09 January 2014 @ 05:38 pm
Mary Poppins, "Bad Tuesday" and "The Bird Woman"  
I've been busy, so my Poppins reading has been sporadic, and part of that is because "Bad Tuesday" was always my least favorite chapter. After being thoroughly burned by 'bad children' stories when I turned seven and some well-meaning relative gave me Hans Christian Andersen's tales (which thoroughly put me off fairy tales for years), I recollect how much I dreaded this chapter when it opened, and Michael suddenly decided to be bad. He was very bad, for what seemed endless pages, until the kids and Mary Poppins take a walk, and they find a magic compass.

Now, as a kid, I was used to "look at those peculiar foreigners" episodes. I didn't like or dislike them, I endured them. Now, reading this chapter, I find the South Sea Islanders bit is especially painful. "Picaninny"--eugh.

Even worse, though they are all polite to Mary, it takes Michael sneaking the compass so that the four savages can rush angrily at him from all the corners of the (uncivilized) earth to scare him into being good. Ecch, blargh. Apparently after the film was made, editors changed this chapter to wild animals.

But following that is one of my favorite chapters, which corresponded to the only part of the Mary Poppins film that I liked--and I liked it very, very much: "The Bird Lady." It is quite magical, the relationship between woman and birds (that act like birds, unlike the Red Cow) so loving. This chapter makes whimsy magical, and the film, as I recollect, captured it perfectly.
gwynnegagwynnega on January 10th, 2014 06:23 am (UTC)
There were sections of these two chapters that I remembered very well. All of Michael's bad behavior was seared into my memory. The edition I just read had animals, not "foreigners," but I can't recall which version I read as a child. For some reason, Michael's "badness" had stuck with me much more than the magical part of the chapter!
Kalimac: puzzlekalimac on January 10th, 2014 07:43 am (UTC)
If you read it with animals, you have the revised edition, which came out sometime after the Disney movie. MP is not the only children's classic to have been revised to erase ethnic stereotypes: Dr. Doolittle and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory also have had that experience.
Sherwood Smithsartorias on January 10th, 2014 02:27 pm (UTC)
Yes! I was waiting sickly for him to be beaten with a belt or a hanger, and it was a relief when he wasn't, but I didn't enjoy that chapter at all.
sfmarty on January 10th, 2014 06:40 am (UTC)
Dr Doolittle was the only book I destroyed before my son could read it. Talk about horrible imagery.
nineweavingnineweaving on January 10th, 2014 07:00 am (UTC)
Oh dear. When I read it in all innocence (I think I was five or six), "Bad Tuesday" gave me my first vision of the strangeness of this world. I don't think I'd ever even seen a person of color. I was from a village, population about 30, and at school I was the exotic, being ethnically Jewish. So what I felt was all, "O brave new world, that has such people in't." I remember sitting down with crayons and shirt cardboard, to try to draw the peoples of the world.

So: unpleasant now. But astonishing then.

And the cup of milk at the end is still comforting.

Chiara Castelnuovo-McKenzie: teacmcmck on January 10th, 2014 09:13 am (UTC)
I know what you mean. I have Romani (and Latvian Jewish) ancestry amongst others and it always puzzled my why the 'Gypsies' in kid's books were always so appalling as the ones I knew weren't (some of them were second cousins indeed).
asakiyume: snow buntingasakiyume on January 12th, 2014 03:18 pm (UTC)
I can't remember how I felt about it when I read the story as a kid, but I imagine that I must have loved the notion of the bird woman spreading her skirts over all the pigeons so that they could be warm and cuddle together through the night.

Sherwood Smithsartorias on January 12th, 2014 03:34 pm (UTC)
Oh, yes.