The Winnie-the-Pooh Books

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?”

“What day is it?” asked Pooh.
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.
 
Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.

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.”

Christopher Robin Milne

As you’re probably aware, A. A. Milne’s children’s books about Pooh and Christopher Robin and the Enchanted Forest were based on his son, his son’s toys, and the family farm, Cotchford, which edged the Five Hundred Acre Wood (which became the Hundred Acre Wood in the Pooh stories).

Though Christopher Robin was Milne’s son’s name, young Christopher wasn’t called that. He went by Billy Moon, or just Moon (which came from his early attempts to say “Milne”).

A. A. Milne was known for plays and other works when he wrote a few poems and then a couple of books based on Christopher and his real childhood toys. He was dismayed that those books overshadowed all else he wrote. He stopped writing related children’s books because he didn’t feel the extensive fame was good for Christopher.

A few months ago, my husband and I watched Goodbye Christopher Robin, about the Milnes and the fame of Pooh and Christopher Robin. My children had grown up with Pooh (mostly the Disney version) and the Milne characters will always have a soft spot in my heart.

I wanted to learn more about how Christopher (as he was known as an adult) really felt, so I decided to read his book, The Enchanted Places: A Childhood Memoir. I learned shortly thereafter that Christopher had written a sequel titled The Path Through the Trees, so I read that as well, and decided to review them together.

Though there’s a bit of overlap, the first book covers Christopher’s life until he went into the army, and the second covers that time forward. (For convenience sake, I am going to refer to the first as EP and the second as PTT.)

In The Enchanted Places, Christopher tells about his family, his nanny, and growing-up years.

Though the Pooh books were inspired by Christopher Robin’s toys, they also contained his father’s nostalgia about his own childhood.

The Christopher Robin who appears in so many of the poems is not always me. For this was where my name, so totally useless to me personally, came into its own: it was a wonderful name for writing poetry round. So sometimes my father is using it to describe something I did, and sometimes he is borrowing it to describe something he did as a child, and sometimes he is using it to describe something that any child might have done (EP, p. 19).

In the second book, Christopher says that part of his writing the first book had to do with his feelings upon his father’s death. He learned that his mother had destroyed almost everything of his father’s, and at first he was quite angry. Later he came to believe she was right to do so. But he knew that at some point someone would come around wanting to write a biography of A. A., and EP was a place to sort through his remembrances and present “not a full-length study, but just a collection of snapshots” of his father (EP, p. 91). His father “doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve as [his brothers] do. Alan’s heart is firmly buttoned up inside his jacket and only the merriest hint of it can be seen dancing in is eyes, flickering in the corners of his mouth” (EP, p. 91).

Christopher “quite liked being Christopher Robin and being famous” (EP, p. 81). But in boarding school, “it was now that began the love-hate relationship with my fictional namesake that has continued to this day” (EP, p. 86). The Goodbye Christopher Robin film shows his being bullied at this point, as do a couple of articles I read. He doesn’t specifically say he was in either of these books, but he said the poem “Vespers” “brought me over the years more toe-curling, fist-clenching, lip-biting embarrassment than any other” (p. 23).

Christopher’s lowest point seemed to come after the war when he was looking for a job. He didn’t seem to have any qualifications for anything, a least none that anyone needed. He was a little jealous of his father’s success at his expense then:

But were they entirely his own efforts? Hadn’t I come into it somewhere? In pessimistic moments, when I was trudging London in search of an employer wanting to make use of such talents as I could offer, it seemed to me, almost, that my father had got to where he was by climbing upon my infant shoulders, that he had filched from me my good name and had left me with nothing but the empty fame of being his son.

This was the worst period for me. It was a period when, suitably encouraged, my bitterness would overflow. On one or two occasions it overflowed more publicly that it should have done, so that there seemed to be only one thing to do: to escape from it all, to keep out of the limelight. Sorry, I don’t give interviews. Sorry, I don’t answer letters. It is better to say nothing than to say something I might regret (EP, p. 146).

