The Lover Archetype and Friend Monkey (Part III)

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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.) 

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.

Now back to Friend Monkey.

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.

♥ I can’t say the story plot is particularly engaging and it has some slow moments. It also lacks the magic of the Mary Poppins stories because, in my opinion, it is mostly a conscious writing on Pamela’s part. 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, 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 is an expression of the Higher Self of Pamela – the ideal towards which Pamela was striving.

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.

♥ Another interesting aspect in the story of 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 have a connection that Pamela never experienced with her own son who had no speech impediment. Her 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 Orphan Child within Pamela herself.

Next week’s post will explore the Orphan Archetype and Pamela’s need to belong to a tribe.



The Lover Archetype and Friend Monkey (Part II)


This week, we’ll continue the exploration of the Lover Archetype. We will also get acquainted with the myth of Hanuman and his remote cousin, Friend Monkey, the favorite creation of Pamela L. Travers. In fact, she loved Friend Monkey more than she loved her famous character Mary Poppins.

Pamela without a doubt was a lover of myth and fairy-tales. She even attempted to write myth like stories at three separate occasions. First in the “Fox and the Manger” (1963), the second time in “Friend Monkey” (1971) and a third time in “About the Sleeping Beauty” (1975).

♥ However, none of these conscious efforts to create myth worked out as successfully as her more unconscious writing of the Mary Poppins character who turned out to be the one intrinsically mythical.

For the purposes of this week’s and next week’s posts we’ll focus our attention on the story of “Friend Monkey“. The other two books will be examined in future posts.

♥ Pamela believed that we all have our own personal myth. She wrote to friends that hers was the myth of Hanuman, the monkey god of the Hindu mythology. I believe that because Hanuman is the embodiment of the Devoted Servant Archetype and because he exalts love to a higher sphere, Pamela’s Wounded Child mistook Hanuman for the Lover Archetype.

The myth of Hanuman

Hanuman’s mother was a vanara which means in the language of Hindu mythology a subclass of human being; a human with tribal, instinctive, wild, animalistic nature. Illustrations of vanaras show them as humans with monkey faces. Although a vanara, his mother was endowed with spiritual qualities and prayed the Gods that she would give birth to a son who will help all humanity. Her prayers were heard by the God of wind, Vayu, who impregnated her in the sacred way of the Immaculate Conception.

Thus, Hanuman was born a boy with a monkey face but also with a mixture of divine elements. He possessed the ability to shrink and increase his size, to be weightless or to increase his weight, to travel anywhere, to leap as high as he wished, to acquire anything, to master all creatures, and ultimately to become godlike with the power to create and destroy.

When Hanuman was young, he saw the sun in the sky and thought it was a fruit and, being a monkey, he wanted to get it.  Indra the god of thunderbolts struck Hanuman on the chin with a thunderbolt and knocked him from the sky in order to preserve life that would have been destroyed had Hanuman succeeded in his selfish plan. Afterwards, because of his mischievous nature and all the troubles he was creating, wise men put a spell on Hanuman and made him forget about his powers until later when he was reminded of them.  Then, the Sun becomes Hanuman’s Guru. After his schooling with the Sun, Hanuman comes to be the devoted servant of Ramachandra, an avatar of Vishnu, who himself is one of the most widely worshipped Hindu deities and the embodiment of chivalry and virtue.

At one point in the story, Ramachandra’s wife Sita is abducted by the demon Ravana and Hanuman must lead the monkey army to help Ramachandra recover his wife. When Ramachandra is wounded in battle and needs medicinal herbs, Hanuman uses his godlike powers and leaps to the Himalaya to gather the needed herbs. When he comes back, instead of bringing only a sprig of the herbs, he comes back with part of the mountain.

♥ It was Hanuman’s inability to do things by halves that fascinated Pamela.

The story of Hanuman is obviously a symbolic description of the journey of spiritual awakening from an animalistic self-centered person to a being with a higher consciousness that is motivated by love and the desire to serve others for the benefit and enhancement of their lives.  For Hanuman never used his godlike powers for his own benefit.

It seems to me that Pamela overlooked the spiritual aspect of the personal growth and maturity in the story and focused her attention on the loving aspect of the Servant Archetype.

Friend Monkey is really the favorite of all my books because it is based on a Hindu myth of the monkey lord who loved so much that he created chaos wherever he went.

Her Wounded Child’s needy nature mistakenly identified itself with Hanuman’s acts of service. But Hanuman’s help was selfless and did not expect anything in return. The Wounded Child expected plenty. I couldn’t find any indication anywhere (be it in her biography, in the documentaries about her life or in her own writings) that she ever acted in a selfless way. How could’ve she? Her unrecognized Wounded Child could not act as a mature individual, it needed to be healed first.

♥ And, I infer from the quote above that she interpreted her neediness as the excessive expression of her love. One thing is certain; she created chaos in all her intimate relationships including the one with her adoptive son.

As for the story of Friend Monkey, I couldn’t quite make the link between Hanuman and the character of Friend Monkey, besides the fact that they are both monkeys and have the same physical appearance: white fur around the neck and a white spot on the forehead. What is more, it is Friend Monkey who needs to be saved in Pamela’s story.

♥ However, I found some intriguing material in the story of Friend Monkey which I believe to be Pamela’s unconscious expression of her Wounded/Orphan Child Archetype. And this will be the subject of next week’s post.

The Lover Archetype and Friend Monkey (Part I)

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This week’s post will explore how Pamela L. Travers’s Wounded and Orphan Child archetypes overpowered the positive expression of her Lover archetype.  (For those of you who are coming to this blog for the first time, note that I am using the energetic archetypal models elaborated by Caroline Myss)

So, let’s start. What is the Lover Archetype and how can you tell if you have it in your psyche? You have the Lover in you if you not only are romantically inclined, but also if you exhibit great passion, devotion, and intense affection and have appreciation of someone or something that influences the organization of your entire life and environment.

For Pamela writing and fairy tales proved to be the true love of her life. However, there is more to the inner workings of her Lover archetype and its interaction with the energetical patterns of the Wounded and Orphan Child than this obvious manifestation in Pamela’s life.

