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P. L.

Travers: What The Bee Knows Reflections on Myth, Symbol and Story
England: The Aquarian Press, 1989.

‘Ask the wild bee what the Druids knew’ (Old English adage)
Eileen Forrester Agar (1899 – 1991) was a British painter and photographer associated with the Surrealist
movement. She drew a picture of Travers.
In Ireland she met AE who published her work in his The Irish Statesman. She enhanced her study of myth
and folklore in the USA as a guest of the Navaho and Pueblo Indians, as a writer-in-residence at Radcliff
(Harvard), Claremont University (CA) and Smith College (MA) and received an honorary doctorate from
Chatham College, Pittsburgh. She was also awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire)1.
Most of the essays in this collection were written for Parabola: The Magazine of Myth and Tradition (today:
Parabola: The Search for Meaning), an American quarterly (1976–).
C.S. Lewis: There is only one Creator and we merely mix [shape, order and define] the elements He gives
us. (10)

The World of the Hero (pp. 11–18)

Folklore, fairy-tale, allegory, legend, parable, even nursery rhyme are the principalities that together
comprise the homeland of myth, for which there is no known map. (11) “this is the country…where
the opposites are reconciled, the place where one goes Beyond them” (18) Language is mythical, in the
sense that it is sacred, a gift at some immemorial time mysteriously bestowed.
“we all – like the hero – live in…the context of myth” (12) Malinowksy called the myth “the re-arising of
primordial reality in narrative form”; Nietzsche said that “it was also a way of thinking, a glass that
mirrors to us the universe and ourselves”; Robert Graves wrote that “they are all grave records of ancient
religious costumes, events or ritual, and reliable enough as history once their language is understood” (12)
“We go to the myths not so much for what they mean as for our own meaning. Who am I? Why am I
here? How can I live in accordance with reality?” (13) Thereby, also the myths never have a single meaning,
once and for all finished. It means something else to everybody. Here might hide one of the reasons why
Mary Poppins denies to interpret and unfold the wonder of their adventures. On the one hand, the language
of the myth is not analogous to the ordinary human language thus it is not able to authentically reflect what
they have experienced. On the other hand, Jane and Michael, as two individual entities must approach the
mythical world differently – myth belongs to everyone, but not in the same way in the same formulae.

How Travers is speaking about the collective unconscious is as follows: “The fact that the same stories
arise in India, the Middle East the Americas, as well as in China and Japan, is an intimation that their
proper soil and seeding-place is not in any geographical location but in man himself.” (13–14) So,
folk, the men “enact”, “sustain” and “keep them alive” (14). If the same seed dwells in all of us, then in
some way we are all connected to each other or as Travers stated, “everything is inevitably connected
with everything else” (14) The myths are true but not facts. (15) The cruelty of myth is difficult to accept
and thus might be the reason that we give them to children whose mind is yet unattained with knowledge
and so they are more likely to understand them. (15)
Travers’s interpretation of the word ‘understand’ and how children interpret myths: “understand is to
stand under…So, in order to understand, I come to something with my unknowing my nakedness…I stand
under it and let it teach me, rain down its truth upon me. That is [she thinks] children do; they let it make
room in them for a sense of justice, for the wicked fairy as well as the Sleeping Beauty, for dragons as well
as princes” (15)

rewarding contributions to the arts and sciences and public service
Travers’s thought is analogous to Campbell’s concept of the hero’s journey and main task: “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. And by finding this, by achieving this, he takes part in the one task the essential mythical
requirement: the reinstatement of the fallen world” (16)

Two Pairs of Shoes (pp. 19–24)

Abu Kassem’s Slippers – the moral is that nothing lasts forever and when a thing is no longer useful that
thing should be relinquished. The rich merchant at first did not want to get rid of his old shoes, then he
could not do that when he wanted – he only payed fines for throwing the shoes into bed placed.
The Sandals of Ayaz – A poor man became the king’s treasurer. Before that his only valuables were his
jacket and sandals. To always remember his roots and the king’s greatness, he keeps these things locked in
the tower.

Fear No More the Heat of the Sun (pp. 25–29)

Looking around, observing people at the Brompton graveyard in London; wandering about playing in the
churchyard in her childhood, about life and death; “the democracy of death” (27) – the Graveyard Book

The Legacy of the Ancestors (pp. 30–35)

The idea of Dreamtime or Dreaming (Yamminga, Nyetting, Dhoogoor or Ungud) is central to the thought
of all the Australian tribes (31) “Any relative farther back than a grandfather or farther forward than a
grandson was held to be in the Dreamtime – which was not, in fact, time at all, but rather timelessness;
space too, and spacelessness; matter, spirit, life and death, everything and always” (31) “The Dreamtime is
objective Now, the everlasting nonexistence from which existence rises…Nirvana and Samsara are one”
(34) – Nirvana “A dream is dreaming through you [us]” = we carry our roots within ourselves (96) – “all is
in our Dreaming – the making of the world, the great days, the great heroes” (97)
The myths are in this Dreaming: “They are not created but summoned” (295)
Daisy Bates (1859 – 1951): an Irish-Australian journalist, studied Australian Aboriginal culture and society.