Christopher says in both books that he was fiercely independent.

However much I wanted to succeed as a bookseller on my own merits, people would inevitably conclude that I was succeeding partly at least on my father’s reputation. They might even think (wrongly) that my father’s money was subsidizing the venture and that–unlike other less fortunate booksellers–I did not really need to make ends meet (EP, p. 148).

In The Path Through the Trees, (sometimes this title is prefaced with Beyond the World of Pooh, Part 2), Christopher tells of his life from the time he began to make his own choices: his five-year stent in the Army, his finishing college, search for a job, marriage, life as a book-seller.

He’s oddly selective about what he writes, which, of course, he has every right to be. He does say this book is “a personal memoir, not a biography” (PTT, Location 3889) and presents “a disjointed story—but a happy life” (Location 31).

In this second book, he tells a great deal about his first love, a woman named Hedda whom he met in Italy. But he tells us very little about his wife, Lesley, except things they did together. She was his cousin, so he had known her for years. But he doesn’t describe her as a person or how they went from cousins to romance. Likewise, he tells us his daughter, Clare, was born with cerebral palsy, couldn’t walk, had limited use of her arms. But he doesn’t describe her personality or appearance. I don’t know if this quietness was for their protection, a result of his own struggles with fame and too much of his life made public, or what.

He spends a lot of time on how they came to be booksellers, how things progressed with the shop, choices they made, things that affected the market, etc. He defends book-selling as a profession—there appears to have been some who regarded book-selling as a “trade” (which was somehow lower in rank than other professions) or as somewhat mercenary.

He has a chapter on animals they took care of (including a vole and owl in their home). In other circumstances, he might have been a naturalist.

He talks a great deal about Dartmouth, the town where he and Lesley settled and had their bookshop.

When Clare was done going to school and came home to stay, she needed full-time care. Christopher stayed home with her while Lesley continued part-time at the bookshop. This seems to have been one of the happiest times of his life, taking Clare out into nature and devising and making various helps for her needs. He had often said that he had inherited his mother’s hands and his father’s brains, and these devices for Clare employed both. His thoughts about equipment for the disabled was interesting:

It is a sad fact that much of the equipment designed for the disabled is inefficient and nearly all of it is ugly. To some extent the one follows from the other. An efficient design has a natural elegance which needs little embellishment to make it attractive. Whereas the wheel chair issued to Clare was such a mechanical disaster that nothing could have redeemed it. How unfair it is that a person who most needs a chair should so often have just the one–and one so very far from beautiful–while the rest of us, who need chairs only now and again, possess so many (PTT, Location 3233).

But of course the greatest pleasure of all was to see Clare sitting comfortably where before she had been uncomfortable, doing something she had not previously been able to do. And it was a pleasant thought that this was, in a sense, a legacy from her grandparents whom she had never known–a product of the fusion of my father’s fondness for mathematics with my mother’s competent hands. If she had inherited neither, she could at least benefit from the fact that I had inherited both (PTT, Location 3243).

Christopher’s independence caused him to refuse accepting money from the Pooh book sales until Clare came home.

Christopher seems to have been a kind and gentle man, though fiercely opinionated on some topics. He was a classic introvert, a thinker. He describes one scene in the second book where he’s walking home and comes upon a couple searching for elephant hawk caterpillars, which they hoped to take back to their area so the bugs would hatch and breed there. Christopher got home and told Lesley about the encounter. Lesley left a few minutes later and came across the same couple. She commented that her husband had just spoken with them. The man replied, shyly, “I thought he looked like the sort of person who would be interested in my caterpillar,” which Christopher took as “a nice compliment” (PTT, Location 3721). I can somewhat picture him ambling around Dartmouth, as he describes it, enjoying his bookshop, stopping to observe and contemplate nature, willing to talk about moths with strangers.

Though Christopher had some rough spots with both parents, and didn’t see his mother the last fifteen years of her life, he loved them and spoke fondly of them in these books.