Pamela was needy of others love and acceptance. Her neediness expressed itself in the form of exaggerated demands and unrealistic expectations from others. When these expectations were not met, it only confirmed her inner beliefs established during her early childhood: she was not worthy of love and people cannot be trusted.

♥ Love was not safe. This is what Pamela had to say about the Lover Archetype:

The loved can sit in the lap of time and play with their toys and sleep. The lover has to watch and pray. He is involved with the nature of things, simply by being a lover. He has to grind his own grain; no other bread will feed him. It is he, going forward against the thorn, who needs to be treasured and cared for; the loved are always safe.”

The same message is spoken by the character of Johnny Delaney, the hero of a short story inspired by Pamela’s childhood memories. These are his warning words to the parents in the story:

Yez must watch her keenly when I’m gone.” But our mother had her eye on her darling, the beautiful second sister. “But surely, Johnny,’ she protested, it’s she we must watch.”

Johnny eyed her viciously. “She’s safe. She has her nose in herself. But this wan’s black with loving.”

Black with loving! It says it all! Pamela’s neediness is almost palpable.  And just as Johnny predicted it, Pamela did get in trouble. Her lifelong search for love was messy and sorrowful.

♥ I suspect that the unsatisfied, unconscious needs from her childhood distorted her Lover Archetype. It manifested itself in Pamela’s life as intense, obsessive passions (be it with men, women or myths) that I believe had a destructive effect on her mental health.

As soon as Pamela arrived in England, in her twenties, she established contact with George Russell, one of her father’s worshiped poets, and the editor of the renowned literary magazine The Irish Statesman.” She sent Russell some poems and he wrote back. Afterward, he introduced her to Yeats (another admired poet by her father) and into the Irish literary society. He also initiated her in the meaning of fairy tales, myth, the spirit world, and Eastern religions.

Russell, although married, loved women and was always courting the young ones. As much as he was encouraging Pamela in the pursuit of her creative expression, I doubt that he had a beneficial effect on her self-esteem. He called her Mary Poppins, Popkins, and he wrote to her about his other flings, and I don’t know of any woman who would like that. He did not make her feel special in that way, just like her parents never made her feel special in her childhood:

You know I have much discrimination in girls, I have known many, and always made friends of the nice ones, like you.

This is an excerpt of a letter he sent to one of the nice ones: “I am a poet and I fall in love with every pretty face and I am not fickle for I remember them all and never turn away from them.”

Was it the age difference between them or Russell’s self-awareness that prevented the consumption of the relationship? This will remain a mystery but it is probably the lack of physical intimacy that allowed their relationship to evolve into a friendship that survived for a decade and until Russell’s death. There might have been an additional reason for the duration of the relationship. Pamela was pragmatic too. She needed protection and she needed his contacts and recommendations. That must have helped her to accept his emotional unavailability.

It was for another Irish poet, Francis Macnamara, a few years later to crush her heart and her hopes of ever finding a husband. Macnamara was younger and much more attractive than Russell.

Pamela described him as “very beautiful, fair, highly intellectual, loved by women and envied by men.

Macnamara was a true Don Juan, a serial adulterer. He had no true interest in Pamela. When he married for a third time with a woman younger than his own daughter, Pamela was truly distressed and started experiencing dizzy spells. She was 38 years old and that was way past “finding husband” time. It is also around that period of time that Pamela began to think about adopting a child, but this shall be the subject of a future post.

I believe that Pamela experienced Macnamara’s rejection as yet another proof that she was not good enough or deserving of love. Additionally, his rejection only made her more obsessed with him.  In the last years of her life, she began dreaming about him and as reported by her biographer, “One night, she imagined that she was alone with him. They could never speak of their love when he was alive. In her dream she was free to do so. Macnamara listened, nodded, and murmured that he understood completely.” 

♥ I suspect that Macnamara’s poetic aura appealed to Pamela’s Wounded Child. He was the only one to come close to Pamela’s fantasy of the ideal man; the idolized picture  of her father. Travers Goff did not write poetry (at least not that we know of) but he loved poems and Irish poets. “He was proud and haughty, terribly gay and terribly amusing and poetic and always singing and quoting poems and weeping over them.” He also had good looks and loved the bottle, just like Macnamara, who was remembered as “a boozer happy in a pub.” Neither men ever accomplished anything of significance and both men died unsatisfied with their lives. 

This unconscious inner connection remained in Pamela’s blind spot. 

After Macnamara, no other man (other than her adopted son) entered her life. This was, in all likelihood, because she was not in her prime youth, had an adoptive son, and suffered from many physical ailments related to her anxiety issues.

There are speculations and some suggestive hints in her biography that point to Pamela entertaining romantic relationships with women although there is no clear proof of that. There was her long-term roommate Madge Burnand, then Jessie Orage and Gertrude Hermes. All these relationships are reported to have been intense and they all ended on a bitter note for unclear reasons. The implied turbulence (and even violence) in some of these relationships could be the indication of some co-dependency patterns.

♥ Disappointed by all her relationships Pamela escaped into myth, obsessively seeking a road map for her life.

In her apartment on 52nd Street, she opened her old books on myths, pored over them into the night, felt the satisfaction of studying a jigsaw of names and connections that helped her make order of her own life.

Fairy tales were Pamela’s escape route during childhood. They fed her imagination and her rebellious nature. Unfortunately, they proved insufficient aid in her adult years.

Pamela, for all her fertile imagination, was unable to keep her feet firmly on the ground. This is the reason why her obsession with myths and fairy tales was neither healthy nor helpful. Myths provided no answers to her questions or any practical applications in her life. Rather, they alienated her from others and made the ordinary world feel unsatisfying and depressing. She was always looking for something else, something behind the ordinary but I doubt she really got a glimpse of it.

♥ Pamela liked to think that we all have our personal myth and that hers was the myth of Hanuman. In an undated letter to friends, Pamela writes about her book Friend Monkey:

You know how long I have brooded on Hanuman. The book is about that aspect of him (not him but as it were a thousandth descendant of his) that is excessive, that can’t do anything by halves, the ever loving and self-forgetting creature that because of his ever-love creates difficulties inevitably in the world around him; and his effect on the human beings who minister to him. Maybe it’s a book about learning to love.”