If She’s Not Gone, She Lives There Still (pp. 36–49)

A Conversation Between Michael Dames and P L Travers
“The first…British civilization was unquestionable based on the Cult of the Great Goddess” (37)
Neolithic was a female-centred culture that started agriculture and brought it to Britain, and that its
monuments might have reference to agriculture and to a female deity. →
Dame suggests in his book The Silbury Treasure (1976) suggests that the largest prehistoric man-made
mountain in Europe from the Stone Age/Neolithic, Silbury Hill is an image of the Great Goddess' pregnant
womb (the Harvest Mother), the rest of her extended body being described by the surrounding moat which
despite now being filled with at least 10 feet of silt, still appears waterlogged at times. It is moving picture
with the help of sunlight and moonlight, a “kinetic representation of the harvest birth” (38) People were
carrying fresh spring water to drink up to the top of Silbury to drink it there religiously on Mothering
Sunday (the 4th Sunday in Lent when motherhood and the Mother of the Gods were especially honoured)
As Avebury Henge2 was a wedding ring – wedding of the opposites, the synchronization of the farming
year (ploughing, seeding, rising, harvesting). He describes Avebury as two serpents eating each other. They
thought what AE claimed: “The earth is a living being” (46) The Great Mother is everywhere: Japan-
peach tree, , China- jade (= death and immortality), in fairy tales – Cinderella,….

The Avebury monument is a part of a larger prehistoric landscape containing several older monuments nearby,
including West Kennet Long Barrow and Silbury Hill.
Dame, the art-historian defines dance as follows: “It is the kinetic involvement of the individuals in a thing
greater than themselves, a pattern which can turn from solar orb into serpentine riverflow with an ordered
measure to it, the bringing of order into the random chaos of overwhelming experience” (48)
In his other book, Pagan's Progress Dame described the importance of the prefix 'Ge' in Geography, which
refers to Gaia, or the earth as a living being.

Letter to a Learned Astrologer (pp. 50–58)

About when she got Arthur Mee’s, British writer and educator, The Children's Encyclopædia. Later she
learnt that the writer detested children, but liked Mary Poppins. She reflects on her astrologer’s prediction:
about the dual nature of the things (good-bad), and characteristic features of each zodiac sign (Aquarius,
Pisces, Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn) and relate them
to mythological figures and archetypes (e.g. Sagittarius – Amazons; Aquarius, Travers’s favourite sign,
hold an amphora and pours out water from it were the former symbolizes the feminine, the latter refers to
the duality Yin-Yang- light and dark, fire and water, expanding and contracting).

The Youngest Brother (pp. 59–64)

In matriarchal society the right of the last born invariably prevailed as the youngest was likely to lie the
longest and thus support the aged parents and inherit a farm, castle or kingdom. In tales he is often
considered a simpleton. The oldest meaning of the word ‘simple’ is innocent, not knowing yet not
ignorant. The word ‘simple’ is also kin to the work ‘silly’ which comes from the Old English saeling,
meaning blessed and holy. (59) In a tale: Till Eulenspiegel – the title character’s name means owl-mirror –
Athene’s bird of wisdom reflected in a glass; Shakespeare’s fools carry the stories’ inner meaning; Ryokan-
the fool of Zen.
The formulae of the story of the Three brother never alters: at first the eldest sets out to seek for
something, but he does not succeed because he disregards the advice (from the dwarf, the road, Merlin).
The second brother also disdains the help and can go no further. (61) Finally, the youngest brother sets out
against his parent’s will, succeeds, is rewarded and returns (a not unique story: Grimm’s The Water of Life
where the brother after getting the prince and the water disregarding his helper’s –dwarf – advice, rescues
his evil brothers, shows them the water, describes the maiden and thereupon falls asleep. The brothers steal
the water, substitute salt water for it, thus the king gets a wrong water from the youngest one)
The three brothers might be “a threefold composite of one man, three stages in a single life.” (63) As
eldest brother he believes and ‘knows’ he has everything: youth, beauty, capacity. Thus he feels he does
not require any help. Then he has become the second brother: older now, not so strong, handsome, no help
he needs again and having learnt nothing from experience. He is asking the question how he could get out
of trouble- probably he could give up his former thoughts and values. So the third brother has been born
who learns that all “that he needs for quest, he believes, is contained within himself… he thinks of the way
as a mere object, inanimate, passive, there to be used” (63) He confronts the dualities and he becomes pure
in heart – becomes the child. He is simple and humble “willing to accept help from anyone who will give
it…And once he knows nothing he begins to know something and from there it is really only a step to happy
ever after” (298)
The “Youngest either forgives his brothers or sees that they are fitted out with princesses of their own. ..he
[is probably] re-enacting Plato’s myth of the Cave, where those who have risen to the light go down again
to rescue others who still live with the shadows. Or… by taking pity on himself repairs his past and redeems
his world. And if his past, then all the past; if his world, then all the world. You cannot purify one stretch
of the river without affecting the whole” (64)
The Primary World (pp. 65-72)
Plato in his The Republic makes the point that “the most profound truths can be elicited from children when,
simply, stealthily, logically, they are asked the right questions at the right moment and in the right order”
(65) “Parents were anxious, it was said, that their young be shielded from anything that could lead to wishful
thinking” (67) That was Travers’s opinion of why the Grimm’s tales had been altered in their stories, along
with the allusion that it might have been the intentions of those parents who have suffered due to the Great
War and wanted to “hide the brute facts of life”. (67)
Travers comparing the Grimm brothers with Andersen: “Grimms belonged to the sunlight, asked
nothing, never apologized, curled the blood with delight and horror, dispensed justice, forfeited the
spirit. Andersen, moon-man, asked for mercy, was always sorry, curled the feelings with bane-and-honey
and undermined the vitality by his endless appeal for pity” (69) She missed the black sheep in Andersen’s
stories. She liked both of them. Both Andersen and Wilde although used old materials, only invented tales
and both had “an element of nostalgia in them, a devitalizing element that the true tale never was” (297).
“Perhaps those that most clearly derive from myth, those that clearly show their antecedents, are the Greek
stories, the Norse tales, and Grimms. These are old trees, rooted in the folk, full of meaning and ritual;
they retell the myths in terms that can be understood by unlettered people…Every one of these
tales….telling us something about life” (297)
Travers about the Primary and Secondary World: the “Primary World is that which has never been
invented but came into being, along with the blood stream as a legacy from the Authors who … are in
Eternity” [Blake’s prhase] All the rest is manmade, or as Tolkien has it, ‘subcreated’; the Secondary
World (70).

