Pamela L. Travers and Ah Wong

Mary Poppins Ah Wong

Pamela L. Travers stemmed from a religious soil. She heard readings from the Bible and attended church services on Sundays at St. David’s Anglican Church of England in Allora, Queensland, Australia.

Her parents were pious churchgoers; thus, God was an absolute and uncontestable part of Pamela’s reality:

…God ubiquitously worked among us, forever unespied – playing the organ on Sundays, his feet bare on the pedals…..Once He looked me at through the gap in the fence with the face of a golden sunflower, awesome, quizzical, resolute. I put up my hand and I picked Him.

Curious enough, despite her parents’ piety, this almost transcendental experience once shared was dismissed as inappropriate: No one, they said, could pick God and if they could they would not. It was socially, if not ethically, unacceptable and not the kind of thing people did.” 

Yet, it was not these insensitive comments but her father’s sudden death that shook the foundations of Pamela L. Travers’s religious beliefs. She had no choice but to accept her father’s death, even if the process took her several years. What she failed to accept, however, was a God who allowed for such a loss.  By losing her father she also lost her religion.

Alas, she did not lose her spiritual needs. A deep inner void remained to be filled. And that explains her lifelong following of the esoteric teachings of George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (whom she met in her late thirties), as well as her general restlessness and search for spiritual masters.

Strangely, despite her rejection of the God from her childhood, Pamela kept a faint connection to her Christian upbringing. Some of her less known writings (“Ah Wong,” “Johnny Delaney,” “I Go By Sea, I Go By Land,” and “Fox at the Manger”) contain religious references which leave a vague impression of an ambiguous belief system.  And it is to be noted that Gurdjieff himself called his system esoteric Christianity because of his ideas about sacrifice and voluntary suffering. A similar conclusion can be drawn about her interest in the Durkheim’s system which is a combination of Christian and Zen concepts.  

However, the major difference between her earlier religious training and the Gurdjieff’s and Durkheim’s teachings is that in these teachings the divine is described in a more mystical manner. There is also a strong emphasis on physical exercises as a gateway to a higher level of consciousness; ritual dances in the case of Gurdjieff and yoga and breathing exercises with Durkheim. In both systems, the process of personal growth is entirely the individual’s responsibility; an experiential inner process to be discovered by the individual on the spiritual path. Truth is to be experienced not known.

In 1943, Pamela L. Travers (at that time already a follower of Gurdjieff) wrote the story of “Ah Wong” as a Christmas present for her friends. She did not intend the story for the public eye and it was only in November 2014 that it became available for the general reader. Virago Press, with the authorization of Pamela’s estate, published Aunt Sass a compilation of three stories: “Aunt Sass,” “Ah Wong,” and “Johnny Delaney.” The story of “Aunt Sass” was previously discussed on this blog. It features Pamela L. Travers’s great-aunt Ellie (under the name of Aunt Sass) who was, to a certain extent, the inspiration of the character of Mary Poppins.

Also, just as in “Aunt Sass,” a child’s voice tells the story of “Ah Wong” and again, as in “Aunt Sass,” it contains some biographical elements form Pamela’s Australian childhood.

The Travers’s household in the early years, before her father’s death, employed a Chinese cook who left a lifelong impression on Pamela’s heart.

In the story, Ah Wong arrives out of nowhere, as an angel of providence, just at the right time when the family has lost their incompetent Chinese cook to a work-related injury.  Ah Wong, thin and wrinkled with a long, black pigtail swinging underneath his hat, is described as a benevolent, energetic, and caring force:

 For Ah Wong did not merely cook for the family. It soon became apparent that he owned the family. He darted like lightning about the house, dusting, making beds, sweeping and polishing.

Pamela L.Travers presents Ah Wang as the ultimate house elf: “Flowers bloomed, green rows of vegetables appeared, watermelons swelled like balloons. It was our belief that Ah Wong blew them up at night.”    

Now, this sweet man remained profoundly engraved in Pamela’s memory not only because of his loving care for the family, but also and probably more so, because he was different in a time and place of Christian homogeneity. Something mysterious was hidden behind a beaded curtain in his room; Ah Wong was bowing to a “heathen idol.

Mary Poppins Ah Wong 2.PNG

Thus, Pamela and her siblings found themselves on a quest:

We were going to convert Ah Wang. At this period, we were immersed in those old stories wherein small children of extreme physical debility set so saintly an example that grown-up sinners were thereby brought to repentance.

The rest of the story goes on in a humorous way to describe the children’s efforts to teach Ah Wong the basics of Christianity and get him christened, of course, all without any success. It is in this story of Ay Wong that we glean Pamela L. Travers’s early religious education:

First, she mentions The Book of Common Prayers which I learned is a compilation of related prayer books used in the Anglican Communion, as well as by the Continuing Anglican, the “Anglican realignment,” and other Anglican churches. The book also includes the complete forms of service for daily and Sunday worship.

Book_of_Common_Prayer_1760.jpg

Then, she tells us that her Bible primer was the Peep of Day and that Ah Wong succeeded in learning the prayers. So, I looked it up, and Peep of Day turns out to be a series of religious instructions for young children with illustrative verses written by Favell Lee Mortimer.

Peep of Day

The book is separated in sections as follows:

Section 1: My Family and Me – Body, Parents, Soul

Section 2: Angels – Good Angels, Wicked Angels

Section 3: God’s World – The World (3 lessons), Adam & Eve, The first sin, The Son of God

Section 4: Jesus has Arrived – Virgin Mary, Birth of Jesus, Shepherds, Wise Men, King Herod

Section 5: Jesus at Work – The Temptation, 12 disciples, First miracle, Several miracles, Sinner & Simon, Storm at Sea, Jairus’ daughter, Loaves and fishes, Kindness of Jesus, Lord’s prayer, Jesus foretells his death, Lazarus, Jesus in Jerusalem, The Temple, Judas

Section 6: The Last Meal – The Last Supper (3 lessons)

Section 7: The Final Night – The Garden, Peter’s denial, Pontius Pilate, Death of Judas

Section 8: Jesus Dies – The Cross (3 lessons), The Soldiers, The Grave

And here is a verse from the Peep of Day which we can imagine Ah Wong and the Children sang together:

My little body’s made by God

Of soft warm flesh and crimson blood;

The slender bones are placed within,

And over all is laid the skin

My little body’s very weak;

A fall or blow my bones might break;

The water soon might stop my breath;

The fire might close my eyes in death.

 But God can keep me by his care.