Or maybe it is a book that reveals more about Pamela L. Travers’s unresolved childhood issues. Friend Monkey will be the subject of next week’s post. I hope you’ll come back and read some more.


Pamela L. Travers and The Wounded Child Archetype



In this week’s post, I will discuss how Pamela L. Travers’s early childhood wounds activated the Wounded Child energetical pattern in her psyche. There are probably other ways of seeing, understanding, and explaining Pamela’s inner workings: however, as I was reading her biography and watching the documentaries about her life, the concept of the archetypal energy patterns (as developed by Caroline Myss) kept coming to mind.

♥ And to be honest, I fancy the idea that Pamela would like to be analyzed through an archetypal lens; archetypes populate myth and that is the space where she loved to dwell.

So, I am going to use Caroline Myss’s model of the different aspects of the Child Archetype (and throughout this blog, other archetypes from her gallery of archetypes) to explain my understanding of Pamela’s personality and her psychological blockages.

To begin with, an archetypal energy is seen as being essentially neutral. The polarity of its attributes arises depending on our awareness of its presence within us or our lack thereof. If a person embodies consciously all her/his archetypal energies then it is the light, positive side that will manifest in that person’s life. If on the other hand, the person is unconscious of the archetypal energies in play, then there is a fragmentation of the whole being and the negative aspects of these energies are activated. The shadow within arises.  

I believe we all come into this world with our own innate nature, personality traits, and archetypal energy patterns and then this inner configuration begins to interact with the outside world and the innate natures of others. Out of this interaction our self-identity unfolds.

♥ The way I see it, the result of Pamela’s early interaction with her caregivers was the shattering of her Child Archetype into separate fragments. Pamela appears to have had the aspect of the Magical Child and the Nature Child in her energetic system, but as she grew older, these fragments became gradually overpowered by the shadows of the Wounded and the Orphan Child aspects present in her psyche.

I also believe, and that belief has been reinforced by so many personal encounters, that some people never grow up, never truly mature. For different reasons their inner child remains fragmented and unconscious of its shadow’s needs. The physical age of our bodies has nothing to do with our self-awareness.

As a young child, Pamela L. Travers knew her parents loved her. They must have. Why would they otherwise keep her warm and fed? As a teen, she knew her aunt loved her. She must have or why would she pay for her boarding school and typewriter. But the love Pamela received was disfigured by her caregivers’ own emotional scars. Because of their own baggage (and probably totally unintentionally), they made her feel inadequate, not good enough, not appropriate enough, not sensible enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough, and not helpful enough.

But they loved her… despite her many flaws…She knew they loved her but she didn’t feel loved.  If that was not the case why would she, in her sixties, write:

What was a black sheep, I asked myself. Obviously, in the general view, one full of iniquity. If so, might I not be one myself, in spite of the tireless efforts of parents, teachers and friends.”  And “Can I have been one of the Devil’s party. Was I bereaved of light?

Pamela’s Wounded Child held the painful memories of the verbal abuse and the emotional neglect, as well as the memories of the traumatic early experience of her father’s death and the suicide attempt of her mother. All these experiences occurred when Pamela was very young and highly impressionable; and thus, they created a lens of sorrow through which afterwards she viewed the circumstances of her life.

Childhood wounds from the father – Experiencing feelings of inadequacy followed by the experience of loss and grief. (Pamela’s First Gods Part I)

Childhood wounds from the motherExperiencing betrayal, feelings of abandonment and then the burden of becoming her mother’s pillar. (Pamela’s First Gods Part II)

Childhood wounds from the auntExperiencing feelings of inadequacy and not being part of the tribe. (Pamela’s First Gods Part III)

Carolyn Myss’s model of the Wounded Child holds that if the wounds are successfully processed the painful experiences of the Wounded Child archetype can awaken a deep sense of compassion and a desire to find a path of service aimed at helping other Wounded Children. She also suggests that from a spiritual perspective, a wounded childhood cracks open the heart and the learning path of forgiveness.

Unfortunately, Pamela remained unable to transform the negative attributes of the Wounded Child Archetype into positive ones. 

I do not count myself amongst the teachers, however, but as one who is speaking to a brother seeker. Another un-knower, not necessarily an ignoramus.

♥ I believe that her failure to heal her wounds is partially due to her refusal to blame her parents for her misfortunes.  I believe that first she had to get openly angry with them to bring into her conscious mind her unsatisfied needs. Then she needed to understand that her parent’s wounds made her feel inadequate and unlovable; that these feelings were not an objective image of herself. It all had to do with her parent’s inner suffering. Her intrinsic value was not theirs to determine. She had to truly forgive them and then learn to love herself, to be her own mother and father.  Instead, she developed a strong and abiding sense of self-pity which is another shadow aspect of the Wounded Child. 

By its nature, self-pity is an interpersonal emotion, it directs its feelings toward others with the hope of attracting attention, empathy, and help. Pamela’s unconscious need to have others recognize her wounds underlies her childish unconscious belief that healing and wholeness will come from an outside event, person, or experience. This eventually led to a downward spiral of issues such as broken relationships, alienation and depression.

The same face, the same garments, the other aspect of myself – and I had rejected it, believing, in my ignorance, that I could go on my pilgrimage unshadowed and alone. I could have lightened the load I carried by delighting in herself delight, taking part in her varying rounds, sitting beside her   – friend to friend, compassionate – so that her self-pity could turn about and become its healing opposite, the pity for all that is.  By failing her I had failed myself.

And, what does “pity of all that is” mean? It means that Pamela was hopeless. Her depression made her believe that something was not only wrong with her, but wrong with life, and that it cannot be fixed.

♥ She developped the inner belief that life and people cannot be trusted.

I sense that throughout her life, all the energies of her fragmented inner child became invested in compensating for her unsatisfied needs and in the elaboration of defense mechanisms to avoid what she perceived as insufferable pain. 

Gradually Pamela isolated herself from others. The pain, disappointment and confusion led her to the decision to become her own planet: “I throve on what was difficult, the difficult man, the difficult child…. It was necessary that I should become my own planet.”  The Orphan Shadow signals its presence. But, before you meet it, we’ll talk some more about the Wounded Child and how Pamela mistook it for the expression of the Lover Archetype.