Five Women (pp. 73–79)

Among the Phaeacians – Maiden: e.g. princess
Under the Nysian Plain – Daughter: e.g. Persephone, the daughter of Zeus and Demeter; the queen of
underworld, springtime, flowers and vegetation. (abducted); Hades’s wife.
By the River Erotus – Paramour: = mistress; the Sleeping Beauty, Helen of Troy
In the Underworld – Wife: Persephone; beloved ones have to be rescued in the dark
On a Swiss Mountain– Mother: The Virgin Mary

What the Bee Knows (pp. 80–90)

Malinowki: “Myth is not merely a story but a reality lived” (80) The “Bee has all the times and places
been the symbol life – life as immortality” (81) It is also the symbol of Vishnu, Indra and Krishna who
are known in India as the ‘Three Nectar-Born’ (81). Greek mythology: the bee hovers above the head of
Artemis; Egypt: it was believed that bees sprang from the tears of the Sun god; in Christianity it is Christ
who weeps them; Gaia, the earth, the Virgin Mary are apostrophized as the Mother Bee. But the myth
descended into Time and has become tales → in Highland stories: ‘ask the Wild Bee what the Druids knew’.
Unknown = “absolute and unknowable, that which unremittingly [lankadatlanul] evokes the question
without ever guaranteeing the answer” (82) “There is a fund of ancient knowledge in man’s very
bloodstream” (82) “In every tradition, every religion, the body is the essential alchemical vessel in which
everything happens” (83)
Hebrew folklore: “when a child is born, … an angel recites the Torah to it and tells it all and everything.
That done, he puts his finger on the infant lip, leaving a cleft that is there for ever and says one word
‘Forget!’” (84) – “If a thing is to be remembered, it has first to be forgotten” (84)
Myth “imports an idea of the universe in its sequence of events, actions and sufferings” (85; Nietzsche)
At New Year, when the twelve strokes sound…. “we are embodying…. or perhaps being embodied, by the
myth of eternal return; the periodic destruction and recreation of the cosmos, common to all religions,
when world, time, and man himself are, after a ritual pause, ritually renewed” (85-86).
“Myth, by design, makes it clear that we are meant to be something more than our own personal history. It
places us … squarely between the opposing forces that keep us, and the world, in balance” (86)
Mrs Corry draws the children’s attention to mind where and how they are walking as they might harm their
shadows. This approach might be analogue to a thought which Travers herself recalled in her essay, ‘What
the Bee Knows’. The idea belongs to the Austrian poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke, (1875-1926), who
exclaimed as follows: “Have a care! Do not take away my devils. Without them, how shall I find my
angels?” (87)
The cosmic axis (the pole that pierces the worlds) can be assimilated to the World Tree (89): the cross, the
Norse Yggdrasil, Bodhi tree, The Hanged Man of the Tarot, Jack’s Beanstalk, the Inverted Tree – “Plato
speaks of man as ‘an inverted tree, of which the roots tend heavenward and the branches down to
earth’” (89)

The Seventh Day (pp. 91–94)

The real Fall: along with turning to one another, they also got the full of the knowing. There was the sin
that they did not use what they knew to render back the world. (93)

Where Will All The Stories Go? (pp. 95–106)