 Ah Wong indulged the children by playing and listening to their stories, but when they described to him the glorious picture of their father at the Church service, trying to convince him to come with them, Ah Wong found the idea of giving money at the end of the service completely ludicrous.

 ….our father, in his white silk suit with the crimson cummerbund, taking round the plate. This, to us, was a sight ever glorious. Sunday after Sunday we thrilled with pride as, singing the last hymn in a roaring baritone, Father took up the collection.

Whassa dam-silly-fellow nonsins? he shouted wrathfull. ‘Boss take-im money? I don’t tink so. Boss not take-im Ah Wong’s money.”  

After this incident, we learn that Ah Wong is saving his money to return to China. Soon after that, the tone of the story abruptly changes and becomes darker. The father suddenly dies and the family must leave its sugar plantation and its Chinese cook. Many years later, the child narrator, now a young journalist, meets Ah Wong on board of a ship sailing to China. Ah Wong is part of the ship’s cargo, a dying stock of old Chinese men on the way to their homeland. The story ends on a somewhat lyrical reflection about life and death being one river: “The same flood that was flinging me into life was taking Ah Wong home…

Pamela L. Travers and the Rebel Archetype (Part II)

way-of-transformation

When it happens that a human being grows up under difficult circumstances, or from lack of loving and understanding he inevitably becomes distorted. He is thrown back upon himself. Inevitably, he reacts to such conditions by developing postures which are the result of continuous adaptation. By means of this he protects its natural ego, but always at the expense of the growth of his individual essence.

                                                                  Karlfreid von Dürckheim

Pamela L. Travers did grow up in difficult circumstances and she never felt loved nor understood by her family. And, as discussed in last week’s post, I believe that one of the major causes for Pamela’s psychological blockages stems from her repressed feelings of resentment towards her mother.

A bothersome question now arises.

Did Dürckheim, who was aware of the consequential dynamics of the unresolved relationships between a child and a mother, identify the issue? This is quite possible, if we assume that during their meetings Pamela L. Travers opened up about her childhood experiences, something that she was reluctant to do, at least in her writings, until she was in her seventies and eighties.

But if he did identify the cause of her blockages, did he point them out to her? Or did he choose to “…. call him (her) to enter upon his (her) innate Way in order that his (her) essential self may begin its struggle towards the light?” 

Translated in ordinary language, did he encourage her to recognize her inner nature by delving deeply into herself by means of breathing and meditating exercises, hoping that she would eventually experience healing inner insights? He seems to have privileged that route: “The man who feels himself lost in utter darkness in the world which, so long as he is caught in his ego, thrusts him into fear, despair and loneliness, may be the one uniquely ready to hear the call of his essential being -ready to respond to the summons that, breaking through his ego-shell, brings him to awareness of his inner core.” Did he feel that Pamela was ready to break through her Dark Night of the Soul? Did he anticipate that a more directive approach would only strengthen the defense mechanisms of her ego?

Of course, there are no certain answers to these questions; no answers at all actually. There can only be speculations.  

Dürckheim held that to go trough the Wheel of Transformation (his model of spiritual and psychological growth which will not be discussed in this post) a person must first be firmly grounded in himself and in life.

And proper grounding begins with a proper nurturing. He also believed that the body needs to adapt a proper posture so to allow the life energy from the earth to circulate through the body and allow a person to adapt to the forces from above.

The physical grounding center, the gravity center of a person according to a concept Dürckheim borrowed from Zen teachings, is located in the belly.

This is what he writes about that center: That power which enables us to be truly centered lies, physically, in the middle of the body, in Hara, or more accurately, in the pelvic region. Hara refers to an attitude by means of which man is anchored ‘below’ in such a way that he is freed from habitual restrictions brought about by being tip-heavily centered ‘above’ in his world-ego. This setting-down into strength within man’s own being to support and mould him, and to give direction to his life.”

Curious enough, Pamela L. Travers experienced health issues related to the lower parts of her body. She had digestive troubles and bowel problems which affected her throughout her life. She also wrote notes to herself about the fear she experienced in her body. Her biographer, who was so fortunate to read her personal papers reports:

…the fear within often felt impenetrable, solid, separating the upper parts and lower parts of her body. She felt as if she was becoming this black fear, which at its worst extended dark rays into the other parts of her. Even when she wrote of the fear, to herself, her breath came up too quickly to her chest.

Valerie Lawson

 

Pamela L. Travers and the Rebel Archetype (Part I)

 

Rebel Archetype.PNG

 

The Rebel

Pamela L. Travers’s psychological resilience in the face of her family’s unsupportiveness is astonishing.  We all know that it is not easy for a child to withstand the pressures of the family mold (it is difficult for many adults), and yet somehow Pamela L.Travers succeeded in just that! How did she do it? Well, she explained her refusal to give up on her dreams as follows:

Families, perhaps luckily, have a unique facility for minimizing capacities and aspirations simply by disbelieving in them, making them butts for witticisms. The wise child quickly learns to dissemble and keep its dream safe and intact. 

Pamela L. Travers

However, if you examine closely the last sentence of this quote you’ll probably agree that it does not really make any sense. Children cannot be wise; they lack the necessary life experience. It seems to me that it would be more appropriate, and closer to Pamela’s personal truth, to reword the last sentence as follows:

The rebellious child quickly learns to dissemble and keep its dream safe and intact.

After the early death of her father, great-aunt Ellie became the authority figure in Pamela’s life. And Pamela attributed her dislike of authority to Ellie and the rest of the old relatives in the family:

It was not my parents but the generation before them, great-aunts and their kind, who sat like black crows on my horizon, old, rich, and righteous. My lifelong dislike of authoritarianism and my predilection for seeing life through my own eyes – these I owe to them.

Personally, I doubt that one becomes rebellious because of another person’s behaviour no matter how unjust that behaviour might be. Rebelliousness, as far as my own experience of that personality trait goes, is that it is something innate, a deeply ingrained temperamental feature or energetical pattern. Call it what you want. It is something you either have or you don’t.

Pamela rejected the expected role of the helper and supporter of the family. It was precisely her inner rebel that gave her the strength, at the age of twenty-four, to leave her family behind and cross the ocean in search of her true purpose in life. She returned to Australia only once for a brief visit. At the age of fifty-eight, her mother died and Pamela dedicated her first Mary Poppins book in her memory.

After rejecting the family’s expectations, Pamela’s rebellious nature also disregarded the pressures of the social conventions of her time. She socialized mostly with male artists in smoky pubs; she drove a convertible car with her dog alongside, she lived with a woman for ten years, and when she was forty adopted a child all on her own.