Pamela L. Travers’s First Gods (Part III)


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This week’s post will introduce you to Helen Morehead, the third (but not the least) influential presence in Pamela L. Travers’s early life. The post is inspired by the story of “Aunt Sass”, a semi-autobiographical and truly exquisite testimony about Pamela’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 it existed? And I wish I knew why she dedicated the story to Eugene and Curtice. Who were they? Maybe someone out there having that piece of knowledge will read this post and give me the answer…

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.” (Stories that will be explored in future posts.)

Now back to the subject of this week’s post, 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’s mother, Margaret, 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.

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.

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 appears to have had somewhat of a split personality; a rough exterior and mean demeanor with some occasional sentimental deeds.

 “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 (or wanted others to think so) 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 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 in time to see and hear for myself how things really happened. Instead, all I have are little bits and pieces of information to titillate my imagination with, just like these examples of exchanges:

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!


“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.”

(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 Camillus Travers, Pamela’s adoptive son, comes to mind. Talking about his mother he said:  “My mother was Mary Poppins.” And if Mary Poppins was based on the character of Helen Morehead, then it is only logical to assume that as Pamela grew older she ended up reproducing her bitter aunt’s behavior.

I also wonder if Pamela ever became aware of the irony of this condition. I can only hypothesize that Pamela, experiencing her life as an ordeal, 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.” She modeled what she believed to be strength and resilience. She remained forever unaware of the wounded/orphan child archetypal energies in play in her psyche. What these are will be explored in future posts.

Pamela L. Travers’s First Gods (Part II)



The subject of today’s post is Pamela L. Travers’s ambiguous relationship with her mother, Margaret Morehead Goff.

♥  Pamela’s biographer reports that as a child, Pamela often wondered if her mother was more like a doe or a serpent.

Pamela portrays the mother of her childhood as a busy, distracted, and frankly overwhelmed, self-centered housewife; just like Mrs. Banks in the Mary Poppins stories and Mrs. Linnet in Friend Monkey. When I heard Mrs. Linnet constantly complain and ask for help because she has only two hands, I wondered how many times Pamela heard those same words coming out of her mother’s mouth.

♥  Except in her books, the mothers, although weak and overwhelmed, are never prone to angry outbursts as her mother was.

Pamela remembered the time when her mother, exacerbated by the chore of picking up toys, became fiercely crossed and seized Pamela’s favorite porcelain doll and tossed it across the room yelling at her to put it away herself. The doll’s face struck the iron bedstead and broke. “Mother you’ve killed her!” cried Pamela, “feeling the crack in her own body. Her mother, sobbing, gathered the pieces and asked for Pamela’s forgiveness.  

There was the memory of her mother reading aloud the story of the crucifixion from the Bible. Pamela, drowned in sorrow, began weeping uncontrollably for Jesus. Her mother, annoyed and irritated, snapped: I take the trouble to read to you and all you do is cry and feel sorry…dry your eyes, it was a long time ago.”

Pamela was a lonely child: I was allowed to grow in  the darkness, unknown, unnoticed, under the earth like a seed.” She indulged in a bizarre game of pretending to be a mother hen. This is her remembrance of it:

And I remembered how, for a long period in childhood, I was absorbed in the experience of being a bird. Absorbed not lost, knowing, had I been faced with it, that I was also a child. Brooding, busy, purposeful, I wove the nests and prepared for eggs as though the life of all nature depended on the effort.”

Bizarre as this game may appear, there seems to be some meaning to it. For thousands of years the hen has been viewed as a paragon of motherhood, the iconic image of the overly protective mother. The First Century A.D. Roman historian and biographer Plutarch wrote praisingly of the hen in De amore parentis:

What of the hens whom we observe each day at home, with what care and assiduity they govern and guard their chicks? Some let down their wings for the chicks to come under; others arch their backs for them to climb upon; there is no part of their bodies with which they do not wish to cherish their chicks if they can, nor do they do this without a joy and alacrity which they seem to exhibit by the sound of their voices” .

Did Pamela pick up (somewhat unconsciously) the parental symbol of the hen by observing the interactions of the chickens in the family yard?

I wonder if this peculiar game could have been an expression of Pamela’s desire for more nurturing from her mother. Or, was it an attempt to attract her attention? Pamela often got so absorbed in the game that she frequently forgot to join the family meals forcing her mother to notice her absence.

 “She can’t come, she’s laying, the others would say, arriving for a meal without me. And my mother, deep in her role of distracted housewife would come and unwind my plaited limbs and drag me from the nest: “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a hundred times, no laying at lunchtime!” Not “you are mad. I fear for your future. We must find a psychiatrist.” Simply not at lunchtime. “

♥  Pamela kept her mother’s suicide attempt buried in her secret heart for the bigger part of her life, providing interviewers and readers with glimpses of her past only in the last years of her life.

This gloom event occurred sometime after her father’s death when Pamela was about ten years old. Her mother feeling helpless and alone needed Pamela’s help and support even to the point where Pamela had to keep her hand on her brow if she had a headache. The strain on Pamela was so intense that her hair began falling out in little red patches.

One rainy evening her mother stood by the door her blue robe hanging from her shoulders, hair in a walnut braid down her back, her face white and distraught.I have had enough. I can stand no more. I am going down to the creek. And she went out, closing the doorPamela terrified sat down by the fire with her two little sisters. And I knew that what they needed from me was what we all needed from her – security, reassurance. In an effort to distract her little sisters from the horror of what was happening to them all, Pamela began to tell a story about a magic white horse.

All the while, terrifying questions flooded her mind.

The creek is not deep. There are crayfish in it. Surely no one could drown in it, unless like Ophelia in the picture, they lay down and let it cover them.

But the creek flows into a wide pool. Nobody knows how deep it is. We are not allowed there without a grown-up. A thrown stone has many rings around it.”

What happens to children who have lost both parents? Do they go into Children’s homes and wear embroidered dressing-gowns, embroidery that is really darning?”