Conversation between Lauren van der Post and P L Travers
Lauren Van der Post (1906-1996): Afrikaner author.
We cannot create myth as it falls into us, carries creation itself (96).
In the Bushman tradition stars are great hunters, and hunting is a symbol of the search for the meaning (103-
104). A Bushman story (104): a woman came down from the sky on a cord and promised to stay with a n
as long as he did not look into her basket. However, he opened it, but saw nothing and started to laugh.
Then the woman disappeared into the sunset because he could not perceive in the basket all the wonders
she had brought him from the stars. Post agreed with Travers’s suggestion that Poppins’s carpetbag might
also have come from the sky – children also found it empty. Travers: “Emptiness is fullness” (104)

Speak, Lord (pp. 107–116)

Adage: “all things come from the sea” (107) Time and space are mutable realities not absolutes (109)
Talking with a man (who turns out to be Merlin) at Tor about chthonian sleepers: The Sleeping Beauty,
Arthur-Avalon= the Vale of Apples, Merlin – he handed his power over to a nymph who shut him up in a
tower and adding a second spell binding him with a chain of sleep and it gave him back his magic.

Name and No Name (pp. 117–128)

Rumpelstiltskin/Tom Tit Tot – without the process as his name is being discovered, there would be not
story. Once it is revealed, the story is over.
Scottish tale of the Brownie – once a man gave the Brownie (haunting on the roads) a name, Old Puddlefoot,
he could not bear it and broke in two, for all he wanted was to be one with nature.
“the name, if it binds, also separates” (120) Once the first man named the animals, e.g. lions it knew what
it was and had to devour. Later with euphemism or epithet, people subverted, mitigated the primordial
names/reality to minimize the facts and fear (leprosy=Blessed Disease, Devil= Clootie, Old Hornie, Old
Nick, lion in Algeria=Mr Johnson)
“One thinks of the names that arise out of the high deed of men or of their physical characteristics”
(121) – the Grail had to be served by Nameless knights, in imperial China it was considered a crime to
mention the birth name, the school name, the marrying name, the fathering name of each individual; in
ancient Egypt people were given “a greater and a lesser name. Only the latter was made public. The greater
belonged to the Ka or soul and embodied all the individual’s magical power” (126) Similarly, “in all
teachings, the initiate, having reached a certain stage, is given a name appropriate to that state, a name he
does not possess but serves” (126) – e.g. conformation name.
In Navaho reservation Travers got a name but it was forbidden to disclose it to anyone lest ill-luck follow
her or the tribe.

Leda’s Lament (pp. 129–131)

Walking the Maze at Chartres (pp. 132–137)
Inside a French Cathedral there is a labyrinth.3 During her visit she is searching for the whole world/universe
in it.

What Aileth Thee? (pp. 138–140) = what hurts you?

Grail heroes: Gawain, Perceval, Bors, Galahad.
Arthur, the High King with Merlin’s help laid down the rules of knighthood. Perceval – the widow’s son,
untutored warrior who is called to something more than only dragon slaying and rescuing damsels: to enter
the Grail Castle and see the Grail feast and the sick Grail King. The castle disappears the other day and
determined to find it again and ask the healing question to Fisher King with whom the whole land is
suffering. He finds it, asks the question from the king and he is healed along with the whole land.

Re-storying the Adult (pp. 141–144)

About adult rediscovering ourselves by letting go all his knowing, be as ready for Hell as for Heaven (141).
The Friend Monkey is based on the myth of Hanuman, the son of the Wind– seeking nothing for himself,
serves Rama (by meditation he finds Rama’s wife Sita who was abducted by demons in the forest- she
wanted to be rescued only by Rama and sends jewel to him by Hanuman. In the battle for Sita Hanuman
destroys hilltops. In the battle, Rama’s brother was wounded – instead of plucking a healing herb in the
Himalayas, Hanuman carries the whole mountain) As a Boddhisattva, Hanuman “is not lost till all men are
lost, nor to step into Heaven till he is sure that all men, absolved, are at his heels.” (144)

The Hanged Man (pp. 145–146)

The Twelfth Tarot Card: hanging upside-down, smiling and seeming to dance, swinging between existence
and non-existence – Plato’s inverted tree

Miss Quigley (pp. 147–150)

Children, being bored, wanted to do something wrong – steal Miss Quigley’s apples. She notived their
intention, but called them in, making them listen to her musical box and giving them apple. They felt

The Way Back (pp. 151–155)

“From the moment of birth we are, all of us, on a voyage of exploration…to what, a voice within tells us,
is, in fact, our homeland…[I]t is not the way forward…We return to whence we have come” (152) We
return to the source, roots. “In all tales that tell of a quest…something has to be brought home. This is

Although both maze and labyrinth depict a complex and confusing series of pathways, the two are different. A maze
is a complex, branching (multicursal) puzzle that includes choices of path and direction, while a labyrinth has only a
single, non-branching path, which leads to the center.
the meaning of ‘Happy Ever After,’ where all things that have been separate are made into a whole
and the fullness overflows to the general world” (154) – Campbell’s return, reinstatement, atonement