On the surface, at least, it looks like the rebel provided her with the freedom that comes from living authentically. But was it truly so?  Despite the obvious fact that she lived her life on her own terms, and made her own life experiences, there is another undeniable fact: her own terms did not make her happy nor the people around her. Why?

The answer to that question popped out from the pages of the book The Way of Transformation written by Karlfried von Dürckheim. He was a renowned German psychoanalyst and Zen master whom Pamela (in her sixties) consulted at his Existential Psychological Training and Encounter Institute in Todtmos, Germany.

Dürckheim, many years ago, worded in psychological/spiritual terms what I intuitively felt to be the result of the inadequate nurturing provided by Pamela’s mother:

Psychologically understood, the transforming Ground is, in terms of human existence, the ‘realm of the mother.’ Any unresolved relationship between child and mother causes an obstruction in this sphere and hinders development. The effect is the same when the mother denies the warmth necessary for the child’s growth …. In the first instance, when the child becomes a man, he is inhibited and depressed because he rejects the protests that rise from his depths, defending himself against them by thrusting them down into the unconscious. …. Thus, he becomes wholly dependent on his world-ego, experiencing his repressed depths as frightening forces that either inexplicably attract him or demonically turn against him.”

It was the rebellion against the demands of her mother’s needs and the repressed resentment towards her (and probably some guilt for leaving her behind) that caused Pamela L.Travers’s inner conflict which remained unresolved throughout her entire life.

As a young adult, Pamela chose the path of her father. As soon as she could, she left her family for Ireland, the land of her father’s fantasies, where she rapidly established contact with the poets whom he admired. Now, that pattern reminded me of something Joseph Campbell said in The Power of Myth, about the journey of the young boy into manhood: She (the young girl) becomes a woman whether she intends it or not, but the little boy has to intend to be a man. …. The boy first has to disengage himself from his mother, get his energy into himself, and then start forth. That’s what the myth of “Young man, go find your father” is all about.

Pamela did just that; she disengaged from her mother and went on a quest to find her father, all for the purposes of finding herself. Obvisouly Campbell’s assumption is sexist and since he was not a woman himself he couldn’t understant that a girl just like a boy must intend to become a woman. Menstruation, chidlbirth and social expectations do not make a real woman out of a little girl. What’s more, there are many ways of being a woman in the world.

 

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Categorized as Biography

Pamela L. Travers and the Explorer

What the bee knows Mary Poppins

Following on the theme from last week’s post, Pamela’s search for that enigmatic “something else” began early in her childhood.

The ordinary day-to-day of the Travers’s household appears to have had a numbing effect on her sensitive little heart.

And as I grew, amidst all the abundance, I began to feel a wanting. Lacking nothing, I came to know lack – a longing, even nostalgia for something I had never known. In all the completeness, I was incomplete, a cup only half full. This ache, this lonely weight of heart came upon me always at sunset. There would be Something Else! I would say. Aching, I would say it. But all I knew was Here and Now, and of all, then within the all that Something Else awaited me, unfolded, implicate. Was it an answer to an unheard question? If a question, how would I know the answer?

This longing for that something she had never known could very well have been the expression of her unsatisfied need for affection and validation from her parents.  She felt the pain of her heart but she didn’t understand its calling; the call for self-love, compassion, and self-acceptance. Her inquisitive mind took her, on what Mark Nepo calls, the longest journey, the journey from one’s mind to one’s heart. In Pamela’s case, this journey proved to be lifelong and sadly uncompleted.

In 1985 (when she was 86 years old) she wrote again about that “something else:

I am here, Now, a lost child found, with that Something Else, that painful riddle, again at work upon me. Perhaps it is not, indeed, a riddle but rather an intimation. There are things that may not be understood, except by standing under them, watching, waiting and empty, as a shell that the bird has flown.

But for now, let’s go back to her early childhood when Pamela’s inner explorer manifested itself for the first time.

Pamela’s recollections of her precocious attempts to embark on her hero’s journey of exploration are so well written that I would not dare to retell them in my own words. I am transcribing here Pamela’s own writings so you can appreciate the depth of her longing to escape her ordinary life experience and the charming combination of a child’s naiveté and fierce audacity. 

I was also very pleased to read Patricia Demers’s description of Pamela’s childhood memories in her book “P.L. Travers” because it translates perfectly my own perceptual experience while reading Pamela’s childhood memories.

Among the most engaging of Travers’s essays are those which, without resorting to any contemporary event or pretext, reanimate scenes from her childhood. The perspective is that of the adult looking back. The sense of disclosure and drama is writerly. But for all these marks of the professional, such essays as “Name and No Name” and “Miss Quigley” preserve a certain ingenuousness which takes the reader directly into the world of the child.

Patricia Demers

So, here we go!

The Children’s Encyclopedia episode from Pamela L. Travers’s childhood  can be found in What the Bee Knows.

 “One (opportunity to leave home) came when a special issue of the Children’s Encyclopedia – sent by some relative from England -slipped from the postman’s saddlebags and disgorged a letter addressed to me “Dear Child”, it began sweetly, in a manly human hand, and went on to outline the delectable subjects the editor was preparing, inviting me to explore with him the worlds that were opening up before me and earnestly wishing for my future happiness. It was signed affectionately, Arthur Mee. I had received my first love letter. In vain did the grown-ups rudely assure me that it wasn’t written to me. Thousands of children would receive the same letter which, moreover, was not written by hand but by some sort of machine. I did not believe them. To do so would be to accept betrayal. Here was a man who understood exactly what I needed. So I wrote to this Arthur Mee, explaining my situation -as far as I then understood it – and asked him to send me the fare to England.  (How else could I go exploring with him?) He would not have to provide for me, I assured him, for I planned to sweep crossings, like Little Joe.

The answer was long in coming – and when it came unsatisfactory. He had no real wish, apparently, to go with me anywhere, he had no continuing concern for my welfare; there was no sign of cheque or postal order; merely an injunction to – great’s aunt rather than a lover’s – to be a good girl and help my mother. Signed Somebody Something, Secretary. And not even by hand.

Naturally, I was reprimanded. Not for Soliciting Strange Men but for Bothering That Dear Mr. Lee.

Years later, I was to learn that Dear Mr. Mee had detested children but, according to someone who had worked with him, had delighted in Mary Poppins.”

“It was a setback. But children take such things in their stride. They are familiar with the word NO from the time they are in the womb. Another door, I knew, would open.”

How I wish I could read that letter…

 The Gypsies Episode can also be found in What the Bee Knows.

