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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

Adventure Into Art

Time for an Outing

Mary leaves with the children, all of them singing and sliding down the banister, which puts Ellen into a state of confusion.  They wave goodbye to Ellen as they walk out the door, and Ellen, almost in spite of herself, and without realizing what she is doing, smiles and waves back to them.  Again, Mary’s magic has served to upset the usual “order” of the household and the transformation has begun. 

At the entrance to the park, Mary and the children meet up with Bert, who is now a screever, a sidewalk artist.  Bert has been singing about his job as he works, to the tune of “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” This liminal tune is Bert's theme song.  The song "Pavement Artist" underscores the liminal nature of artists in general and Bert in particular as a bricoleur.  Victor Turner (1974) considered entertainment and the arts to be both liminal and possibly transformative, which

have had greater potential for changing the ways men relate to one another and the content of their relationships. Their influence has been more insidious.  Because they are outside the arenas of direct industrial production, because they constitute the “liminoid” analogues of liminal processes and phenomena…. To be either their agents or their audience is an optional activity--the absence of obligation or constraint from external norms imparts to them a pleasurable quality which enables them all the more readily to be absorbed by individual consciousness.  Pleasure thus becomes a serious matter in the context of innovative change.  (p. 16) ∆RC[mp23]

We learn that Bert is an old friend of Mary’s, and has seen the children “about here and there.”  Bert gets the imagination going, through his chalk drawings. As we will shortly see, Bert's work literally “opens up a world,” which is a very hermeneutic thing to do.  Bert is relational and inclusive with the children, which is opposite to how their father relates to them.  Their mother is loving, yet she is not very present, since her life revolves around the suffragette cause, while their father is only stern and distant.

Bert inquires about the day’s agenda and the children tell him that they are going on an outing to the park.  Bert begins to stir things up here, “the park, other nannies take children to the park, when you’re with Mary Poppins, suddenly you’re in places you never dreamed of, and quick as you can say Bob’s your uncle, the most unusual things begin to happen.”  This is a great description of Mary’s Uranian uniqueness.  “What she probably has in mind is a jolly holiday somewhere,”  Bert continues, and then he proceeds to give the children a short introduction to the different pictures.  Bert is quite the clown, another liminal figure, as he mimes several of the different chalk scenes that he has created.  Bert has put this idea into their heads and then Jane inquires about going to one of the scenes.  They plead with Mary Poppins to go, but she declines at first, saying “I have no intention of making a spectacle of myself, to which they plead some more.  Bert tries to oblige them and work the magic himself, and after nothing happens, Mary, seemingly grudgingly, agrees.  Mary Poppins is extremely tricky, she appears to want to have nothing to do with the very situations she actually orchestrates.  Like a master magician, she works through indirection. 

Bert is also a foil for Mary Poppins: a foil being a useful interesting contrast to something, as well as the shiny reflective material on a mirror (Encarta, 1999, Word Dictionary).   Bert is much more childlike and unruly than Mary, and together they are a wonderful team. In many comedy teams, you have a straight person, who is supporting and basically sets up the situation by feeding lines to the funny person, or comedian.  The funny person is usually the star.  A classic example of this would be Ed McMahon (as the straight person) feeding lines to Johnny Carson (the comedian), which Johnny would then play against.  Here, we have a kind of inversion.  Bert is the funny person, but he is in a supporting role, setting up situations for Mary Poppins.  She then understatedly plays off Bert or the situation, as the case may be, without appearing to do so.

Mary provides the structure around which the others can play, and this structuring provides the play—as in a wheel, because if someone did not “hold the center” so to speak, then there would only be chaos. Most of the time, tricksters by flaunting the rules actually affirm the rules or beliefs that they are breaking (Hynes & Doty, 1993b) but in Mary’s case, she appears to deny what she is actually supporting, and in this way, she actually encourages the children, since they have to beg her.  Mary thus sets them up to want things more by hesitating.  Later in the nursery, right before the paradoxical “Stay Awake” lullaby, when the children excitedly reiterate their experiences, Mary denies the whole thing, making them further affirm their experiences even more.  Mary often takes the structure-reality pole so that others can be in the play-imaginal pole, and her seeming indifference makes them more passionate.  Mary then agrees to the outing, and joining hands, the foursome magically jumps into one of the drawings.

“Jolly Holiday”

In “Jolly Holiday,” Mary, Bert, and the children enter into the chalk world of an English countryside where there is an unseen country fair beyond the hill. The "Jolly Holiday" is an imaginal world, a blending of fantasy and reality, and Disney’s penultimate matching of live action and animation.  Disney had been toying around with putting live actors into fantasy worlds since he began his career with the Alice Comedies in the 1920s.  As noted in the trickster tour, Bert is very Hermes-like.  This scene literally shows what hermeneutics figuratively speaks of: the work opening up a world. Hermes is also associated with the imagination as Combs and Holland (2001) relate:

