Tag Archives: stories

Saving Mr. Banks

When I first heard about Saving Mr. Banks, I thought, “Oh, great, another brainless Hollywood idea. Somebody in the break room must have said, ‘I’ve got it. Let’s make a documentary about Walt Disney.’ Wheee.”

I really, truly, one hundred percent respect and love Walt Disney. I grew up on almost all the original Disney films – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, Winnie the Pooh, Sleeping Beauty, Robin Hood, 101 Dalmatians, Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, and so on. So the idea of seeing Hollywood maiming this great man’s character did not appeal to me in the slightest.

Well, sometime back, a couple of my friends saw part of Saving Mr. Banks. At one point, Tom Hanks (who portrays Walt Disney in the film), said something that made both my friends respond with something on the order of, “Mithril has to see this!” They said it at once, interrupting the film.

They almost never do that.

I agreed to see the film, keeping my reservations – and earlier contempt for the movie – to myself. I sat down with my friends to watch it. About midway through the film, I started to sniffle. Then, a few minutes later, I broke down and cried.

I never, ever, thought I would do that during this movie, and I cannot remember the last time I cried while watching a film. I did not even cry during The Battle of the Five Armies, for heaven’s sake! But when this film showed one of the songwriters performing “Tuppence a Bag,” I lost it. The water works kept coming, on and off, after that. By the end of the movie, it was a miracle the room was not flooded. It took me another hour to calm down, and even then I was still sniffling.

Saving Mr. Banks tells the story of how Walt Disney worked very hard to get the movie rights to P. L. Travers book Mary Poppins, so that he could make it into a film. He had promised his daughters that he would make the film, and Saving Mr. Banks tells us how he kept that promise.

As the movie explains, for twenty years Disney kept asking the author of Mary Poppins, P. L. Travers, to give him the rights to turn her first book into a movie. But Mrs. Travers keeps refusing, until she runs into money trouble. Then her agent insists that she go see Mr. Disney, who has agreed to let her have creative input on the screenplay. Anything she does not like will be taken out of the script. She has final say. She can refuse to hand over the rights if she does not like the way Disney and his team are handling the movie.

Mrs. Travers finally caves in to her agent’s pleading and flies to California. The rest of the movie shows us just where the idea for Mary Poppins came from, why the film was almost never made and why Mrs. Travers loved Mary Poppins as much – if not more – than any of her fans.

I will not go into the details of that story here. One, I do not want to spoil the movie for you, readers. Two, I might start crying again – and then I will not be able to type to finish this post!

But what, you may ask, was the thing Walt Disney said that made my friends immediately agree that I should watch the movie? It is very near the end (and I cried while I watched it), so I will try not to spoil too much. But Mr. Disney was so determined to make Mary Poppins a film that, when Mrs. Travers abruptly returned to England in a fury, without signing over the rights and without an explanation, he immediately followed her there.

Before he did, though, he learned that her name was not really P. L. Travers. That was her pen name; her real name was Helen Goff. Travers was her father’s first name, and she loved him so much that she took his name as her pseudonym, insisting people call her “Mrs. Travers” in order to hear her father’s name over and over again.

Back to what Walt Disney told her near the end of the film. I do not know if it is really what he said to her in that interview, but from what I know of Walt Disney (admittedly, I do not know him by anything except reputation), it sounds like something he might have said. He told her (as best I can recall through the waterworks), when he was convincing her that he would never do anything to Mary Poppins to ruin it that, “See, that’s what we storytellers do. We bring order to the world. We give people hope, over and over again.”

Excuse me – but I need to stop for a tissue.

*Ahem.* He was right. Storytellers do just that.

The world is a hard, nasty, chaotic mess. No one needs to look any further than the newspaper or the TV news channels to know that. The reports on which Hollywood stars are dating whom drown out the story of a nine year old girl shot and killed while doing her homework in her Chicago home. The videos of Planned Parenthood selling aborted children’s body parts are ignored in favor of the news that a famous lion was killed by a foolish dentist. Two hundred other lions were killed as well by different people in the same country, but even they do not get the spotlight.

What kind of a world is this? It is a world filled with horror and darkness, and that affects us all. It affects some more than others. Babies who could grow up to change the world are killed so that those who kill them can make a profit off their bodies the same way arms or drug dealers make money off of weapons and drugs. A nine year old girl working on her school assignment is killed before she can grow up and decide how she wants to change the world.