Sip No Sup and Bite No Bit (pp. 156–162)

rath=fairy fort/mound in Ireland.
Childe Rowland fairytale: a girl was abducted by fairies and only her third brother, Childe Rowland could
rescue her as only he followed Merlin’s advice: go to fairy land (Elfland) but do not drink or eat anything
there otherwise they never see Middle Earth again. The quest was successful.
Lucifer (pp. 163–165)

Now, Farewell and Hail (pp. 166–169)

As a child she lived Here and Now, in the all that is here (myths, tales), when and where everything was
possible. For children there is no separation between themselves and the world. “They may never have
heard of fairy tales but still be on easy terms with myth” (261) in skipping games, street songs, lullabies.
“For a child this world [of myth] is infinite… the time is always now and endless and the only way to
explain a thing is to say that it cannot be explained” (262) “Now is the day of everlasting. Now is the day
of salvation” (169) – Jane for that moment knew that she is happy for ever.

On Unknowing (pp. 170–173)

Travers about the pre-oedipal phase and the uncanny/UC: Unknowing is a “particular process of cognition
that has little or no use of words. It is part of our heritage at birth, the infant’s first primer… But soon the
chattering mind takes charge and obscures Unknowing with information” (170)
Travers often refers to Eliot’s thought: ‘what you do not know is the only thing you know’ T.S. Eliot’s Four
Quartets are four interlinked meditations-poems with the common theme being man's relationship with
time, the universe, and the divine. Eliot blends his Anglo-Catholicism with mystical, philosophical and
poetic works from both Eastern and Western religious and cultural traditions.
“It is from the Unknowing that all the myths [and fairy tales, diminutive kin of the myth], and, one
may say, all religions issue forth and reveal themselves. Not invented but, as it were, summoned”
(171, 172) So, “Unknowing…will take us down to the very deeps of knowing” (171) “Unknowing needs
that a man be in a certain state of grace, playful, artless, inwardly acquitted of opinion, not at all as
children are but rather as fools or saints” (171) – e.g. also the youngest simpleton brother, lovers poets
(Blake saw angels, St Francis sang with the bird, a Zen monk thanked the thieves who ransacked his home
for leaving him the moon at the window)
“Unknowing itself being empty can be approached only in moments of emptiness which the ego-mind
mistakes for boredom and hastens to assuage [=ease] that condition with ever more learning. To it the
phrase ‘I do not know’ is one of self-reproach…Thus, self offers itself to Self” coming upon fullness. (172)
By the same token, once Jane and Michael admit that they do not know or cannot understand something,
their journey begins. Mary Poppins recognizes this emptiness and she is ready to provide the empty mind
and self with answers for their questions.

The Garment (p. 174–178)

A man meets St Peter at the gate of the Heaven. At first the man has a white garment and pretends that he
lived a perfect life. Peter does not believe that a man can bear perfection and sends him away. For the
second meeting he wears a colourful garment which shows all his sins, but Peter does not see any repentance
and again sends him way to sit in the cave of his heart. For the third occasion, naked he was grieving for
his sins. As he achieved nakedness=emptiness and confessed that he does not really know who he is, Peter
let him in.
Out From Eden (pp. 179–180)
Sadness is not akin to pain.

Le Chevalier Perdu (pp. 181–184)

Sylvanius (in disguise), once the knight in the world, tells Perceval how he can achieve knighthood: 1.
induction (a quest), 2. Action: chivalric deeds (dragons, rescues, jousts), 3. Contemplation (turning

Lively Oracles (pp. 185–188)

Travers tells a story referring to the pre-oedipal phase when infants are one with the cosmos, they are part
of the mythical and all religious worlds and wisdom.
The Unsleeping Eye: A Fairy Tale (pp. 189–194)
“All women, in or out of fairy tales, are born princess, being descended from the Goddesses who, by
the very nature of things, had to precede the gods” (189) – That is why it could be possible that Mrs Corry’s
grandmother took part in the creation. Favours of the Wise Women (also presented at the christening) to
rescue the princess: hard work (becoming a maid, herding geese, spin gold,…), consider the unconsidered
moments, the matters are arranged for her that she could find them as she is on her way.
“The fairy tales that end with [Happy Ever After] have told only half the story. In their wisdom…they
leave the other half to the reader. It is he who must complete it…Thus, wilily, they force [the reader] to
search within himself until he come to understand … that happiness is not pleasure, ….[r]arther it is a moral
virtue, come to by grace and discipline and not without suffering” (191)
Everything, just like Life “go back whence it came” (193)

O Children of this World! (pp. 195–196)

A poem the children of the light – innocent.

On forgiving Oneself (pp. 197–199)

About facing our shadows, forgive ourselves, about the importance of opposites (without samsara there
would be no need of Nirvana, soul needs flesh and the other way round)

Zen Moments (pp. 200–202)

At Daitokuji – Zen temple in Japan: Wonderful-One-derful (full moon’s white reflection on the frozen
A-Wa-Re in Japanese means The Pity of Things

The Interviewer (pp. 203–209)

A story of the ‘first Mary Poppins’ told an interviewer (who left leaving Travers alone with her tears): At
the age of 32, when Travers was only 10, Travers’s mother tried to commit suicide after her husband’s
death. Meanwhile, Travers as the eldest sister told her a story in front of the fireplace of a magic horse that
is coming from a place that has no name, he can fly without wings swim without gill. Then the mother
returned, made up her mind. Travers was cod to her.