Sadly, to me, Christopher “converted to humanism” when he was 24, believing that man invented God rather than the other way around. He states this in the first book, but apparently felt he came across a little too strongly. So in the second book he says that though he does not believe in God, someone else can, and they can both be right (which does not make sense, but apparently he means something like “believe whatever works for you and helps you through life”). A. A. was also an atheist but did not push his beliefs on his son until he shared an atheistic book with Christopher in his twenties.

This article tells some of the differences between the film and reality. There are some things in the films that were not in these books but may have come from other sources (A. A. also wrote a biography, It’s Too Late Now, and both Milnes wrote other books as well). Or, as always happens in movies, the makers may have taken a bit of license. One difference this article doesn’t mention is that though A.A. Milne wrote an anti-war book after WWI, he felt war was justified against Hitler and wrote another book telling why. “Hitler was different: different from anything he had imagined possible; that, terrible though war was, peace under Hitler would have been even more terrible” (PTT, Location 140). The film shows A. A.’s battle with PTSD (though it was not called that then). Christopher doesn’t mention his dad having flashbacks or problems adjusting, but he knew he’d had “sad times” in his life and felt they came out through Eeyore.

Another scene in the film comes when young Christopher asks his father, “Are you writing a book? I thought we were just having fun.” Alan responds that he’s writing book and having fun. I think that was accurate: I don’t think A. A. observed his child’s activities with a mercenary air, pulling from them what he thought would “sell.” Perhaps as happens with many parents, having children brings up memories of one’s own childhood, and A. A. recognized what would resonate not only with other children, but other parents.

I read the Kindle version of both books, but then discovered the second was included in my Audible subscription. So the audio and ebook were synced to where I could go back and forth between them. One advantage to listening was hearing the words in an English accent. I knew, of course, Christopher was English, but I don’t think in accents when reading. The audiobook has a lovely postscript not in the books by Peter Dennis, the narrator of this and the Pooh books and a personal friend of the family. I also checked both books out of the library to see if there were any pictures or other material in them. The first book had pictures of Christopher as a child as well as pictures of some of the places in the books side-by-side with the book’s illustrations of those places.

There’s a scene at the end of the film where Christopher tells his father he had more or less made peace with his childhood namesake. In the army, especially, he came across people whose fond childhood memories included Pooh and were a comfort to them. I didn’t read any sentiments like that in these books, but I hope Christopher did come to something like that realization in real life. Though he didn’t want to be mistaken for his fictional namesake, and though he understandably wanted to be permitted to grow up and away from him, the fictional boy and his toys and their innocence and imagination have touched the hearts of children and parents for decades.

(These books fit within the Nonfiction Reading Challenge celebrity category).

Laudable Linkage

A collection of good reading onlineHere are some great reads collected in the last couple of weeks.

Women Wielding the Word.Such a good post by Sue on maintaining a habit of meeting with God in His Word. “I figure if I can’t give God five minutes anytime on any given day, I’m not taking Him and our relationship seriously.” ” We don’t worship the habit – that’s a rope on our necks instead of an anchor to our souls. God’s not interested in my checking off boxes in His name. I don’t worship the habit, but habits help me worship.

More and More, HT to Challies. I think many of us can identify with Glenna’s discouragement at not being more Christlike. “I’m beginning to think that when we’re most discouraged by our sin, God is working something good. The more we see it, the more He helps us to fight it.”

One Way to Build Your Trust Muscles, HT to Maree. “But if you’re looking for ways to strengthen your trust muscles for the days ahead, now might be a good time for you to start gathering up some stones from your past too.”

The Two Paths Out of Trials, HT to Challies.

The Right Response to the Old Testament Law. “Some struggle to understand how these laws reflect divine love and noble character. But this should not be surprising since we live at such a vast distance from that culture. If we want to see how the laws are just and fair and good, we need to study not only the laws, but also the context in which they were given”

Thankful for God’s Good Gift of Government. Our church has read through Ezekiel and Daniel in the past months, and one truth that comes through those books loud and clear is that God works behind, in, and through governments. That doesn’t mean they are always right. But he does call us to obey and honor them unless they contradict His commands.