 Walking on the hillside one day, I came upon a group of gypsies. Now, gypsies, I knew, were apt to steal children. The juxtaposition of two such facts seemed to me auspicious. But these were not tinker gypsies. They were creatures such as I had never seen – tall, stately men in blue gowns and women veiled in black. Looking back, I see that they must have been Mohammedans, with their peaked tents and a camel browsing. Any child stolen by such people would be taking part in a pilgrimage – or perhaps a circus, I wasn’t sure which, that would, without doubt, end up in England. So, I stationed myself on the edge of the camp, waiting, like something on a bargain counter, to be speedily snapped up. Nothing happened. The noble people went about their chores, quietly, taking no notice of me and addressing each other in some strange tongue. Shocked at this lack of enterprise, I took the affair into my own hands, marched towards the tallest man and – prompted by an atavistic impulse very far from childish – unlatched my sandals and offered them to him. If he took those-obscurely, I was sure of it – he would certainly take me. A veiled woman gave me a kindly smile as he turned the sandals in his hands to see how they were made. Then he bent down, deftly buckled them on my feet and gently but determinedly directed me to the road. It was impossible to misunderstand. They were not going to take me across the world. I was there for the plucking and the gypsies did not want me.

Not surprisingly, was the dry comment when I reached home.

There are two significant elements in these episodes. First, there is Pamela’s intense and precocious desire to leave her home and her family which suggests that her bond to her parents was deficient. And second, the inadequate reactions of her parents which also suggest of a flawed bond.  

I would have asked Pamela what beliefs did she think she might have formed as a child from these experiences? Was it a confirmation of her parent’s inability to understand her emotional life? Or was it a confirmation that she was somewhat strange and flawed? Or both?

Apparently though, it was clear to Pamela that her parents were not supportive of her dreams:

Families, perhaps luckily, have a unique facility for minimizing capacities and aspirations simply by disbelieving in them, making of them butts for witticisms. The wise child quickly learns to dissemble and keep its dream safe and intact.”

While reading the episode about young Pamela’s encounter with the Gypsies, a passage from Friend Monkey (another book written by Pamela L. Travers) came to mind:

And at last she (Mrs. Brown-Potter as a child) came to realise that what she wanted most in the world was to go and explore those places. She would have to approach her parents, of course and ask for their permission. They would think it a very odd idea, even unsuitable perhaps. But eventually they would agree – and never miss her she was sure.

I am convinced that Pamela was talking about herself and of her parents. How conscious this link was for her when she wrote these lines will remain forever a mystery.

Her parents (doubtlessly with no such intention) failed her by not allowing her to create a clear self-image. They failed to acknowledge her strengths, her sensitive heart, her inquisitive mind, and her whimsical imagination and thus they failed to reinforce her self-esteem. Her desire to explore the world was, in fact, a symptom of this need to find herself, to feel grounded in her own person. Pamela never explored the world for the sake of its beauty and wonders. She never really praised those in her writings. She traveled the world compulsively asking questions about her own existence.       

The realization that this outer exploration might have been a road towards an inner place entered her mind only at the very end of her life.

Back then, the stubbornness of her inner rebel was all the support she needed.

“Never for a moment was my intention shaken. But gradually I came to see that “Ask and ye shall receive” is no penny-in-the-slot affair, request at one end, gift-package at the other.”

 

 

 

 

Pamela L. Travers and the Magical Child (Part II)

brothers-grimm

Last week’s post finished with the following quote from Pamela L. Travers:

I am glad, therefore, to have kept my terror whole and thus retained a strong link with the child’s things-as-they-are, where all things relate to one another and all are congruous.

These potent feelings of terror, reinforced by the early and sudden death of her father and the subsequent suicide attempt of her mother, remained Pamela’s connection to her inner child. However, even before these tragic events, her sensitive mind was predisposed to bursts of anxiety. Snippets of enigmatic adult conversations and the blood freezing fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm fueled her imagination. Pamela, by her own words, developed a fascination with the dark characters of these stories.  She wrote:

 It was the dark ones, after all, on whom everything depended. They awoke the virtues, imposed the conflict and, by strictly throwing the story forward, brought it to its strict end – the achievement of Happy Ever After.

Yet, this vision of the battle between Good and Evil and the necessity of Evil as the hero’s teacher, was not accessible to Pamela L. Travers at the time when the Grimms presented her with the great dark forces of our human nature; evil so dark that it lit her childhood’s nightmares.

And, what else but nightmarish images could have a story such as How some Children Played at Slaughtering project in her mind? Now, a note of warning,  if you have a sensitive stomach I suggest you jump over the next four paragraphs.

In the first part of this story, a group of children led by the butcher’s son decide to play at slaughtering a pig. And who plays the pig? A little boy who gets his throat cut by the butcher’s son while another little girl gathers his blood in a bowl. A councilman walking nearby sees the terrible scene and takes the butcher’s son to the house of the Major who summons the council. An old wise man advisees the council to offer the boy an apple and a golden coin. If the boy takes the coin, he is to be killed. When presented with the gifts, the boy joyfully picks the apple and thus can run free.

What an apparent injustice! I assume that would be the moral of the story for a child like Pamela, left alone to deal with the matter as well as she could. No one was there to explain the deeper meaning of the story or to tell her that the boy was simply imitating his father. And, no one was there to tell her that the boy did not understand the irreversibility of death nor his own mortality and that he was immature thus had no clear understanding of his actions and even less so about the consequences of these actions. And, that what seems to be unjust, is in fact just because the butcher’s son had no ill intention and therefor was undeserving of punishment. But what is to be said about the victim, the boy who played the pig? The story also deals with the apparent randomness of life events; of simply being at the wrong place, at the wrong time. It tells us that, sometimes, bad things happen without there being a guilty party. Or that one bad decision (accepting to play the role of the pig) can have fatal consequences.

In the second part of this Grimm’s story, the reader is taken to an even much darker sequence of events, at the butcher’s house, where the butcher’s wife is bathing her baby while her other two sons are playing the pig and the butcher outside in the yard. The older brother cuts the throat of his younger brother who plays the pig in the story.  When the mother hears the cries, she comes outside, and horrified and enraged by the scene, she takes the knife from her son and kills him. Then she goes back upstairs to her baby, only to find him drowned in the bathtub. What else is left for her to do but kill herself? When the father comes back home and sees what had happened, he becomes so despondent that he dies soon afterward.

Now, how do you explain such a tragic story to a child? Because even if one explains the dynamics in play; a child still remains a child and is simply not ready for certain truths.

Maybe, if Pamela didn’t read these stories at such a tender age, she would not have experienced the panic attacks that often occurred at sunset. When the day was over, and darkness was on it’s way, Pamela knew she would be left alone in her bed with the monsters in her head.