The rest of us watch it all happen, either unwilling or unable to do much of anything to turn back the darkness. For those of us who do anything, or at least try to do something, we relate well to what Cap is reported to say in the Civil War trailer, “Saving everyone we can doesn’t mean that we can save everyone.”

We are not God. But many of us pretend to be, and it only furthers the darkness. In a world like this, where is the hope? Where is the order? Where is the sense, the sanity?

You all know how big a fan I am of Marvel Comics. I am a big fan of a lot of stories. I listed some of them, in movie form, at the beginning of this post. I pay attention to the news about upcoming Marvel films. I blog about stories. I daydream about stories.

There are a lot of people like me. Some attend the Comic Conventions and other such events around the globe. They learn to speak Klingon; they dress up as their favorite characters; they pay huge amounts of money for an action figure or a film prop, and they are as ecstatic over a new story in their favorite genre as they are when they learn someone in the family is going to have a baby or is getting married.

Others do not show their love of stories by dressing up, learning Klingon, or spending gobs of money on a new action figure. But they still love the stories. They still love the characters. They still catch the latest movie, book, television episode, etcetera. Why? None of this is real. As Mrs. Travers says in Saving Mr. Banks, “Mary Poppins is not real.”

“She’s real to me,” says Disney. “She’s real to my daughters. She’s real to all your readers. She’s there when we need her.”

People who go to Comic Conventions are mocked a lot. I have never been to a Comic Convention, but I have heard the snide things people say when they speak about those who go to these events. “Yeah, Jake went to Comic Con this year. He dressed up like Superman. Can you believe it? He’s forty and he’s still dressing up. Not to mention getting excited over a stupid comic book character. Ha ha ha!”

And that is Walt Disney’s point in this scene. Mary Poppins is not a stupid character. Superman is not a stupid character. Captain America, Hawkeye, Iron Man, the Avengers, the Fellowship of the Ring, Luke Skywalker – none of them is a “stupid character.”

Yes, these characters are not real people. I will never walk down the street and accidentally meet the Steve Rogers I find in Marvel’s comic books. I will never meet Luke Skywalker, Optimus Prime, Col. Jack O’Neill, Aragorn, or any of my other favorite characters in the flesh.

But that does not make the characters any less real. That does not mean they are not there, within me, ready to be there for me when I need them most.

As an example, remember the end of The Two Towers? Frodo has just tried to kill Sam, but he has recalled himself in time and pulled back. He has done what Gollum decided not to do when his friend Deagol discovered the Ring. “What are we doing here, Sam?” Frodo asks, horrified and sick with the knowledge of what he nearly did.

Sam says, “I don’t know. By rights, we shouldn’t even be here. It’s all mixed up!”

Then, more quietly, Sam adds, almost to himself, “It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? Folks in those stories, they had a lot of chances to turn back only they didn’t. They kept fighting, because they were holding onto something. And that’s what we’ve got to do, too.”

“What are we holding on to, Sam?” Frodo asks, still scared. Still lost. Still hurt.

Sam turns to him, helps him to his feet. “That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo,” he answers, “And it’s worth fighting for!

I do not know Klingon, and getting me to dress up is harder than putting socks on a crow.   I used to think I was crazy for all the attention I paid to stories, those snide comments about Comic Convention attendees ringing in my ears. What makes me any different than them, I would wonder. I do not dress up or speak Klingon, but I am still practically a walking encyclopedia when it comes to certain stories. I still care more about a good story and the characters in it and get angry at writers who mistreat those characters than I care about having lunch, going for a walk, going shopping, or other such things. What if I’m nuts?

Doubtless, readers, some of you probably think I am nuts. But I do not think that. Not anymore.

Because, in Saving Mr. Banks, in that one scene where he tells Mrs. Travers that “Storytellers bring order to the world and give people hope, time and time again,” I learned what I really am. I may not be a great storyteller, and I do not know about giving people hope time after time. But I know I want to be and do both of those things, and that I am willing to fight to be a storyteller and to give hope to people, over and over again, during this “Long Defeat.” And that I am willing to fight any and all aggressors who deny the value of stories and their characters.