Perhaps they will send us to different places, one here, another there. No one will be a little one.”

Maybe she has gone from the creek to the pool. How long does it take a person to drown?”

And then, her mother came back. “The little ones leapt and ran to her, crying, laughing, embracing her...”

But Pamela turned away without a word and went to heat up the kettle; she filled a rubber hot-water bottle, flung it at her mother and went straight into her room.

Oh, you cold-hearted child” cried her mother, “The others are so pleased to see me. What has happened to you?

Pamela’s heartbreaking answer to her mother’s selfish question was silent.

 I could not answer. It was true, however, that I was cold, not only in my heart but throughout the whole of my body. I lay in my bed still as a stone, feeling and knowing nothing….”

In the story of Johnny Delaney, Pamela wrote this, which I believe applies to her own experience of being a child: Children have strong and deep emotions but no mechanism to deal with them. What I feel she meant to say was that she experienced loss and betrayal in early childhood and that she was left alone to deal with the intensity of her emotions.

Now, I will ask you to stop for a minute and do an exercise in empathy. Close your eyes, if you will, and go back in time, back to when you were ten years old. Reconnect with your younger self. How did it feel to be you at that age? When you get to that point of emotional recollection, imagine that it is your mother standing in the doorway saying she’s had enough and that she is going to end her life. How do you feel? Terrified? Confused? Disoriented? Abandoned? Betrayed? Sad beyond words description? All of the above? Do you think you would’ve been the same kid after such an incident? Would you see your mother in the same way? Would you grow up to trust others? To believe that you deserve their love and faithfulness? 

It is difficult for me to find sympathy for Margaret. It seems to me  that often times Pamela’s reactions, thoughts and emotions  were kind of boomeranged back to her mother, back to how she felt about them and not how and why her daughter expressed them. At the same time, I am aware that people cannot be seen only in black and white and that I don’t have access to the “objective” truth.  And to be fair, it must have been extremely hard to be a young widow with three young children to take care of. And Margaret had her good moments too.

She had too flashes of inspiration, when the streak of poetry in her Scottish blood broke up the daily pattern. Picnic breakfasts miles from home; or a tablecloth spread out on the carpet and supper on the floor. The sudden lively moments! She would have called them merely moods, but they seem to me now a kind of wisdom, as though she knew instinctively that nothing brings so much energy as the brakes in a regular routine.  Full of the saws and customs that are handed down from the generations, innocent honest predictable –  it was from her we learned, far more than from our less dependable father, to be ready for the unexpected, even to the point of knowing that truth can be juggled with.”

Pamela’s parents appear to have been very emotionally unstable and overwhelmed by life. They were too deeply involved in their own sufferings to have been able to provide emotional security to Pamela.  Sadly, emotional neglect, even when unintentionally inflicted, produces its own life-lasting bruises.

Alas, it was not only her parents who interacted with her in an ambiguous manner; there was also the domineering presence of great-aunt Ellie, the suspected prototype of the character of Mary Poppins. You’ll meet this memorable lady in next week’s post. 



Pamela L. Travers’s First Gods (Part 1)



This week’s post explores Pamela L. Travers’s childhood’s wounds. I am using information from her biography Mary Poppins She Wrote as well as some of Pamela’s own recollections from her childhood which she chronicled in a few essays compiled in her last book What the Bee Knows.

I believe that Pamela was deeply wounded in her early childhood and that these wounds exerted tremendously destructive powers over her life. Out of these wounds stem Pamela’s beliefs system which governed her life choices. I will go as far as to assert that her entire literary work is about these early wounds and her effort to heal them.

♥  Simply put, Pamela L. Travers experienced the devastating powers of Helen Lyndon’s (Pamela’s real name) shadow. The unsatisfied child’s needs remained somewhere hidden in the darkness of the unconscious mind. And how can you see a shadow in the dark? Well, you can’t. You need light, light of consciousness, just as much as the shadow does, because  by leaving it in the dark you are denying its existence. And we all know that it hurts not to be seen and not to be heard.

Pamela expressed this truth beautifully in her essay, About the Sleeping Beauty:”

Powers such as these, at once demonic and divine, are not to be taken lightly. They give a name to evil, free it, and bring it into the light. For evil will out, they sharply warn us, no matter how deeply buried. Down in its dungeon it plots and plans, waiting like an unloved child, the day of its revenge. What it needs, like the unloved child, is to be recognized, not disclaimed (not refused acknowledgment). Given its place and proper birthright and allowed to contact and cooperate with its sister beneficent force. Only the integration of good and evil and the stern acceptance of opposites will change the situation and bring about the condition that is known as Happy Ever After.” 

I suspect that little Helen Lyndon felt as the unloved child, not worthy of love and at the same time longing for it. Wronged and revengeful, she also felt shameful and deserving of the mistreatment. Coming up with a new name did not relieve the inner torment.

♥ Torn between opposites, this is how I believe Pamela would have summarized her experience of being alive.


Pamela’s parents kept her warm and fed but that was the extent of their nurturing skills. They were her landscape and she was part of theirs. The following quote encapsulates succinctly their parenting style. Arguments yes but no explanations. I cannot remember that he, or anybody else, ever explained anything. It was clear from their general attitude that our parents had not very high opinion of our intelligence but at the same time, apparently, expected us to know everything.

Undoubtedly, Pamela’s parents sent ambiguous and confusing messages which, combined with the emotionally charged events of her father’s early death (Pamela was seven years old) and her mother’s suicide attempt (when Pamela was ten), could not have done otherwise, but leave permanent marks on her developing psyche.  Yet Pamela’s resolute refusal to blame her parents for the pain they caused little Helen Lyndon is remarkable. And even though she says that the “…parents are the child’s first gods and responsible, whether they know it or not, for many seeds of fate she also says that “with awareness blame arises.” And then in another essay she asks rhetorically,  But why lay all our troubles on parents? They provide a door for us into life; that, and nurturing, is their function. Afterwards, it is up to us. We can’t blame them if the door opens on scenes we hadn’t bargained for.

