Winnie-the-Pooh is a creation of A. A. Milne based on the teddy bear of his son, Christopher Robin. Milne had written many other genres: plays, magazine articles, books for adults. But these days he is best known for Pooh and Christopher Robin and their friends.
My kids grew up with the Disney version of Winnie the Pooh and company. There were four individual videos at the time: Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too, and Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore. The first three videos have since been combined into The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Then there was a Saturday morning cartoon called The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh which we watched regularly for many years. We had stuffed Poohs (and Tiggers and Piglets) and Pooh picture books. If there were Pooh sheets or jammies, we would have had them.
But somehow, I never read the original Pooh books by A. A. Milne to my kids, and I have always regretted that. I’m not sure why I never read them. I had not read them in my own growing-up years: perhaps if I had, I would have made it a point to read them to my children just as I searched out some of the Little Golden Book titles that I’d had as a child. I dipped into one of the volumes at some point, but I don’t remember which one or if I completed it.
When I read Christopher Robin Milne’s autobiographies recently, I was reminded that I had never read the original Pooh books. So I set out to correct that lack.
There are four books that specially deal with Pooh.
When We Were Very Young is a book of children’s poems. Christopher Robin’s bear there is named Edward. Some time after that, he renamed his toy bear Winnie-the-Pooh (with hyphens when his whole name is written, though he is often called just Pooh or Pooh Bear. The Disney version dropped the hyphens). “Pooh” was after a swan that Christopher had previously given that name to, and Winnie after a bear by that name in a zoo. Some of the poems feature Christopher, but all of them were probably inspired by him. One of the most famous is “Vespers” about Christopher saying his prayers.
Winnie-the-Pooh is a collection of short stories about Christopher Robin and Pooh and the other animals/toys. The House at Pooh Corner, another collection of stories, was published next, and finally there was another collection of poems, Now We Are Six. “Forgiven” is one of my favorite poems from this volume.
One of the things I had liked about the videos and TV series was that they were quiet. There were conflicts and predicaments and misunderstandings, yes. But the shows weren’t full of noise and razzle-dazzle like other kid’s shows were (that was something I liked about Mister Rogers as well).
The books are the same way. The characters are endearing. Pooh is “a bear of very little brain,” but he is kind, thoughtful, and a faithful friend. He likes to make up rhymes and take time for “smackerel” of “a little something—usually “hunny.” Christopher Robin is the one everyone looks up to and the one who rescues the others when they get in trouble over their heads. Piglet is small and timid, but also kind and thoughtful. Rabbit is bossy, but has everyone’s best interests at heart. Eeyore is gloomy (actually, he’s a little harsher in the books). Owl is wise (he can even spell Tuesday!), Kanga is motherly, Roo is spunky.
One of my favorite quotes is from Pooh in The House at Pooh Corner about how poems come to him: “But it isn’t easy,’ said Pooh. ‘Because Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you.” Another is this: “Sometimes,’ said Pooh, ‘the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.” And these:
Some people care too much. I think it’s called love.
People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.
It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?”
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.
I love how Kanga is described as carrying her family in her pocket (something Rabbit thinks strange at first).
And I dearly love this exchange between Eeyore and Pooh, read in Eeyore’s deadpan voice, when Eeyore thinks everyone has forgotten his birthday:
“Good morning, Pooh Bear, if it is a good morning. Which I doubt.”
“Why, what is the matter”
“Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can’t all, and some of us don’t, and that’s all there is to it.”
“Can’t all what?” said Pooh, rubbing his nose.
“Gaiety. Song and dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush.”
I was very glad to see that the films and videos, for the most part, told the stories almost completely as the books did. The series went on to develop their own stories based on the characters, but kept the same tone.
Milne captures childhood innocence and ways of thinking well with playfulness and gentleness. I was very sad to learn that Christopher came to resent the books about him as he became an adult, perhaps due to teasing from others when he went to boarding school. Christopher said in his own books that his father wasn’t very expressive in person: his inner thoughts came out in his writing. But his father’s obvious delight in his son and how he thought shines through in these stories and poems. I think Christopher must have come to terms with that at some point since he provided a favorable introduction to the audiobook of When We Were Very Young, saying family friend Peter Dennis’ narration presents Pooh “as he [Christopher] knew him.”
All four volumes of the books were available as part of my Audible subscription. I listened to the stories via audiobook, but read the poetry collections via Kindle (which included, thankfully, E. H. Shephard’s original illustrations).
One thing I didn’t like about the audiobooks was the long musical interludes between chapters.
But otherwise it was a sweet experience to visit these characters their original settings.
The Back to the Classics Challenge allows us three children’s classics. So I am going to count Winnie-the-Pooh as one for the “Classic that’s been on your TBR list the longest.”