Well, Shoot Me! (pp. 210–215)

Unity, interdependence: legend of Indra, the Hindu god: threw a net over the world and at the point where
each thread met another, he tied a little bell. After that, no one and nothing could move without affecting
the whole net ringing.
About repetition and renewal. “Time and air do not distinguish between us. It is man who compares and
sunders, not things as they are on themselves…I reconciliation is, as Whitman said, the word above all,
then, separation is in the nethermost pit, the word below all words…[as] it prevents the possibility of
relationship and that reciprocal exchange of substance…which the generations need to receive by rubbing
against each other” (214)

Monte Perdido (216–218)

A Spanish mountain.
“All mountains are sacred mountains” (216)

The Endless Story (pp. 219–228)

James Stephens (1880-1950)-an Irish novelist and poet; he produced many retellings of Irish myths and
fairy tales. He also wrote several original novels: The Crock of Gold. He was supported by AE, and was a
friend of James Joyce.
The cow is “thoughtful”, “brooding, pondering, bearing all things” (225)
The princess married a poor man who was the only one that could tell an endless story, but since it lacked
happy ending, what she so much needed, she left the man. On her way, she met a traveler (from him she
learnt that the heart of a woman, entire and subdivided, is a burden for a man to carry; so they should keep
distance). Then, she left the traveler for another man who had seen the end of the Earth. They were
discussing the importance of opposites and unity, and came to know each other and themselves. Finally, he
died and she realized that they came to an end of the chapter – though not of the endless story.

The Black Sheep (pp. 229–234)

Esau-Jacob: Jacob was leaving his home because he betrayed his father Isaac. – the aging Isaac was half-
blind and wanted to bless his eldest son who was the greedy hunter, Esau. But Rebeca, the mother, liked
the humble and scenite [satorlako] Jacob better and helped him pretend to be Esau (giving him Esau’s
clothes) to get Isaac’s blessing. Jacob, at night, saw a dream of a ladder/stairway resting on the earth, with
its top reaching to heaven, and angels were ascending and descending on it. God consorted him and
promised him his help.
Travers: Jacob by stealing came to consort with angels and by struggling with one of them, made that thing
his own. Esau was the black sheep of the family.
Travers found the antagonists much more colourful and interesting: Rumpelstiltskin. She also liked the
brave heroines: Goose Girl, Little Two Eyes, Sleeping Beauty. While “the heroes and heroines have all
one face, bland and featureless”, each of the villains – dwarf, giant and stepmother, wicked fair, dragon,
witch – is different, “battered by passion and power” (231)
“It was the dark ones, … 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” (231)
Travers about Grimm stories: “These stories have gown and are not invented; they are old trees rooted
in the folk, massive and monolithic. There is nothing in them that is subjective, or personal or neurotic.
Simple, tribal cryptograms, their cruelty is not for cruelty’s sake but to show that life is cruel...The battle
of black and white is joined and must be fought to the end” (232)
Travers pitied the Wicked Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty since, as she put, she was only “a victim of
chance”– It might have been an of the other fairies but it happened to be she. (233)
“O my shadow, I said to myself, I will not let thee go except thou bless me” (234)
A Radical Innocence (235–241) – a phrase from Yeats
In an interview that appeared in the New York Times in 1965, Travers was asked to speak about fantasy, a
subject she did not like and refused to discuss (Grilli 31) since she said this word does not imply the truth.
Every child’s imagination is “a natural inheritance, and all the grown-ups can do is to leave him alone with
the legacy. It…should not be spied on or disturbed.” (236) That is the way how a child “can turn upon
itself…wondering, pondering, absorbing the world, re-enacting in himself all the myths there are”
Quoting AE’s poem, Germinal she admits that “it is in the crack between opposites – dark and light, yes
and no, here and there – that the real thing happens” (236) when “A door opens, a breath, a voice/From
the ancient room,/ Speaks to him now” ( from Germinal).
Travers’s parents had a sort of radical innocence which helped them preserve their childish self: no laying
at lunchtime, table-cloth spread out on the carpet and supper on the floor, the poultries called after friends
and relations. She never get any explanation for her questions.

