I had to go digging for answers. I didn't find much!
Now that Mary Poppins is touring several North American venues this Spring, I'll put out some feelers and see whether anybody in my massive readership has better answers than I have!
Mythologically, Neleus is hardly a central figure. Twin of Pelias, sons of Poseidon and Tyro whom the god seduced in the likeness of a the river-god Enipeus, Neleus is exposed with his brother as infants but saved by a kindly mare (sent by Poseidon) who suckles them. Pelias becomes father of Alcestis and figures significantly in the Argo story, and Neleus founds Pylos and fathers Nestor and Periclymenos. At sandy Pylos, Neleus refuses to purify Heracles and later suffers the hero's spiteful retaliation. (See Apollodorus Libr., 1.9.8 and 2.6.2-3.)
|P.L. Travers, illustrations by Mary Shepard and Agnes |
Sims, Mary Poppins Opens the Door (Harcourt:
San Diego, 1997; reprint of 1943 original), 101.
In real life, near Hyde Park Corner, in the area known as the Rose Garden, stands a marble sculpture with functionally precise likeness to that depicted in the Shepard/Sims illustration. The Hyde Park marble boy, though, is not named. It would seem not totally far-fetched to suppose that Travers knew the anonymous sculpture in the Rose Garden but herself asserted a telling name and crafted a mythological reference around it.
The sculpture from Mary Poppins' "The Marble Boy" and its animation figure prominently in the West End-to-Broadway musical Mary Poppins (2004: R and R Shermans' 1964 Disney music and lyrics augmented by G. Stiles and A. Drewe; book by Julian Fellowes [Mr. Downton Abbey... for you youngsters].)
So, what about that sculpture in Travers' park? The boy on the pedastal is clearly connectable to Poseidon, since he stands there beside the dolphin and the crashing wave. In the narrative of the book, no particular allusion to the Poseidon/Neleus myth seems forthcoming. In the play, as I remember it now 9 years back, there was the spectre of fleeting youth. Sort of the way Sherman/Sherman make George Banks learn to fly kites, the Stiles/Drewe/Fellowes script seems to feel Mr. Banks' need to get out of the bank and into his children's life. Neleus may remind us of that: an abandoned boy whose divine father still finds a way to succor him by way of a kindly mare.
One of my students in 2008 proposed that Neleus in the musical becomes a "thinking tool for the importance of charity." (Liz Sands) I wonder whether perhaps Neleus is an artifact of abiding youth: loquacious Nestorian old-age (like what confines Mr. Banks in a premature senility) was preceded once and evermore by a youthful sprite. Insofar as the marble boy can coax that playfulness out of the Banks children — and maybe get their dad to join in — there may yet be hope for both father and son.
If you see the play this Spring and have thoughts about Travers Marble Boy, let me know.
— This content is taken almost entirely from my slide, which has links to the chapter in Travers' book and to several other key details. Go have a look: OGCMA0000NOTNeleus_Travers
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