I finally finished the first Mary Poppins book. One major difference between the book and film: Mary Poppins is so unpleasant that you wonder why the children are even the smallest bit sad when she departs at the book's end. When I saw the film version as a child I did think Julie Andrews was a bit too strict, too unfeeling for my liking. But regarding unlikeability, cinematic Mary doesn't come close to the one created by P.L. Travers. Perhaps I'm missing something but the original character is completely vain (without good reason, apparently), self-centered to a fault, and oddly arbitrary. I think the natural sweetness, relative youth, and beauty possessed by Julie Andrews may have automatically toned down the character's negative characteristics when the tale went celluloid.
But however one may opine on the book's central character, the magical elements contained within the pages of Mary Poppins -- most not included in the film -- are what gives the tale whatever charm it contains. And those magical elements are considerable.
The last one to appear in the book pops into a department store where Mary, Jane, and Michael are Christmas shopping. They're just about to leave through the revolving doors when someone comes towards the doors at the same time, "the running, flickering figure of a child."
This is no ordinary child. She "had practically no clothes on, only a light wispy strip of blue stuff that looked as though she had torn it from the sky to wrap around her naked body."
She spins through the revolving doors for a while, entertaining herself, apparently, before beelining towards Jane and Michael.
"Ah, there you are! Thank you for waiting. I'm afraid I'm a little late," said the child, stretching out her bright arms to Jane and Michael. "Now," she cocked her head on one side, "aren't you glad to see me? Say yes, say yes!"
"Yes," said Jane smiling, for nobody, she felt, could help being glad to see anyone so bright and happy.
She's Maia, one of the "seven sisters" of the Pleiades star cluster. Maia has been watching Jane and Michael "from the sky," is very excited to be finally speaking to them in person, and asks their assistance in choosing Christmas gifts for her sister stars.
And of course, like all the other magical characters in the book, she has a previous connection with Mary Poppins. After the shopping is done, Maia's one arm full of gifts, she reaches "up her spare arm and put it round Mary Poppins's neck and kissed her. A long look passed between them, and they smiled as people smile who understand each other." Then, outside the store, in front of a crowd of curious onlookers, Maia ascends some invisible steps back to her home in the sky.
Mary Poppins may have been a vain, cold oddball but she certainly had some interesting acquaintances, even if half of them didn't make it into the film. No wonder Jane and Michael were sad to see her go.