 “Will the sun come up tomorrow?” Pamela kept asking her parents. The question was simply brushed off.If someone knew and understood how anxious I was about the sun, what a help it would have been for me.

Unfortunately, her parents did not understand what it all meant. 

Pamela L. Travers wrote once that if only she bothered to bring her questions to her parents they would have explained things as they are and released her from the grips of her anxieties. However, the following recollection contradicts that assertion.

Pamela’s voracious reading appetite extended itself to the Bible and Of course, if you let a child read the Bible it will inevitably put the grown-ups in precarious positions.”

This is an example of one such precarisous position. 

“What,” I asked my father once, “what is a concubine?”

“Er-hum -!” he responded. “Why do you ask?” Clearly, he was playing for time.

“Well, it says in the Bible that David took him more concubines and Solomon had three hundred.”

He inwardly groaned, but grappled with it. “Well, David was the head of the house, he needed people to look after him and the concubines-er-did.”

Three hundred! I thought to myself. One would need a very big house.

“What a pity, father, that you have only two!”

He was astonished. “Two what?”

“Two concubines-Kate and Bella to cook and make beds.”

“Katie and Bella are not my concubines.” Here was a child being childish, which was something he did not like.

“Then, Nellie, what about her?” Nelly was slightly wanting, and came to help with the washing.

“Certainly not.” The idea was repugnant.

“Well, father, who are your concubines?”

“I have no concubines!” he roared and stormed out of the room. And so I was left to deal with the mighty question myself.

Reading was Pamela’s exploration tool. Her inquisitive mind needed to make sense of the world. So, she read, without discrimination nor restriction. She read everything that came into her hand, even the missionary tracks of her piano teacher.

When I was a child the only way I could learn about other countries was by reading missionary tracks given by my pious piano-teacher, so that today almost every quarter of the globe has for me a faint flavor of old hymn-books.

These tracks and her fathers’ Celtic fantasies might have caused her thirst to see other lands. Undoubtedly, the foreign worlds seemed more attractive and alluring to her than the ordinary day-to-day of the Travers household.  

There must be something else I would say, not at all knowing what it was, but knowing, too, that as far as the wind blows and the sky is blue I would go and find it.

Pamela L.Travers

Pamela L. Travers and the Magical Child (Part I)

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As a young child, Pamela L. Travres believed in magic; as an adult, she wrote about it.

As a young child, she believed that everything was possible; as an adult, she deemed nothing was to be expected from life.

As a young child, she believed in God; as an adult, she practiced a more impersonal cosmic oriented spirituality.

The reasons for theses drastic changes in her outlook on life will be explored in future posts. For now, let’s concentrate on her childhood experience of magic.

Pamela L.Travers was the oldest of three children. Her younger siblings occupied most of her mother’s time while Pamela was dispatched to her great aunt Ellie (the inspiration of the Mary Poppins character) and to other friends and relatives. As for her father, he struggled with his alcohol addiction, a battle which cost him his life.

Pamela was a lonely child, misunderstood, and often cast aside by her parents. She always knew her mother favoured her sister Biddy, the prettiest one, and she secretly hoped to be her father’s favourite. 

Her biographer, Valerie Lawson, reports that Pamela found solace in books. Stories stirred her soul, and the first stories she heard came from the washerwoman of the household, Matilda, who was notorious for telling the “Grims.”  

As soon as Pamela learned to read (at the early age of three or four), she discovered that “Grims” was not a generic word for narrative but a collection of fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm. And were a collection of two volumes, “squat, red, sturdy volumes, coarse of paper, close of print, discovered in my father’s bookcase.”

Now, I don’t know if you are familiar with the folk stories collected by the Brothers Grimm, I am only discovering them now, and let me tell you, they are grim and sometimes downright bizarre: a nightmare kind of bizarre or subconscious waters bizarre.

Children cannot easily grasp the meaning of these folk stories. And, even as adults, we can find the task difficult. To understand folk stories and myths, one needs to have accumulated at least some life experience.

Pamela held that: “Fairy -tale is at once the pattern of man and then chart for his journey.

That might be so; however, young children are incapable of understanding patterns of human behaviour, even less so when they are expressed in metaphors. Pamela admitted that she was left to deal with the “Grims” as well as she could:

 “…I seem to remember that I was grateful for books that did not speak to my childishness, books that treated me with respect, that spread out the story just as it was – Grimm’s fairy-tales for instance- and left me to deal with the matter as well as I could.”

Pamela fancied the idea that “children have strong stomachs” and that they can handle “the unbowdlerized truth of the fairy tales” . I lovingly disagree with her. Young children are not equipped to understand metaphors and allegories. Thus, when she read the Brothers Grimm, she wasn’t equipped either.

It is quite possible that her knowledge of fairy-tales and myth, acquired later in her life, influenced her recollection of her early reading experience. Scientific research indicates that memories are not stored somewhere in our brain but reconstructed each time, and that with each reconstruction we alter the structure of the memory. How exactly we reconstruct the memories is still a mystery, but it appears that our knowledge influences our recollection. We alter memories to reflect our current understanding of the recollected circumstances.  

Nevertheless, these folk-tales had a strong imprint on Pamela’s fertile imagination and it is probably because of this early experience that later in her life she wrote:

Those who have heard the fairy-tales have a very different understanding of what they hear from those who have only read them. As a child listens, the story goes in simply as a story. But there is an ear behind the ear which conserves meaning and gives it out much later. It is then that the listener, if he is lucky, understands the nature of the dragon, the necessity of the hero’s labors and who it is that lives happily ever after.

She admits that the meaning of these stories was revealed to her many years later, under the mentorship of George Russel (AE). And, what is notable is that after his death, she spent the rest of her life studying myths and fairy tales.

Luckily for us, when Pamela, in her later writings, slightly opened the door to her childhood, she allowed us a few glimpses of the inner workings of her imaginative little head; glimpses that appear to have remained authentic and unaltered by her life experience.  And what’s more:  these recollections prove exactly my point! Back then she was not equipped to interpret the information she was ingurgitating so avidly through her reading. Everything was taken literally on its first level of meaning, which is quite charming and endearing. 