The Death of AE: Irish Hero and Mystic (pp. 242–256)

George William Russel (1867-1935): Irish writer, editor, critic, poet, painter and pacifist Irish nationalist.
He was also a writer on mysticism, and a central figure of Theosophy. His friend was Yeats, Joyce, Valera.
He was the editor if the journal, Irish Homestead, The Irish Statesman (1919-1930; it was sued, accused of
being subjective, plagiarism). His pseudonym was AE= derived from an earlier Æon signifying the lifelong
quest of man. Russell, who had become increasingly unhappy in the Irish Free State, moved to England in
1932. Despite his failing health he went on a lecture tour in the United States, but returned home exhausted.
He died of cancer in 1935. Poetry: Voices of the Stones, The Nuts of Knowledge, By Still Waters, Collected
When Travers arrived in England, she sent her poem to AE without any covering letter of explanation, just
a stamped addressed envelope for return. AE liked it, even paid for it and invited her to Ireland. However,
when Travers visited her Irish relatives, she returned to London without seeing AE. Finally, it is he who
visited him and rebuked her for not visiting him in Ireland.
AE sayings:
 “We can hardly tell where our own being ends and another begins or if there is any end to our
being” (244) – believed in reincarnation.
 Law of Spiritual Gravitation = “Your own will come to you” (244-245) – he did not believe in
nations or states, but in a spiritual clan, whose members are scattered all over the world, where he
thought he belonged to.
 The poets’ responsibility is to desert fame if it conflicts with their spirit.
 The poets’ only duty is to write about themselves, their conscious personality and about life in
which they could understand others’ minds.

Grimm’s Women (pp. 257–259)

Every woman (maiden, mother or crone) can find her prototype in Grimm’s tales (257) – beauties,
simpletons, heroines…
Cinderella, the Goose Girl are apparently passive and only lucky. However, Cinderella is wise enough to
know that wishing is not sufficient and she has to perform a certain ritual at her mother’s grave to get what
she wants. The Goose Girl could understand her dead horse’s lamentation. Little Two-Eyes: 3-eyes saw
more, 1-eye saw less and only Little Two-Eyes could see things as they really are, that brings on the happy
Snow White and the Sleeping Beauty (Dornroschen) – before becoming happy ever after they had to
surmount difficult obstacles.
Beauty and the Beast – not a Grimm’s tale, but: a thing has to be loved before it becomes lovable.
Miller’s Daughter in Rumpelstiltskin – apparently simpleton – discovers unsuspected powers in herself
before guessing the name of R. Clever Elsie – absent minded but could see the wind and hear the flies
Sister in The Seven Ravens – goes to the end of the world to save her brothers. Allerleirauh – escapes from
her father who wanted to marry her and become a kitchen maid
Fisherman’s wife – greedy, model of worldly eminence; Twelve Dancing Princesses – occult knowledge –
whose nightly explore the mysteries of the world below our world
Giants – grandmothers (Jack and the Beanstalk)
Witches – in Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel
Queens – jealous, want to eat her daughter in laws or grandchildren
Stepmother – The Juniper Tree
True mothers– usually killed off, counsel and protect.
Wise Women – Three Fates, priestesses of the Great Goddess – bless or curse

About the Sleeping Beauty (pp. 261–271)

The essence of fairy tale is that all things (God or a dwarf) may be included in it (263). When we first hear
fairy tales we feel a sort of recognition: things “long unknowingly known have suddenly been remembered”
Then, they go underground and disappear for a while for became busy with ort personal myth in which
“he real is turned to dream and the dream becomes the real” (263) It might take a long time to come
round to the tales again.
The “fairy tale has always been in a continuous process of transformation” (263) – retelling.
“The theme of the sleeper is as old as the memory of man” (264) Sleepers: Snow White in her glass
coffin, Brynhild behind her wall of fire, Charlemagne in France, King Arthur in the isle of Avalon, the
Hindu god Muchukunda, Oisin dreamed in Tir na n’Og for 300 years, Psyche=The Sleeping Beauty.
Fiver versions of the Sleeping Beauty: Gianbattista Basile’s Sosle, Luna, e Talia (17 th century), Charles
Perrault’s La belle au Bois Dormant (17th century), Grimm’s Dornroschen (19th century), Bradley-Birt’s
The Petrified Mansion (Asia-Bengal), Jeremiah Curtin’s The Queen of Tubber Tintye (19th century, Ireland)
Bradley-Birt’s The Jeremiah Curtin’s The The other thoughts, similarities and differences – my draft
Petrified Mansion Queen of Tubber Tintye
– Mary Poppins course
both animals and both animals and
people fall asleep people fall asleep
no foretelling no foretelling
no spinning motif no spinning motif
elaborated stark The Prince steals the
narrative ‘fruit of love’

The Good and the Terrible Mother in fairy tales: “[N]o Wise Woman or Fairy is in herself either good
or bad; she takes on one aspect or the other according to the laws of the story and the necessity of
events…They change with the changing circumstances” (267)
Reconciliation of the opposites in terms of fairy tales: “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” (268)

The Shortest Stories in the World (pp. 272–281)