Identifying the trickster Hermes with the imagination means that we recognize him as a world maker.  Indeed it is the imagination that creates the world we live in . . . further the trickster is associated with the light of consciousness in the form of the archetypal bringer of fire.  The infant Hermes invents fire, and Joseph Campbell points out that myths of fire stealing from the world over show the thief of fire to be a trickster in one or another of many manifestations, whether it is the North American coyote, the ancient Greek Prometheus, who shares with Hermes certain trickster qualities . . . this light of consciousness is central to human creativity, for without it the productions of the imagination, if indeed they were possible at all, would find no expression.  Indeed, as world maker and as fire bringer Hermes makes human life possible. (pp. 89-90)

Einstein is well known to have said “imagination is more important than knowledge," and Charles Kettering, former president of General Motors elegantly summed up the importance of the imagination: "Nothing ever built arose to touch the skies unless some man dreamed that it should, some man believed that it could, and some man willed that it must”  (Montagu, 1983, p. 162).  NASA has this quote printed on a souvenir card containing a small piece of one of the old gantry towers, from the early days of the space program. Indeed, one of Kettering’s inventions, the “Kettering bug” is one of the reasons that we were actually able to land on the moon. More than a decade ago, while visiting NASA Space Center in Cocoa Beach, a guide related the story that has always stuck with me. The guide said, “what got us to the moon was a metaphor.”  Our design for the moon rockets was akin to the Kettering bug, which was a little bomb delivery system that jettisoned parts, like the landing gear, once it was no longer needed.  In this way, like the Kettering Bug, the spacecraft could go farther on the same amount of fuel.  NASA envisioned the moon rockets as delivery vehicles, with each stage delivering the spacecraft to a certain point, and they engineered the stages like the Kettering bug, to have parts to fall away when they were no longer needed.  This is what enabled the United States to ultimately reach the moon.  The Soviets were working with a different way of viewing their moon rockets, and weren’t able to achieve this feat.  ∆RC[mp24]

Combs and Holland (2001) further explain:

If through the agency of imagination, the trickster is the creator of life as we know it, of the world growing, regressing, changing all around us and within us all the time, then Hermes and the other Tricksters are also connected to storytelling, and so to mythmaking . . . it is myth that gives us the meaning and indeed the order and structure of the reality we experience. Myths quite simply are stories or plots, to use Aristotle’s term, by which we know the world and ourselves, Joseph Campbell comments, “like dreams, myths are productions of the human imagination, their images, consequently . . . are, like dreams, revelations of the deepest hopes, desires and fears, potentialities and conflicts of the human will.” (p. 91)

So, with the thought in mind that the imagination can both create and change reality, let us go with Mary and the others into this imaginal world and see what happens. 

The foursome, after jumping into the cartoon world of the chalk picture, dust the chalk from their now bright holiday attire.  While Jane and Michael run off to see the country fair,  Bert sings and dances with Mary.  A flower bouquet transforms into butterflies in this whimsical world, and when Bert sings and dances, the world reflects his words.  Brode (2004) notes that this world is similar to Oz and Alice in Wonderland

As Bert sings "Mary makes your heart so light . . . I feel like I could fly,” he begins to fly up in the air, to which Mary responds “none of your larking about.”  Larking about means clowning around, and is a bit of subtle word play.  Animated animals of all kinds interact with the live action characters Bert and Mary. Bert leads a barnyard choir, where onomonopoetic animals use their sounds as part of the song: the sheep sings “ewe its a jolly holiday with Mary” . . . . ; the horse adds “when the day is gray and ordinnaarrrry . . .”; the cow chimes in: “Moooary makes Mary makes the sun shine bright.” After the barnyard serenade, Bert and Mary cross a pond on the back of two turtles, Bert chaotically flails about, while Mary remains calm and poised. Bert and Mary take time for tea while the children are busy playing elsewhere.

Time for Tea

Dick Van Dyke, who says of himself, “I never grew up personally,” relates that Walt was the one who had the idea for the penguin waiters. “Waiters reminded him of penguins. It wouldn’t have occurred to anyone else.  He had this wonderful whimsical way about him” (Stevenson, 2004, DVD).  While Mary and Bert are sitting at the table together, Bert and the penguins go on about the virtues of some twenty or so different women they know, and Mary begins to become annoyed by this, however when they end their list: “but, the cream of the crop, tip of the top, is Mary Poppins and there we stop,” she blushes and is flattered instead. Bert does a soft shoe with the penguins, at times imitating the way that they dance; as the crotch of his pants actually descends to limit his ability to separate his legs.  Here again Bert demonstrates a way of entering into someone else’s way of being in the world, which is characteristic of Erickson’s notion of rapport.  This dance is mimetic or imitative which corresponds to one of Caillois’s (1958/2001) categories of games--mimicry, and which I have classified as Neptunian. The entire chalk picture outing is overall very Neptunian, but it does have other archetypal elements as well. [To see a list of other songs classifications click here. ]

Next we see Mary, Bert, and the children riding the merry-go- round.  While Jane is impressed at having their “own private merry-go-round,” Bert inveighs out loud, “fine if you don’t want to go no where,” to which Mary replies “who says we’re not" and instructs the guard to let the horses off the merry-go-round. Here again, Mary Poppins, apparently the “straight man,” is encouraged by her friend Bert to use her magic.