I am a blogger, a storyteller. I am naïve. I have limits. I cannot be everywhere at once, read minds, change shape, or protect everyone. I cannot love everyone in the world, though I have a special place in my heart for all of you, readers.

But I can write. I can appreciate a good story. Because as Samwise the Brave said, “There is some good in this world. And it’s worth fighting for!”

So that is what I am going to do, as best I can, and I am heartily thankful to those friends who sat me down to watch Saving Mr. Banks. I am grateful to those who made it, to those who made Mary Poppins, the book and the movie. And most of all, to the One who made me and all the good things and people in this world, I am very, very grateful, beyond words.

Catch you later, readers.

The Mithril Guardian

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Stories Matter – Why Marvel Comics’ “Secret Wars” Is Not Marvel-Us

‘I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which “Escape” is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?’ (From J. R. R. Tolkien’s On Fairy-Stories, 1939, courtesy of www.interestingliterature.com)

I do not know how or why, but I have always been enchanted by stories. They are, to me, perhaps more than most other physical things in life. Stories are my biggest passion.   There are days I could forego lunch, a trip out of doors, or sleep if it meant a chance to read or see or hear a good story, which sometimes makes me wonder if I am not flaming crazy.

The above quote from J. R. R. Tolkien, taken from a post on Interesting Literature, is something I like to read to remind myself that I am not, in fact, crazy. I just happen to really like stories. Why? Well, why are some people passionate about surfing? Why are some people happiest while they are wood-working? Why are other people almost transported to another world while they are doing math?

We each have our talents, our passions. Stories and their characters are mine.

Escape was a word abused in Tolkien’s day as much as in ours. Then as now stories – whether they were fairy tales or great epics – were sniffed at by those who thought they had no worth.   “Oh, stories are good for little children,” they would – and will – snicker, “but once you are an adult, you don’t need them anymore.”

Uh-huh…. And when I reach adulthood, I can stop eating my veggies, right? I think several dozen fitness experts and dietitians would have an apoplectic fit if I pulled that stunt.

The thing I am trying to say, readers, and I may not be saying it well, is that stories matter. The characters in them matter. They always have and they always will, at least until time ends. Stories are avenues of escape.

But escape from what? Reality? Hardly. I may be addicted to stories, but I can tell you that they have not numbed me to reality in the least.

Stories are ways to escape the prisons forged out of despair, hatred, loneliness, and other evils. There are unfriendly things we have to deal with in this world if we are to survive it and discover our destiny. No one sniffs at the working mother whose husband buys her a ticket to the spa so she can get some down time, or the family that heads out to the park for an afternoon to kick a soccer ball around and enjoy each other’s company.

Yet begin talking about a story you enjoy, and you are suddenly accused of trying to escape reality.

I am no psychiatrist, no scientist, no sort of professional or “expert” whatsoever. But I know stories. I know they matter. I know because they are what make me happy, the same way a surfer is happy when he or she is out there shooting the curl. The same way a carpenter is glad when he planes a piece of wood or finishes a chair. The same way a mathematician receives untold pleasure in figuring out or making new numerical and formulaic puzzles. This is why I post about stories so much.

And this is why I have a problem with the direction the Marvel franchise is headed.

Marvel Comics is currently in the middle of some insane storyline called “Secret Wars.” The many alternate Marvel universes have collided with the “mainstream” – 616 – Marvel Universe which Stan Lee and his fellows created back in the 1960s. 616 Iron Man/Tony Stark and Nick Fury have been transformed into villains and have helped to bring this calamity about. Several characters from all the alternate universes are now struggling to survive alongside the 616 characters. The entire universe is in shambles. To top it off, Marvel is hyping an “All-New, All-Different” Marvel Comics line up for the next year (or more) with the roster for the Avengers completely rearranged – Miles Morales will be Spider-Man, Sam Wilson will still be filling in for Cap, Jane Foster will still be swinging Mjolnir and using the name Thor, and by now I cannot recall the other changes Marvel said were coming out.

I do not know who is alive in the Marvel Universe anymore, who is dead, which characters are wearing which superhero identities. My information is fragmented and despair-filled. The Marvel Comics currently in progress are not the Marvel Comics I enjoyed or, I think, that I could ever enjoy given who and what I am. In an alternate reality, I might. But not in this one, and this reality and the one that follows are the only ones that count.