5 common triggers for highly sensitive people, and 5 antidotes to help them survive social distancing by Anne Bogel, HT to Linda. This fits me to a “T” and was a good reminder. And a reassurance that I’m not the only one.

On Christians Spreading Corona Conspiracies: Gullibility is not a Spiritual Gift, HT to Linda. “God has not called us to be easily fooled. Gullibility is not a Christian virtue.” “Spreading unproven speculation is bearing false witness.”

How to Talk to Your Kids About the Tragedies of COVID-19, HT to the Story Warren.

The Worst Rebrand in the History of Orange Juice, HT to Challies. “Don’t let beautiful design distract from what’s important: Communicating the right information to your customer at the right time.” Yes! I hate when products undergo a major rebranding that’s artsy but doesn’t tell me what I need to know at first glance.

Of Stuck-ness and Sustaining Books. I loved this—partly because Pooh was a beloved character at our house, partly because of the scene Disney left out, and the comfort of “sustaining books” and kindness.

Mincaye Is Now With Jesus. Many of you are familiar with Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, and the other missionaries who were speared to death by the tribe they were trying to reach in Ecuador in 1956. Their story has been dear to me since I first read Through Gates of Splendor in college, and I have read much about the men and the families since that time. Mincaye was one of the killers of the men who later came to the Lord and became a grandfather figure to Steve Saint’s kids. Mincaye just passed away this week. Steve Saint’s tribute to him is here.

Finally, I loved this attempt at a professional video with a toddler “helping,” especially the end. The comments are fun, too. I am not sure if the video will show up in Feedly or emails: if not, you might need to click through to see it.

Happy Saturday!

Laudable Linkage

img_0021

Here’s another round of notable reads found recently:

How to Avoid Becoming (Heavenly) Hangry on Vacation.

What Your Child Needs More Than Self-esteem, HT to Story Warren.

A Parent’s Guide to the 5 Skeptics Who Want to Shame Your Kids for Being Christian, HT to Challies.

When You Don’t Enjoy the Little Years. Even though you love your little ones dearly, some days are hard.

Can I Trust God With My Child’s Suffering? HT to True Woman.

How to Bring the (Whole) Bible to Life for Kids, HT to True Woman. Though I chafe at the phrasing of the title (the Bible IS living – John 6:63), I know what the author meant, and there are some great ideas here.

When the Content Police Came for the Babylon Bee, HT to Challies.

Hope for People With Food Allergies, HT to True Woman.

The Real Story of Christopher Robin, HT to Glynn. Sad, but I hope on some level the family retained some joy that the Pooh stories were such a dear part of many people’s childhoods.

Several people have asked me if I’ve heard of the recent ruling to remove Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from a literary award. I’m not surprised, especially in today’s climate. There were characterizations and incidents in the books that we cringe at today. But I hope this does not lead to a pulling of her books from shelves or reading lists. We encounter what we would consider wrong attitudes in a number of older books, even classics. If we tossed books that had anything in them we disagreed with – well, we wouldn’t have much left. It takes long years to change cultural thinking. The better way, I believe, is to realize that every person and every generation is a mixture of good and bad and to educate about both sides. A couple of good articles I’ve seen on this are Scrubbing Laura Ingalls Wilder is a Dangerous Step Toward Ignorance (HT to Melanie) and How to really Read Racist Books to Your Kids, (HT to 19th Century Classic Children’s Books You Might Have Overlooked, which I found through Story Warren). I wouldn’t agree with every point in the latter (mainly the evolutionary lens), but both articles make good points.

I usually like to close these posts with a funny or thoughtful picture or meme – but I don’t have one handy and need to get on to today’s tasks, so I’ll wish you a Happy Saturday!