Maybe it was her love for her parents and maybe it was her own failings as a mother (adoptive mother) that prevented her from acknowledging her parents lack of nurture. Nevertheless, little Helen Lyndon remembered…


Travers Goff loved to tell his family and friends tales of ancient Ireland filled with elves, fairies, and pixies, and apparently, the more he drank the more romantic the stories became. He had Ireland round him like a cloak”.  But Goff was not Irish. He was from London, a city he left in his early twenties for the tea plantations in Ceylon. From there he relocated to Australia where he founded his family.

I wonder, did he ever dream of becoming a rich plantation owner? It is quite possible, but we’ll never really know. Maybe it was just Pamela’s imagination, but she liked to confuse people and tell them that her father used to be sugar plantation owner.  Nevertheless, it is plausible to say that his dreams whatever they were, never came true. Travers Goff worked in a bank, climbing down the ladder from a branch manager to a simple employee. The man was doubtlessly disillusioned with his life and chose to escaped in the land of fairy tales and alcohol.

♥  Pamela’s memories of her father are somewhat romanticized and embellished. This is probably because he was not around for long enough to “dwindle down to human stature” and, because of his storytelling and his love for poetry. His lyrical side must have appealed to the imaginative part of Pamela’s innate personality.  

Anyhow, the poetic Goff compensated for his feelings of powerlessness by dominating his household with his bad temper.

Pamela wrote about the time when her father got furious with her because she left her rag dolls, Lady Hamilton and Lord Nelson, outside in the rain. Scared she denied forgetting them outside.His righteousness frightened and shamed me“. 

She wrote of another incident when her father gave a beating to their dog Tippu because the dog had the insolence (frankly, the misfortune) to sit on his chair. Pamela and her sisters tried to explain that the dog believed he was a little boy, a rightful member of the family. And so, her father decided to teach everybody in the household a lesson. He was the king of his castle and he was to be obeyed.

He was Irish, too, in argument, determined to have the last word, even – or perhaps specially– with children. Criticism he did not like. And from his own flesh and blood- really it was too much.

Pamela’s biographer, Valery Lawson, reports “Lyndon was never sure whether her father would respond to her mishaps with a joke or an explosion” or even worse, sometimes dismiss her with ridicule.

♥  How could a little girl predict and understand the impulsivity and mood swings of a heavy drinker? Nobody was there to tell her she was not responsible for his reactions, that there was nothing wrong with her. Nobody was there to protect her from his abusive behavior.

I was never made to feel that I was anything special. Her father, the poet at heart, rejected her first poems as insignificant. “Hardly Yeats!” His love for poetry failed to stretch itself wide enough to encompass Pamela’s first writing attempts. It seems like in all occasions he made her feel inadequate and not good enough.

♥  Maybe she tried to write poetry to please him, to connect with him or maybe it was an attempt to attract his attention, or all of the above…whatever the motives her father failed to understand her needs. 

Her biographer tells the story of Pamela’s fifth birthday. Her parents sent her away from home into the custody of stern aunt Ellie.  Her father wrote her a letter saying that he has learned that Lyndon had grown “very fat. ” “Why, little woman, you will be like a prize pig when you get home again. Never mind, we will all be delighted to see you home again after your nice long holiday. As you will be back soon we are not going to send your birthday present to you but you will get it when you return.

Her biographer adds: ” Back home the fat little girl had only just opened her present when her mother told her she must stay with friends until things settled down. Baby Moya needed all her attention. Lyndon later wrote that she always suffered from being the eldest of three girls.”

♥  Truth is she suffered from her parent’s coldness.

Next week you’ll meet Margaret Goff Pamela’s weak and emotionally needy mother.

Lyndon Invents Pamela L. Travers


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, 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.

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.

Could it be then, I asked myself, that by taking up a new name she was trying to come up with a new identity, to start afresh and release inner feelings of inadequacy? Could it be that she never felt comfortable enough in her real name, as if Helen Lyndon was just not good enough and needed to be hidden from the world ? Why else would she experience an inner trembling” when people used her Christian name?

I believe that Pamela L. Travers’s name change was an attempt to escape the painful experiences of her childhood: the early loss of her father, the weakness of her mother, the heavy burden of the family financial needs, and what seemed to be her  future role as her mother’s helper.

Discussing Pamela’s acting experience in Mary Poppins She Wrote, Valerie Lawson makes the following comment: “The stage fulfilled cravings in Lyndon for applause. Somebody, even if it was an audience of complete strangers was now paying attention to little Lyndon. She longed to do this all the time.”

If Pamela appreciated the applause, I believe that was because the audience’s  attention operated as a temporary substitute for  love and emotional connection. The truth is, she didn’t crave applause, she craved love. And isn’t it a curious coincidence that the Greek translation for Pamela is “all sweet” or “all loving”?

When her father was still alive, she and her sisters were just like lumps in the family porridge. The family life was organised around her parent’s moods. It was clear that they had their own existence – busy, contained, important.

♥ Her parents never truly paid attention to her emotional needs. And when they did pay some attention to her, it was not in a positive way.

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.

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.

♥ It is as if she never gained enough strength to drop the pseudonym she was using as a mental hiding place and as if the mental hiding place needed to be continuously reinforced. Why? My theory is that Pamela L. Travers was a mental construct, a protective shield Helen Lyndon Goff needed to function in the world.

 I believe that Helen Lyndon Goff experienced a major blockage during the maturation process  of her psyche caused by unattended childhood wounds. What were those? That will be the subject of my next post.

What the Bee Told Me


Today, as promised in last week’s post, I am sharing my thoughts on What the Bee Knows, Reflections on Myth, Symbol and Story , the book which Pamela L. Travers was willing to discuss with her biographer, Valerie Lawson. Unfortunately, this discussion never took place. 

This blog is an attempt to perform a postpartum inner viewing. Maybe the ideas discussed here will have some healing power, maybe, somehow, they can travel beyond time and space and bring healing on the other side, wherever that might be.

Pamela L. Travers was of the opinion that if you wanted to know a writer you had to study his or her works. She also said, In everything I write one can read between the lines.” So I started my reading of her works with the fervent desire and hope to receive some insight into her psyche, connect somehow with her, and gain a deeper understanding of her personality.