Marvel knows that they can have all sorts of characters wear, say, Spider-Man’s costume, but the only character fans really want to see in the suit is Peter Parker. They know they can put anyone in the Captain America suit, but the only one who anyone truly wants to see holding the shield and standing up against evil is Steve Rogers. They know what works and they know what does not work. Why they have done what they are doing I cannot say. I only know that it has to stop, before irreparable damage is done to the characters they supposedly love as much as we fans do and, more to the point, which they are charged with protecting and strengthening.

They cannot be allowed to continue down this road, readers. If they do, there will be very little of what is good and right left in Marvel Comics for those who follow us in the near future. The films and cartoons based on their characters will suffer similar fates. For the comics are the roots of these newer forms of the tales and once the roots are poisoned the whole tree will die.

But why do I care about this, when there are so many more important things to think about, so many other calamities hitting the world and society? Well, why did Stan Lee care about this?

Why? Why did Stan Lee care? After the Second World War, all the comic book characters that were churned out for the U.S. soldiers and the kids back home in America were shelved. The comic book companies stopped producing stories for them; they started telling new tales with new characters instead. Though he may have lasted longer than some war-era comic book characters like Prince Namor and the original Human Torch, Cap was eventually put away as well.

Stan Lee saw it all happen. He watched Cap get shelved, along with all the other great characters made during World War II, after he had established his footing in the comic book world. He saw Cap, Bucky, Prince Namor, and others get set up on a high shelf by his bosses, because Cap and the others were “not needed anymore.”

Hah. For someone who is “not needed anymore,” Steve Rogers is awfully popular today, is he not, readers? Where would we (or Marvel, for that matter) be if Stan Lee had left Cap to collect dust on the shelves of Timely Comics, before he owned it and renamed it Marvel Comics?

Stan Lee liked Steve Rogers as much as any of us ever have. He brought Cap back because he knew we were always going to need him. He knew the suit did not make Captain America. Steve Rogers made Captain America. So Stan Lee made sure Steve could go on fighting for the nation he loved, inspiring generations of Marvel fans – outside and inside of the U.S. – to keep on fighting for what is right and true and good in this flawed, chaotic world.

He knew we would always need a rallying point, a character so thoroughly American that he could never consider giving up, not even for a moment. In the Avengers’ fourth issue, Stan Lee reinstated Steve Rogers in the fiction of the world. And we have reaped the benefits not only of Cap’s determination and strength but also of Stan Lee’s foresight and understanding of why we need great stories and great heroes.

And yet we are letting Marvel’s current hierarchy and their writers toss Steve around like a yo-yo.

Marvel knows I am displeased with the way they have taken their stories.  I have made no secret of it, sending them various notes showing my displeasure and suggesting how they might do things better since November/December of 2014.  But I am only one voice. I have no power with them, beyond what I have done.  They can, if they choose, ignore me easily. Odds are good that they will ignore me.

But they cannot ignore more than one voice raised against them in protest of their treatment of their characters.  They cannot ignore fans who tell them, “This stops here, and it stops NOW.”

You want to know something really funny about all this, readers?  Thinking about this post, about how to try and get my point across, I suddenly remembered Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  I recalled Steve Rogers speaking into a SHIELD microphone in the Triskelion, revealing to the World Security Council and the clean SHIELD agents that HYDRA had grown up right under their noses, and was planning to conquer the world through the agency that was supposed to protect humanity.

The part I specifically remembered was Steve saying, “The price of freedom is high.  It always has been.  And it’s a price I’m willing to pay.  And if I’m the only one then so be it.

“But I’m willing to bet I’m not.”

So maybe I am the only one who cares about what Marvel messes with in their comic book universe.  Maybe I am the only one in the world who cares about the characters as they were written and who wants to see that foundation built up, not torn down.  And if I am the only one who cares… then so be it.  I do CARE!!!

But, then again…maybe I’m not the only one.   I do not know.  I cannot know.

The U.S. Marines have a saying, “Is this the hill you want to die on?”  Not particularly. But if it is the hill I am forced to fight on, do not expect me to fight by halves.  A fight is all or nothing.  And if I have to die on this hill, standing beside the river of truth, well, you know – there are much worse hills out there on which to die.

So bring it on, Marvel.  I am willing to fight.

Are you?

The Mithril Guardian