This is how Pamela described the dynamics of her inner child: “By putting two and two together – fragments of talk and his own logic -he (the child) will fashion the themes for himself.” And this is how she solved this mathematical equation:

Go and play, children” Grown-up talk was not for our ears. Therefore, since like all children we were natively scandalmongers, we lusted eagerly after it. So, we crept back, whenever we could, to hear how they lived in that other world – how for instance Major “Bingo” Battle had a habit of lifting his elbow, which mysteriously was why he was so often seen holding on to tree or fence as he staggered along the road; how Mrs. Scott-Campbell’s baby not being wanted by Mrs. Scott-Campbell – the nods and becks made it clear to us- was not allowed to be born; we thought of that infant with commiseration, sitting forever in its cramped dark place, no exit allowed to it through Mrs. Scott-Campbell’s navel; how Mr. Farquhar “wasted his substance away”, and yet, to our eyes, grew not thinner but fatter. And how Mrs. Quigley’s broken heart had to do with a fair-haired soldier whose portrait hung on her drawing room wall. Crack! Like a Dresden cup it fell; we could almost hear it shattering against the wall of her bosom.

Or:

One of them (talking about one of her great aunts), it was said – or rather, it was whispered, the rumour being so hideous – one of them lived on her capital. What was capital, I wondered, wild with conjecture, full of concern. And the dreadful answer came bubbling up – it was herself, her substance. Each day she disappeared to her room, it was not to rest, like anyone else, but secretly to live on her person, to gnaw, perhaps a toe or a finger or to wolf down some inner organ.

Well, believing that a baby is trapped in a dark whole without any hope of ever seeing the light, or imagining her aunt eating her bodily parts must have been a profoundly terrifying experience. And reading the “Grims” and other apparently dark writings (Twelve Deathbed Scenes and Heinrich Hoffmann’s Struwwepeter) only increased her fears.  At night, Pamela watched the shadows climb up the walls and slip along the ceiling and listened to the old house’s noises. She imagined that a cruel army captain was hidden behind the bedroom door, scraping the wall with a pencil. Her mother’s reassurances were lost on her. Pamela’s mind was filled with the most frightening monsters and creatures.

Pamela wrote once that she might have taken away her anxiety by taking the questions to her parents. They could have explained things as they are but she didn’t. She seems to imply that it was by choice; she didn’t want a rational explanation because she liked her own world, “this world is infinite, the sun shines up from the abyss as well as down from the sky, the time is always now and endless and the only way to explain a thing is to say that it cannot be explained.”

And then she goes on and adds:

I am glad, therefore, to have kept my terror whole and thus retained a strong link with the child’s things-as-they-are, where all things relate to one another and all are congruous.”

Friend Monkey

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The writing of Friend Monkey

In 1966, when Pamela L. Travers was just starting to write the story of Friend Monkey, some friends asked her to look after a family of three Tibetans visiting London. The visitors stayed in her writing studio for a few weeks and after they left, her manuscript of two-hundred pages had mysteriously vanished.

Her biographer, Valerie Lawson, reports that Pamela even called in two dowsers, who went over the house with two pendulums. They searched everywhere, even in hatboxes and luggage, in the bathroom, the garden, under the sofa. Nothing.” The manuscript was gone. Pamela was dispirited.

However, whoever or whatever wanted to prevent Pamela from writing that book underestimated her zeal. Eventually, she rewrote Friend Monkey and the book was published in 1971.

The book did not attain much success at the time of its publishing, especially in the United States, and today few people know about the story of Friend Monkey. This lack of success crushed Pamela and she wrote to  friends:

Here it is not understood except by rare people…I feel that I have written a sort of testament. In England, it is much better understood but the U.S. reception has thrown me into the deeps. That something so clear, so obviously to do with love and loving isn’t seen!  So that I have lost a lot of faith in myself. Am I a writer? Do I know anything about the myths? Who am I? And what? Shall I ever write anything else? (This is a common sickness among writers but I am having a bad bout of it and no medicine or reassurance seems to assuage it. I need a whole new set of impressions, I expect.)

Pamela L.Travers

The reference in the last sentence in the quote above about the “set of impressions” alludes to the teachings of Pamela’s spiritual teacher Gurdjieff but her allegiance to his work and its influence on her writings will be explored in future posts on this blog.

The story of Friend Monkey

The main characters of the story are Friend Monkey, a little monkey abandoned by its tribe, and Mr. Alfred Linnet, a ship-checking clerk. Mr. Linnet is a powerless family man living with his wife and three young kids in the house of the old and grumpy Uncle Trehunsey. One day, Mr. Linnet discovers in the cargo of one of the ships on dock a little monkey and takes him home instead of giving him to the suspicious Professor McWhirter who presents himself as animal fancier and collector. While in their home, Friend Monkey, quite unintentionally, sets the house of Uncle Trehunsey on fire. Mr. Linnet’s unconventional neighbor, Mrs. Brown-Potter (a former explorer), shelters the family. Meanwhile, Professor McWhirter follows Friend Monkey and tries to snatch him from his adoptive family. Then, one day, Friend Monkey runs out of the house and disrupts the Jubilee Parade of the Queen which becomes the cause of Mr. Linnet’s down fall. The family is left without resources and no one wants to hire disgraced Mr. Linnet. Thus a difficult decision must be made. The family, along with Friend Monkey, Mrs. Brown-Potter, and her adoptive little African boy Stanley, embark on a ship sailing to Umtota with the intention of starting a new life in a new place. In a turn of fortune, the ship never reaches the intended destination. The ship’s crew is employed by Professor McWhirter who is in the business of stealing animals from zoos and freeing them on a deserted island. At the end of the story, Mr. Linnet’s new job is to be the watchman of the island. And as for Friend Monkey, he is greeted by his monkey tribe and treated as their King.

The plot is  not particularly engaging and the stories has some slow moments. It also lacks the magic of the Mary Poppins stories because, in my opinion, Pamela L. Travers is at her best when she channels her unconsciosuness. And this book was a more consciously directed writing. The descriptions of the characters and their emotional states sounded a little preachy at times.  I can see why the book did not receive the expected praise. It is not Pamela’s best work; although, it was her favorite one.  

Nevertheless, there are a lot of interesting hints about Pamela’s inner workings that seem to have escaped everybody’s attention.

First, let’s talk about the character of Miss Brown-Potter.

Valerie Lawson, Pamela L. Travers’s biographer, finds similarities between Mrs. Brown-Potter, Mary Poppins, and Pamela’s Great Aunt Ellie.  

And, although it is true that the personality of Mary Poppins reflects to a certain extent that of Aunt Ellie as discussed in a previous post, and that some aspects of Aunt Ellie’s upbringing coincide with the upbringing of Mrs. Brown-Potter, the resemblances stop there. The discrepancies between the temperaments of Mary Poppins and of Mrs. Brown-Potter make this assumption implausible.