What the Bee Knows, Reflections on Myth, Symbol and Story, published for the first time by Aquarian Press in 1989, is a collection of literary, and somewhat spiritual, essays most of which were written for and published in Parabola, The Magazine of Myth and Tradition, founded in the 1970’s by a friend of Pamela’s, D.M. Dooling. The focus of the magazine was (and still is) mythology and spirituality. Most of the writings compiled in What the Bee Knows were composed during the “crone” stage of Pamela’s life. She was 77 years old in 1976 when she wrote The World of the Hero for the inaugural issue of Parabola.

♥  To begin with, I was expecting to read a scholarly work. To my surprise, this collection of literary essays revealed itself to be of a different nature; not at all scholarly in a traditional sense. Actually, I experienced this book as a sort of encoded personal soul diary. 

In these writings, Pamela L. Travers explores mythical themes with poetical virtuosity and occasionally opens up and recollects events from her childhood, something that she was extremely reluctant to do in the earlier stages of her life. And maybe because her work on myth seems to be so closely entangled with her subjective experience of life and her personal beliefs system, she never gained a serious status as a scholar, at least not to the extent of her aspirations. 

Anyhow, I had to read some of the articles more than once and I do not claim to have grasped all of their meaning or appreciated all the subtleties of the mythological references.

♥  After some initial confusion, I sensed that to find what I was looking for I needed to pay close attention to the feelings and emotions expressed by her words instead of focusing on (and being almost intimidated by) the mythical references and sometimes hermetic links.

By the way, I was comforted to learn later on while reading Lively Oracle, The Centennial celebration of P.L.Travers Creator of Mary Poppins that the difficulty that I experienced in reading these essays was not a case of my own ignorance on the subject of myth; even the editorial staff of Parabola sometimes puzzled over her texts. Regardless of these initial difficulties a major theme came into view.

♥  Reading What the Bee Knows, one realises that Pamela was embarked on a quest for self discovery.

What makes me say that? Her constant, compulsive questioning, put in Pamela’s own words, I will not cease from mental fight”.


 Here, read for yourself:

Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “How can I live in accordance with reality?”

Perhaps myths are telling us that these endeavors are not so much voyages of discovery as of rediscovery. That the hero is seeking not for something new but for something old, a treasure that was lost and has to be found, his own self, his identity.”

The World of the Hero, 1976

Who walks the world under my name?

Fear No More The Heat Of The Sun, 1977 

Who am I? What is my purpose? Why through me, Leda, should the fuse have run that exploding, toppled Illium’s towers and made of Sparta a name of shame must cause ever carry on its back effects so much greater than itself, as a grain of sand carries the sea? 

Leda’s Lament, 1982

I am lost and astray in the universe.

Walking the Maze at Chartes, 1983

 Who am I? I inquired of myself and nothing reply. Oh, then, indeed, I was upside-down, a meare head walking the earth.  What shall I do? … Then deep within me something wept – I who had never wept before nor needed the gift of weeping – and I knew what had to be done.

The Hanged Man, 1984

I who had been a mere particle, a scantling of the whole I knew, had now become an entity, separate, a thing in itself, whose reflections threw themselves back at me from a glassy hall of mirrors. Surprised at my new infinity, I turned among the images, delighting in each pose and posture, trying them on as though they were garments to see which was most becoming. Is this I? Or this? Or this?

Now, Farewell and Hair, 1985 

♥  In the light of these examples (and many more), it is my humble opinion that Pamela L.Travers was experiencing profound identity issues.

This troubled me because she was the one to believe that For where we know it or not, or wish it or not, we all – like the hero- live in myth, or rather the context of myth. “ So, she knew she was the hero of her own life story but apparently knowing it was not enough to succeed in the endeavour.

♥ All of the above questions formulated at such an advanced age indicate that Pamela L.Travers never successfully completed her journey of finding herself. She never found inner peace.  

In the Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell talks about the journey of the hero on a spiritual path, the path on which Pamela traveled. This is what he said,The other kind is the spiritual deed, in which the hero learns to experience the supernormal range of human spiritual life and then comes back with a message.”

♥  Pamela L. Travers’s overall message (as I heard it) is one of anxiety and confusion.

For now, let me just say that she never became the wise crone, a concept which she so admired and I assume aspired to embody.  She hinted of wisdom, she hinted she might know more than what she chose to reveal…but did she? 

No one seems to have been interested in understanding the why,  what sort of psychological torments she experienced,  what caused them and why they remained unresolved despite all her efforts to heal herself. 

♥  I beleive that her obsession with myth, fairy tales, and her spiritual gurus are only that, failed attempts to heal her mind and her body .

Throughout her life (and it was a long one, she died at the venerable age of 97) she struggled with anxiety and possibly depression and other physical ailments. And in spite of all these weaknesses, she remained strong in her fragility.

People simply assume she was difficult and self-centered for the sake of being difficult and self-centered. At best, she was and still is qualified as an eccentric.

It was one of her eccentricities that captured my attention. In the article, Name and No Name published in 1982, she made a strange statement:

But, familiarity to wrench from another his personal name before he has had the chance – or, indeed, the wish – to offer it, is to degrade him, to snatch away his dignity, his private innerness. If there is alive in him some of his old ancestral stuff, it will quiver with apprehension – and withdraw.  … The door has to be knocked at gently if we want to know who is within.

She didn’t like to be called by her real name, Helen Lyndon. Why was Helen Lyndon hiding? I started thinking about the way Pamela L. Travers seemed to have related to her real name throughout her life and how her pen name morphed from Pamela L. Travers to P.L. Travers to finally become PLT.

Then, another question arose as I read the last paragraph of the essay, What Aileth Thee, published in 1983. Here it is:

For the question is our own question. In our rational, fragmental, technological world, it is we, seeking deliverance, that needed to be asked; we ourselves must become the Grail hero who will set the waters free, not only in ourselves but in others. Secretly we are all sore wounded and need that the wound be noted and the necessary words of power spoken.”

♥ So I asked the question, “What aileth thee Helen Lyndon?” In response, an idea started forming itself.

Could Helen Lyndon’s change of name be more significant on a psychological level than a mere taking on of a pen name? 

