1899 - 1996
P. L. TRAVERS was born Helen Lyndon Goff in Australia on August 9, 1899, the eldest of three children of Robert and Margaret Travers Goff. Her childhood was marked by a sense of the wonder and mystery of the natural world—a sense reinforced by her parents, who, she has said in interviews, offered their children few explanations. Like the children she would later write about in her famous Mary Poppins books, she and her siblings were cared for by a series of nannies. Most were Irish, like her father, and Helen early developed a taste for Irish writers such as Yeats. She was allowed to read indiscriminately among her parents' few books; of children's authors she liked Lewis Carroll, Edith Nesbit, and Beatrix Potter.
Robert Goff died when Helen was 14, and after several years of straitened circumstances, Helen left Australia for England. There she began writing seriously: she befriended the editor of Irish Statesman, A. E. ( George William Russell), who would have a significant influence upon her thinking, and she began publishing poems in his journal. She wrote criticism as well and published reviews of books, theater, and films in New English Weekly from 1933 until 1949 (although, during the war, she fled England temporarily for the United States).
Although Travers has published widely, she is most well known for her Mary Poppins books. According to Travers, the idea arose spontaneously when she was pressed to amuse several children. In interviews she has insisted on the mystery of the creative process and prefers to see herself as more a conduit than a creator; she has developed this idea in her extensive thinking about the role of fairy tale and myth in our culture. The story that ultimately became Mary Poppins ( 1934) would introduce readers to a character and uses of magic that are almost archetypal. Although not without its critics—who noted, for instance, a strain of racism that Travers would later excise—the book was extremely successful and has been followed by nine others centering upon the mythical nanny.
In addition to her Mary Poppins books, Travers has written about characters in her childhood, about the fragmenting experience of war, and about the mythic figures Hanuman and Sleeping Beauty. She worked as a consulting editor for Parabola: The Magazine for Myth and Tradition from 1976 until her death in 1996.