These colorful carousel horses carry their riders to experience new adventures of fox-hunting and horse-racing on their jolly holiday, instead of merely going around in circles on the merry-go-round going nowhere, as is traditionally expected.  Play does the same for us.  Michael Mendizza (M) and Joseph Chilton Pearce (J) relate:

J: Play can only happen in the present moment.  New skills are quickly turned over to the sensory-motor brain, where they can be repeated over and over without much attention.  Play is the only way to reach beyond the limitations of this repetitive way of living.
M: Evolution has been called survival of the fittest, but evolution couldn’t happen without play. The same patterns would simply repeat themselves.
J: Play breaks the patterns our habits create.
M: Only to have that new discovery or response become a new pattern.
J: Any repeated response will become a pattern.  We call this learning, but it’s not real learning, it’s conditioning.  Real learning, which is real play, involves a quality of attention that is not present in a mechanical predetermined response.
M: . . . Play is a particular quality of energy and attention that prevents us from being locked into these predetermined, repetitive, mechanical habits, especially in our relationships. 
J: Unless relationships are playful, they become mechanical.

. . .

M: . . . Play brings this extra attention to the moment and opens up the possibility of discovering something brand new, at any age, in any situation.  (Mendizza and Chilton Pearce, 2003, p. 154) ∆RC[mp25]

Play helps us to escape from an eternal return that goes nowhere, endlessly repeating the same thing.  In the grand cosmos of life, as we have seen, we do keep cycling around, but play provides the pause that refreshes, the adventure that essentially lets us escape momentarily from one merry-go-round before we get back on another.  We can see that Mary’s magical play in the animated world also upsets the normal routine of that world, too.  The fox-hunters are surprised by the out of context carousel horses, and one of the hunters lands, along with his horse, soaked in the middle of a stream.  They are startled out of their normal routine by the sight of the merry-go-round horses sans merry-go-round.  The fox is surprised, too, and he gets rescued by Bert.  Since the fox is a trickster animal, it is only fitting that a fellow trickster, Bert, would lend him a hand!  Then during the ensuing horserace, Mary asks the jockeys to pass and they agree to do so.  Mary's request is so outrageous and unexpected that it breaks up their pattern, their normal mindset, and momentarily stunned, they willingly oblige her, which results in her winning the race.  After letting Mary pass, they are slightly confused by their own behavior, too.  Play often involves taking things out of context and this is exactly what has occurred here. 

Some of Mary’s magic comes from the confusion that ensues from these unexpected changes in context.  Mary takes advantage of these confused states, known as transderivational searches (TDSs) in Ericksonian and NLP parlance.  When we are confused, it is uncomfortable.  As we seek to make meaning of something, we essentially enter a little trance, and our attention is internally focused, searching for meaning.  If someone offers us a meaning that seems sensible, we often take it to relieve the tension of not knowing.  In this way, Mary is able get others to adopt her suggestions more easily, leading them to new attitudes and behaviors.


After the horse race, one of the reporters says to Mary, “there probably aren’t words to describe your feeling.” Mary notes that “On the contrary, there’s a perfectly wonderful word.”  And we are introduced to the word “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” which luckily for the Sherman brothers rhymes with a whole bunch of other words, like precocious and atrocious!  In the course of the song Mary and Bert explain that “it’s a word to say when you don’t know what else to say.”  Bert sings with Mary and we find out the history of this word, which has helped Bert to sound intelligent and to level the social playing field, allowing this bricoleur to take tea with dukes and maharajas! 

This song, along with the entire chalk picture outing, is carnivalesque in nature.  Familiarity, freedom, and a positive outlook on the world abound.  Inversion of the normal occurs and differences between categories disappear for a short time.  “There is a complete liberation from the seriousness of life” (Bakhtin, 1963/1968, p. 246).  It’s the lighter side of liminality, you might say.

"Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious changed Bert’s life and also one of the Pearleys, the button-clad entertainers who accompany Mary and Bert, and so "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" comes with a warning: “you better use it carefully for it can change your life,” because it changes the normal way of things in sometimes unexpected ways.  Play often does this, too, and the word bricolage, for me has had a similar life-changing effect.

Thunder and lightning abruptly end their song and the outing, which is archetypally appropriate, since the planetary archetype Uranus is associated with lightning and sudden unexpected occurrences, and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” both the word and the song, have this quality, too. 

It then begins to rain, which washes the chalk world away around them, Mary, Bert, and the children find themselves back at the entrance to the park.  Mary laments the demise of the drawings, but Bert exclaims, "there’s more where they came from" (the unlimited imaginal realm of the unconscious).  Bert has decided to change jobs anyway, since it is now perfect weather for selling hot chestnuts.  Bert is flexible, he adapts easily to different situations and takes changes in stride, unlike George Banks who is rigidly unable to tolerate any change in his routine.  Again, a contrast between pedomorphic Bert and geronotomorphic George.  Bert can be said to represent George’s shadow. Jung, who coined the term shadow, also was quick to note that the shadow contains positive as well as negative qualities.


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