairy tale book but made up the characters and the story.

  4. Here is the TOC:

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Wow, thanks for your research! What a bummer that Travers isn't referencing an actual tale. Although it does leave more up to our imaginations...