And, this is where I will pick up from next week. I will explore how Pamela L. Travers related both to her Christian name and her pen name throughout the different periods of her life and where that led me in my explorations.

Reviewing Mary Poppins She Wrote

So here I go, my first post. But before we start I must tell you that, although I am an avid reader from the early age of four, I have no formal education or training in literature, psychology or mythology. It’s just that lately my heart goes naturally towards these fields.  And now that I have grown a little (just a little) older, and a little wiser (just a little), I allow myself to listen to my heart more often.

♥  This blog is my answer to my heart’s calling and it is intended as a personal creative outlet for my impressions and ideas about Mary Poppins and her controversial author, Pamela L. Travers.

Why did I choose this subject for my blog?  Well, it was not intentionally planned and kind of happened gradually.

My interest in Pamela L. Travers and her literary creation was aroused by Valerie Lawson’s book, Mary Poppins She Wrote, a book that landed in my hands by pure fluke. It was at the time when Saving Mr. Banks was coming out on the big screen and I was planning to go see it. I decided to read the Mary Poppins book in preparation for the movie. (I didn’t know that there were six Mary Poppins books written over a period of more than 50 years.) It turned out that my local bookstore did not have the Mary Poppins books in stock. However, the clerk did not return empty handed. She kindly handed me a book titled Mary Poppins, She Wrote which of course I ended up buying because of the inscription on its cover: “Explores the events that inspired the major motion picture Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks.” That was even better!

And this is how my obsession with Pamela L. Travers and Mary Poppins began developing: ♥   I was simply struck by her imagination and her fiercely rebellious nature.

♥  Above all, I was deeply moved by the first part of the book which describes her difficult childhood experiences. I fell in love with little Helen Lyndon Goff (Pamela L. Travers’s real name), an extremely sensitive, exceptionally perceptive, imaginative and creative little girl as you will discover in future posts.

♥  I was saddened by the fact that this beautiful soul got trapped in the maze of illusions of the outer world and ended up alienated and alone. I wanted to understand why such an intelligent and creative woman could not heal her wounds. These issues were unfortunately not explored, at least not in serious depth, by Valerie Lawson. The more I read the book the more irritated I became.

Before I explain what drove me nuts about Mary Poppins, She Wrote I must admit that Valerie Lawson did an incredible job as an investigative journalist, which she is by profession.

It took her five years or so, and many trips to England, Ireland and Australia to uncover the life of Pamela L. Travers. If you have read the book, you know she succeeded in gathering many details about Pamela, her family, friends and acquaintances and even about the family and acquaintances of these acquaintances. Many people now know that Pamela had tumultuous, intimate relationships with men and women, was a follower of the peculiar spiritual guru Gurdjieff, and adopted a son without ever telling him that he was adopted (or that he had a twin brother). Lawson also made many links between real people from Pamela’s childhood and some of the characters in the Mary Poppins stories. And in my opinion that was the most enjoyable part of the book.

Disappointingly, Lawson failed to connect emotionally with Pamela L. Travers, although in the Preface of the book she tries (unsuccessfully in my opinion), to draw some similarities between herself and Pamela Travers:

My search for Pamela Travers began with the discovery that she was an Australian. Like myself, she had been a dancer, actress and writer. Going on “the Pamela hunt” [the underline is mine] became a five-year journey of discovery that took me down unexpected paths, both geographically and emotionally.”

However, Lawson never explains the emotional impact of writing Pamela’s biography on her personal life.

And honestly, is it only me that has an issue with the expression “the Pamela hunt?” It is certainly a funny concept, and a funny choice of words, of wanting to hunt her down. Doesn’t sound like an empathic endeavor, does it? It doesn’t even sound like a discovery quest.  Funny choice of words and the true meaning lies in the subtle nuances of language.

The most upsetting thing about this biography is that it could have been more insightful if only Lawson had a genuine interest in Pamela’s literary work as a gateway to her psyche.

Instead, this is what Lawson writes about her interest in Pamela:

For me, Travers became more fascinating the more I learned of her mystery. That was what intrigued me most, not her subject matter…

Overall, I was left with the uneasy feeling that Lawson purposefully decided to avoid meeting Pamela in person.

Lawson first contacted Pamela through her agent in 1994, Pamela was 95 years old. This was Pamela’s response:

 “Dear Miss Lawson,

I don’t like personal publicity but I’m willing to talk about my work any way you like.”

She also inquired if Lawson read her latest book What the Bee Knows.

Of course, Lawson didn’t know anything about the book because she was not interested in Pamela’s work; she was interested in the “Pamela hunt,” the hidden facts of a private life.

This is what she did after receiving Pamela’s response.

From an obscure Californian publisher I ordered a copy of What the Bee Knows, a book I quickly cast aside…I had no time then for Travers’s mythological references and search for heroes. One morning eighteen months later I woke knowing this was the right time of my life to write the book.” Seriously…

So in 1996, when Pamela was 97 she wrote again to her agent. The agent replied that Pamela was extremely ill and the day after the agent’s letter arrived in the mail Pamela died.

It seems to me that Valerie Lawson almost waited for Pamela to die before starting her biography. She probably thought it would be easier to write the book. What makes me say that? Lawson’s own words:

Despite her (Pamela’s) wish that no biography be written, I believe her death meant the ground rules changed. I took the same point of view as the biographer Michael Holroyd, who has said “I discriminate between the rights of the living and the dead…” When we are living we need all our sentimentalities, our evasions, our half-truths and our white lies, to get through life. When we are dead different rules apply.

I personally believe that we can’t truly know a person by only learning the facts of their lives. The facts are not the truth, just as Pamela used to say.

♥  Observable events are the outer reflection of an inner phenomenon. If you understand the inner phenomenon, you have a chance to interpret more accurately the facts and get a clearer image of the person. Even then, we all remain a little elusive; we all dwell in the world of perceptions and images. So how can we rely simply on other people’s perceptions about Pamela Travers? How can we get a clearer image of her, especially now, that she is irreversibly unavailable for an interview? Pamela gave the answer to Valerie Lawson. Read What the Bee Knows.

And this is where I will pick up in my next post, with my thoughts on Pamela’s last book What the Bee Knows.