Girl History Month – P.L. Travers, Author And Mystic

“The Sphinx, the Pyramids, the stone temples are, all of them, ultimately, as flimsy as London Bridge; our cities but tents set up in the cosmos. We pass. But what the bee knows, the wisdom that sustains our passing life—however much we deny or ignore it—that for ever remains.” —P. L. Travers

what the bee knows

Pamela Lyndon Travers (1899-1996) was an Australian novelist, actress and journalist, most remembered for her series of novels about the magical nanny Mary Poppins.


In 1925 while in Ireland, Travers met the mystic poet George William Russell who, as editor of The Irish Statesman, accepted some of her poems for publication. Through Russell, Travers met William Butler Yeats and other Irish poets who fostered her interest in Celtic folklore and world mythology. Later, the mystic Gurdjieff would have a great effect on her, one that would last the rest of her life.

In 1934 Mary Poppins blew into Miss Travers’s life and remained long enough to be captured on paper. Miss Travers was living in Sussex, recuperating from an illness in a 900-year-old thatched cottage mentioned in the Domesday Book. One day she found herself with two bored visiting children to entertain. She came up with a story about a raven-haired, rosy-cheeked governess who arrives with her carpetbag and parrot-headed umbrella at 17 Cherry Tree Lane to care for Jane and Michael Banks and their siblings. When Mary Poppins wasn’t busy ruling the nursery with a will of iron, or admiring her own reflection in a shop window, she worked fabulous deeds: sliding up banisters, presiding at tea parties held on the ceiling, pasting gold paper stars in the heavens at night.

Mary Poppins

Encouraged by friends, Miss Travers published “Mary Poppins,” which was an immediate critical success. A sequel, “Mary Poppins Comes Back,” appeared the following year. It was followed by “Mary Poppins Opens the Door” (1943), “Mary Poppins in the Park” (1952), “Mary Poppins From A to Z” (1962), “Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane” (1982) and “Mary Poppins and the House Next Door (1988).

I have read all the books many times and love them. I treasure the copies I own.

poppins books

The books were adapted in 1964 into a musical Disney film starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. For the record, Miss Travers was not terribly fond of the adaptation (she reportedly wept through the premiere of the movie), nor of Disney himself. I share her sentiments regarding both.

In 2004, Disney Theatrical produced a stage musical adaptation in the West End. The stage musical was transferred to Broadway in 2006. It recently closed (March 3rd) after 2619 performances and over 6 years of running on Broadway.

But Miss Travers was more than a children’s book author.  She was a brilliant essayist on all things mythical and mystical.  A collection of her spiritual essays have been published in a book entitled What The Bee Knows.

Most of the essays were first published in the journal Parabola, which was devoted to the scholarly exploration of myth and tradition. Miss Travers was a contributing editor of the journal.


The title essay of What The Bee Knows is filled with facts about bees in world mythology and about their importance to our ecosystems. Miss Travers shares many of the traditions followed among beekeepers, including the practice of telling the bees all the important news. It reads:

But this apprising of the bees, telling them, for all one knows, what they already know, is not the business merely of great ones. The bees are constantly being told. No beekeeper would fail to do it. For if they are not courteously kept informed of everything that happens, they will take umbrage, swarm, and fly away, or die of grief or resentment.

The woman knew what she was talking about.

Travers was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1977. She died in London in 1996.

“Perhaps we are born knowing the tales of our grandmothers and all their ancestral kin continually run in our blood repeating them endlessly, and the shock they give us when we first bear them is not of surprise but of recognition.”
― P.L. Travers, About the Sleeping Beauty

12 thoughts on “Girl History Month – P.L. Travers, Author And Mystic

  1. Jueseppi B. says:

    Reblogged this on The ObamaCrat.Com™ and commented:
    Another entry in the “Girl History Month” series.

  2. Great thanks for this loving Girl History Month .. And the one’s whom we love that also love us …

  3. […] Girl History Month – P.L. Travers, Author And Mystic ( […]

  4. Very interesting info on the author of Mary popping that I never knew! Perhaps I will read all of her books to my daughter. She keeps talking about how she wants Mary poppies to come to the big screen.

  5. I can’t begin to tell you how much I learned today and how much this series has meant to me. I feel like I’ve been in a favorite classroom and I’m clapping my hands with anticipation over the next one to come. Thank you so very much. I certainly hope there is somewhere to still get those books. I love reading childrens books. Beatrix Potter was another favorite of mine.

  6. Your comment means a lot to me! I’m really enjoying writing this series and I’m so glad you are enjoying it as well. 🙂
    The Mary Poppins books with the original illustrations are available on Amazon. Mine are old ones off of Ebay. I wanted books that looked like the ones I read in grade school.
    I love Beatrix Potter too. Maybe I’ll post about her this month!!
    xo Deb

  7. Fascinating biographical information on Pamela Travers. I’ve never read any of the Mary Poppins stories and really don’t know why. I do know I want to find them and give them a try. I’m sure I would enjoy her essays as well.

  8. I am definitely going to track down a copy of What the Bee Knows–it’s beautiful, and I can’t wait to read it. I was reminded of an old book by another potential candidate for Girl History Month: Gene Stratton-Porter. She wrote Keeper of the Bees, set in California, and several naturalist-themed books set in Indiana, The Girl of the Limberlost being one of her most famous. Deborah, thank you so much for everything that you share here! My family has one of your Honey Walnut Pies about every two weeks. Delicious!

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