Lab 3.1_Saving Mr. Banks & The Heart of Story
I write a lot about love and writing. I write about it because I think it is important. But a subset of love for one’s writing is also a love for one’s past.
I was watching a film the other day. Saving Mr. Banks. The movie, brilliantly acted by Tom Hanks and Emma Watson, details the story of P. L. Travers the writer of Mary Poppins and the journey Walt Disney took her on in order to obtain the movie rights to her beloved book. The story is filled with the inner turmoil of Pamela Travers.
The movie goes from past to present, retelling Pamela’s story. “You think this story is about the children?” she asked Walt during a heated conversation. She laughs and walks off. The story’s much more than the simple story about two children finding a strict nanny. It was about something so much deeper– the painful, slow loss of a work(aholic) father. Walt Disney is about to receive a master class in literary writing. As the movie approaches the climax, the moody, testy, and tormented Pamela Travers eventually throws the movie rights back in Walt Disney’s face. She is crushed. She is not going to sell Mary Poppins. She storms back to England.
A few hours later, Walt Disney greets Pamela at her door. She allows him to come in.
“This story isn’t about saving the children, Pamela,” he says. “It’s about saving Mr. Banks.”
HAPPILY EVER AFTER
Walt then essentially gives her the Disney Philosophy of Happily Ever After. Disney tells a heartbreaking story about his father (who had a mustache like that of Mr. Banks in the film) who made he and his brother Roy plod through the heat, rain, and snow to deliver newspapers morning and evening. His father was an abusive hard man.
“You couldn’t save, him, could you, Pamela? Your father?” asked Walt.
“Now you’ve written yourself into the story,” she says.
“No,” said Walt Disney, “but you have.”
And here is the heart of this post. I believe that all writers of meaningful fiction inadvertently write themselves into their stories. My writing teacher Jane Resh Thomas would say that we are writing a story behind our own backs.
Now let me ask a question, a question to the writer who doesn’t realize she is writing the same themes over and over again. A question to the writer who won’t embrace the terror of yesterday that made them who they are today.
What do you believe about your past?
In the movie P. L. Travers was so wounded by it, she, like Mr. Banks, wanted to throw away childishness and grow up. But Disney offered a different perspective.
Indeed, I see these two perspectives played out in children’s stories every day. We can either retell the story as it truly happened, or we can change the story. We can save Mr. Banks. There can be a Happily Ever After.
“Who Is Your Mr. Banks?”
But I believe this depends on the story inside you. Am I happy that I was raped when I was seven? Am I joyful that my early life was a living nightmare. That I struggle even to this day to step foot inside my childhood home. No. I am not happy. But I can honestly say that I love my past for how it shaped me into the person I am today. For how it opened my eyes to the hurting. And how it inspired me to love my children with all my heart.
Is there hope in your past? There are Mr. Banks(es) in my own life that I cannot save, but I realize I save them time and again in my stories. I believe there is hope if I love who I am and how I was made. It is said, perfect love casts out fear. So I encourage you, dear writer, to love those dark parts, your Mr. Banks(es), and in your love unbury them, forgive them, and recognize that there are children out there who are desperate to hear that there is hope. You can hand back love through time! You might have not saved your Mr. Banks. But you might save theirs.