Instead, the similarities between Pamela L. Travers and Mrs. Brown Potter are much more striking.

Mrs. Brown-Potter is unconventional just like Pamela L. Travers, she travels to explore the world just like Pamela (although Pamela traveled the world to explore herself), and lives alone with her African adopted son just like Pamela lived alone with her adoptive Irish boy Camillus.

At the same time, there are striking opposites in the characteristics of Pamela L. Travers and Mrs. Brown Potter and these contradictions in character make me believe that Mrs. Brown-Potter plays a double role and thus expresses an ideal Pamela L. Travers was striving to achieve.

Mrs. Brown Potter is calm and content. Pamela was anxious and restless. Mrs. Brown-Potter is loving and compassionate, even to the unlovable Uncle Trehunsey. Mrs. Brown-Potter has no expectations of reciprocation, she just does what needs to be done. Pamela was demanding and self-pitying at times.

Another interesting aspect in Friend Monkey is the relationship between Mrs. Brown-Potter and her adoptive son, Stanley. Stanley is deaf and cannot speak but he and Mrs. Brown-Potter share a deep connection and understanding which lacked in Pamela L. Travers’s relationship with her son Camillus. Pamela L. Travers’s heart must have ached when she wrote: 

For twelve years they have lived together in harmony and mutual affection…

She and Stanley exchanged glances, and at once, working as one person, they set about getting bowls of soup, gathering up the scattered bundles, lighting lamps, making beds.

The part about little Mrs. Brown-Potter is the most unconscious expression of Pamela’s psyche in the book. Little Mrs. Brown-Potter is the portrait of Mrs. Brown-Potter at the age of ten. The little girl comes momentarily alive and steps down from the frame to commiserate with Friend Monkey.

He wrapped his arms more closely about him, not so much remembering as feeling in his whole body that he had been left alone.

And Miss Brow-Potter at the age of ten, mumpish in her white muslin, stepped down from her portrait frame and came and stood beside him. For a long time or a short time-neither could have measured it – the two of them communed together, motionless as a painted child and a painted monkey.

It is conspicuous that the little girl in the story is framed in time and space at the age of ten, the age at which Pamela’s mother attempted suicide. It is almost as if little Helen Lyndon (Pamela’s real name) was showing a glimpse of herself. I believe both Friend Monkey and little Mrs. Brown-Potter express the emotions of the inner orphan child.

 

 

Aunt Sass, by P.L.Travers

 

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AUNT ELLIE

This week’s post is inspired by the story of “Aunt Sass”, a semi-autobiographical and truly exquisite testimony about Pamela L. Travers’s memorable great aunt.

“Aunt Sass” was published privately in 1941 in a limited edition of five hundred copies and it was intended as a Christmas gift for friends, although the theme had nothing to do with Christmas.

I wonder what her friends’ reactions were. Were they touched? Did they care about her childhood memories? Did they discuss the story with her? Or, did they toss it somewhere on a shelf and forgot about its existence? 

Fortunately, for the purposes of this blog and my personal obsession with Pamela L. Travers, Donna Coonan, Commission Editor of Virago Press, undertook to uncover Pamela’s unpublished works  after seeing the documentary The Secret Life of Mary Poppins a BBC culture show narrated by Victoria Coren Mitchell.  In November 2014, Virago Press, with the authorization of Pamela’s estate, published “Aunt Sass” along with two other stories: Ah Wong” and “Johnny Delaney.” 

Now back to Great Aunt Ellie.

From the moment Pamela L. Travers’s father passed away, Great Aunt Ellie, a wealthy spinster with a bullying tendency, became the controlling force of Pamela’s life.

She was a born ancestress and matriarch and used the children and grandchildren of her brothers and sisters for her own dynastic purposes.”  She was like the central shaft of a merry-go-around. When her whistle blew the family revolved about her like so many wooden horses.

Pamela L. Travers’s mother, Margaret Goff, found herself financially unsupported and overwhelmed by the task of raising three young children alone. Great Aunt  Ellie (the sister of Pamela’s grandfather) came to the rescue and took the role of  the directing and protecting figure in Margaret’s and her children’s lives. The grieving family, anxious about its future, moved in temporarily with Ellie and her two dogs, Badger and Tinker.  The first meal at Aunt Ellie’s house seems to have been forever carved into Pamela’s psyche:

The next thing we knew we were all sitting at the luncheon table hearing Aunt Sass (Ellie) descant unfavorably on our table manners, upbringing, personal appearance and ghastly futures. One after another the children melted into tears and were ordered from the table. Eventually, my mother could bear it no longer and left the room, weeping. I alone remained. She glared at me and through a maddening haze of tears I glared back.

And now, I suppose, you’ll break down and go too.

I will not, you old Beast! I shouted to her. I am not crying, it’s only my eyes. 

Pamela L. Travers

This was hardly a warm and comforting welcome.  Not only that, but according to Pamela’s biographer, the children, when visiting, would be sent to sleep on a cot in the attic while the best spare room would be reserved for the dogs, Tinker and Badger.

The story doesn’t tell us explicitly, but it is possible that Ellie herself was overwhelmed by the events and by the long-term task of assisting the financial and moral needs of her niece and her three young children.

Here, take the cherries to the little ones and tell your mother Aunt Sass is a bitter old woman and that she didn’t mean a word if it.

Pamela L. Travers

Nevertheless, Ellie’s manners were cold and her mean words stuck in young Pamela’s mind for many years to come. If that was not the case, there would not have been a story about Aunt Sass and no Mary Poppins, for that matter. Aunt Ellie had a somewhat of a contradictory personality; a rough exterior combined with inner  sentimentality. 

Her remarkableness lay in the extraordinary, and to me, enchanting discrepancy between her external behavior and her inner self. Imagine a bulldog whose ferocious exterior covers a heart tender to the point of sentimentality (…).

Reportedly, extremely opinionated, Ellie viewed the world in either black or white. She also believed herself to be the retainer of all truth and expected, as “a general in a War Office,” to be obeyed on the spot.

The grim face was stony with conviction, the deep voice rumbled and you felt a delicious tremor of fear and anticipation fly through you. Any minute, any second some terrible miracle might happen. Would the world fall in two if you brought her the wrong knitting needles? Would you go up in smoke if you tweaked Tinker’s tail or Badger’s ear?

For little Pamela, the ambiguity of Aunt Ellie proved itself frightening, but at the same time, her presence  provided a sense of safety, of being taken in charge by someone who appeared almighty and powerful; just like the Banks children in the Mary Poppins stories.