“[T]he nursery rhymes…are always communications between grown-up and child for they belong to
the earliest years before the alphabet has appeared” (273) “Over and over again the nursery rhymes assure
us that nothing is easy” (274) They are “an essential part of the myth” carrying a weight of meaning that
comes from man’s earliest times (276) e.g. death: London Bridge is Falling Down – bridges join things
together, also leading from earth to heaven. If we break them, man will fall into Hell. The Devil’s duty is
to separate. In the ancient times bridges had children corpses to ensure their safety. London Bridge is said
to be sprinkled with human blood. Humpty-Dumpty – “The egg has always represented the origin of life”
(280) Hindu: from a golden egg came the god of creation, Finnish: the world-egg breaks and its upper part
becomes the sky, the lower half the earth, Tibet: Buddha holding a shattered egg-shell – from ignorance the
world has come into enlightenment → the nursery rhyme explains that there are some broken things which
cannot be mended. This story is also similar to the Egyptian Osiris whose body was scattered and his sister-
wife Isis searched the world for the pieces, but did not succeed.
"Hey, diddle, diddle,": “In Egypt the sky was always thought of as a cow, her body arching over the earth
and her four legs standing firmly upon it” (296)
Hey, diddle, diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon;
The little dog laughed
To see such sport,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.
Hocus-pocus=hoc est corpus-this is a body

Admit One (pp. 282–284)

The man went to the Heaven by taxi. The driver saw that miraculously many more men got off the car and
everyone pretended to be Mr X. St Peter chose that man who said he was Mr X but now he only feels a
sense of nullity which fairy tale calls: Nix-Nought-Nothing.

Only Connect (pp. 285–303)

Thinking is linking (285) – “to connect the individual with the community; the known with the unknown;
to relate the past to the present and both to the future” (286) “All things are separate and fragmentary until
man himself connects them, sometimes wrongly and sometimes rightly” (301) Initially, as far as I am
concerned, it required a great effort to put together Mary Poppins’s marvelous, mysterious, familiar, yet, at
the same time unfamiliar and frightening world without losing any important trace that would guide me in
the course of my work. I was consciously (or unconsciously?) trying to follow Travers’s axiom: thinking is
linking. On other words, what I was wishing to do is to relate the known with the unknown, the
psychological world to the mythological world and both to the world of fairy tales in terms of archetypes.
Possibly the only text in which the author willingly refers to her childhood and the place in which she grew.
They bought fairy tales for a penny. (Buffalo Bill) Her parents often quoted passages from books and poems
and used them and family idioms. She writes about a maid wearing a parrot-headed umbrella who told some
unfinished stories of her relations.
AE about Mary Poppins: “Popkins, had she lived in another age, in the old times to which she certainly
belongs, would undoubtedly have had long golden tresses, a wreath of flowers in one hand, and perhaps
a spear in the other. Her eyes would have been like the sea, her nose comely, and on her feet winged
sandals. But this being Kali Yuga, as the Indus call it—in our terms, the Iron Age—she comes in the
habiliments most suited to it” (Grilli 39; Only Connect 294) = “she had come out of the same world as
the fairy tales” (294)
“[T]he true fairy tales [not the invented ones] come straight out of myth; they are, as it were,
miniscule reaffirmations of myths, or perhaps the myth made accessible to the local folky mind.”
(294) “One might say that fairy tales are the myths fallen into time and locality. [It] is the same stuff,
… Not minimized, not to be made digestible for children” (295-296) “Of course, it is not always easy [or
possible] to see the relation between the fairy tale and myth. They do not all insist on telling you of their
great-grandparents” (298)
The Juniper Tree is similar to those myths which tells of stories of gods/goddesses eating her/his own
children (Rhea’s husband Cronus, the father of the gods eats up all his children except Zeus because Rhea
made Cronus eat rock instead of Zeus)
Stories of warning against trying to see too much: Cupid and Psyche. In myth: Semele’s husband Zeus saw
Zeus as a god, but could not bear the light that surrounded him and turned to ash (seek the gods with the
inward eye!)
The Twelve Princesses –Aeneas’s golden branch to descend into the depths. Sibil writes the oracle down
on leaves – Poppins’s Hallow’en that in “ancient times …used to be the festival of the dead” (302) and only
later it became a “commemoration of saints and martyrs… It is [for her still] a night of ghosts and shadows,
a night that links the past and the present, a night perhaps when that crack between known and unknown
cold open” (303)
For now, the essentials of the fairy tales have been removed in order not to frighten. (296)

She tells of how on one occasion she found herself near the island often described by Yeats in his poems,
Innisfree. Despite the stormy weather, she had a boatman row her to the island. Travers was struck by sorb
trees growing wild. She began gathering an armful of branches. She made her way back to the mainland
and jumped on the first train to Dublin. When she reached his house, both she and her gift were soaked.
She hoped Yeats might not be at home, but after a few moments the door opened Humiliated and
embarrassed, Travers was taken in by the maid who dried her off and gave her a seat by the fire. On
receiving her, Yeats acted as if nothing had happened, treating her as a kind visitor. Travers glanced down
at the poet’s desk, where she spotted a vase containing a twig from the sorb trees. She leaned from Yeats
that the secret of writing is “to say less than you need.” (293)

Travers writes about the rights and duties of humanity: We are like alchemists who mix the elements we
find waiting for that lightning flash of inspiration that will explain the connections between the elements.
We are neither author nor creator of this work, but an essential part of the process.

Lancelot, king Arthur, Holy Grail legend, Fisher King

Yeats, Blake, Wordsworth
AEs poems:
Greek mythology:
Why did Travers choose that exact nursery rhymes? – their analyses