Ellie’s power resided in her wealth and in her use of constant criticism and gossip as her weapons of coercion and disempowerment. I suspect that she was being bullied by her own inner fears and disappointments, and that whenever guilt arose she tried to compensate for her exteriorized bullying by the occasional fairy godmother kind of attitude, which her financial resources allowed her to do. She did pay for Pamela’s boarding school, her typewriter, and at last her fare to England. As the years passed by, little Pamela grew up to become a young woman with artistic talents and a mind of her own.

Now, this is just a hunch, but I feel that when Pamela, in her budding femininity, began to express her artistic tendencies more assertively,  her Great Aunt’s insecurities only increased and maybe even gave birth to some feelings of jealousy. I wish I could travel back in time and see what really happened. Instead, we are left to rely on  little bits and pieces of memories such as this one:

I will not go out with you in that hat!

Very well, Aunt Sass. I’ll go by myself.

Why do you have to turn yourself into a monstrosity? I am ashamed to be seen with you. Get into the car!

Or

Writing? Faugh! Why can’t you leave that to journalists?

What’s all this I hear about you going to England? Ridiculous nonsense! You were always a fool.

Anyhow, Ellie and Pamela never truly got along. “For the rest of her life we fought with all the bitterness of true affection.”

Ellie became ill right after her last visit to England. She was ninety years old. The illness “stretched her on her bed and drew a curtain of unconsciousness over her.”  When, against all expectations, she came briefly back to life she was a different woman.

The old gruffiness, the fierce egotism were gone. She was concerned and anxious now to reveal the heart that had hidden so long behind it. It was as if, knowing her time to be short, she must hasten to let the light appear through the thinning crust of flesh. … That stretch of dark unconsciousness had taught her how not to be self-conscious. Her defenses were down at last.

It was on their last meeting that Pamela gave Ellie a copy of the first of the Mary Poppins books. Her aunt took it to read it on her voyage back home. I wonder if she recognized herself in the traits of Mary Poppins. Could that be the cause of her softening of the heart? We’ll never know the answers and I can only speculate.

I also couldn’t help but notice something else, a similarity of fortunes. It is almost as if Pamela in some way professed her own future. She too lived well into her nineties, she too was quite self-obsessed and self-conscious, and it was only in her later writings that she expressed this same willingness to open up and at last  be vulnerable; something that she resisted during her entire life.

“I had to learn that to be vulnerable, naked and defenseless is the only way to safety.”

Pamela L.Travers, Letter to a Learned Astrologer, 1973

It is true then that Pamela L. Travers wrote more than she knew, although when she said: “We write more than we know we are writing. We do not guess at the roots that made our fruit” she was referring to the resemblance between Mary Poppins and her Great Aunt Ellie. Strangely enough, when interviewed, Pamela always maintained that she didn’t know where Mary Poppins came from.

A comment made by her adopted son, Camillus Travers, comes to mind: “My mother was Mary Poppins.” And if Mary Poppins was based on the character of Helen Morehead, then it is only logical to conclude that as Pamela L. Travers grew older and life deceptions accumulated,  she unconcsiously reproduced her bitter aunt’s behavior.

I also wonder if Pamela L. Travers ever became aware of the irony of it all. She acted out what she internalized as a model of strength and resilience. Experiencing her life as an ordeal, she modeled “the giantess, the frightening fairy-tale figure who” in her “childhood seemed immense enough to knock against the stars and hold counsel with God.” 

Lyndon Invents Pamela L. Travers

pamela-travers-actress

Before Pamela L. Travers, there was Helen Lyndon Goff, a lonely child with vivid imagination.

Helen Lyndon Goff discovered the world of dramatic arts in her teen years, at the time when she finally accepted her father’s death, a painful experience exacerbated by the mental breakdown of her mother and the domineering presence of her spinster great-aunt Ellie.

Although, at first, her mother and her aunt opposed to her acting attempts, in the spring of 1921 (when she was about 22 years old) Lyndon joined an acting company and briefly toured Australia and New Zealand.

According to her biographer, Helen Lyndon felt her name was not romantic enough and decided to take up a stage name. She chose Pamela, a name apparently in vogue at that time, and she chose as her last name her deceased father’s name, Travers.

Now, it is not unusual for artists to choose a stage name. Often the motivation behind such a choice is the perceived unattractiveness of the performer’s name, the difficulty to pronounce or spell the name, or because another notable individual uses a similar name, or simply because the name in question projects an undesired image.

At first glance, in the context of her acting debut, Lyndon’s change of name fits well into this concept.

But the curious thing about her stage name is that it remained even though her acting career was short-lived. Indeed, in 1922, Pamela met a young journalist in New Zealand who lead her to a new life as a journalist and a poet. So from a stage name, Pamela L. Travers, appears to have morphed into a pen name.

Pen names, in a similar way to stage names, are usually used to make the author’s name more distinctive, to disguise his or her gender, to distance an author from some or all of his or her previous works, to protect the author from retribution for his or her writings, to combine more than one author into a single author, or for any of a number of reasons related to the marketing or aesthetic presentation of the work.

Yet, somehow, I feel that her pen name is more than a pen name.  To me, there is a deeper meaning, a symbolic meaning, in the decision of changing her name. And I got the confirmation of the correctness of that feeling while reading one of Pamela L. Travers’s interviews published in The Paris Review, No. 63:

I have a strong feeling about names, that names are a part of a person, a very privative thing to each one. I am always amazed at the way Christian names are seized upon in America as if by right instead of as something to be given. One of the fairy tales, Rumpelstiltskin, deals with the extraordinary privacy and inward nature of the name. It’s always been a big taboo in the fairy tales and in myth that you do not name a person.

Pamela L. Travers

And then again in “Name No Name”, published in Parabola in 1982: “So-the name discovered, the named one is lost, or at least deprived of his power.

After her father’s death (Lyndon was 7 years of age) everything began to revolve around her mother’s emotional needs and the survival needs of the family.  So in the following years, from a lonely child Lyndon became, as the oldest of her siblings, a sort of pillar for her mother; That seemed to be my role and I wondered if there was anything else for me in life.”  She ended up rejecting this role on February 9, 1924 at 11:30 am as she sailed off to England in search of a new meaning for her life.

Pamela L. Travers’s name change was an attempt to escape the painful experiences of her childhood: the early loss of her father, the heavy burden of the family financial needs, and her expected role as her mother’s helper and support. It was Pamela L. Travers reinventing herself and taking charge of her destiny.

As the years went by, her pen name gradually changed from Pamela L. Travers to P.L. Travers, and in the late years of her life, to simply PLT.