Monday, June 24, 2013

"Winnie-the-Pooh" and "The House at Pooh Corner": A Double-Feature Review

Illustration by Ernest H. Shepard from Winnie-the-Pooh Chapter X

Sing Ho! For the life of a Bear!
Sing Ho! For the life of a Bear!
I don’t much mind if it rains or snows,
‘Cos I’ve got a lot of honey on my nice new nose,
I don’t much care if it snows or thaws,
‘Cos I’ve got a lot of honey on my nice clean paws!
Sing Ho! For a Bear!
And I’ll have a little something in an hour or two!

~ The House at Pooh Corner, by A.A. Milne Chapter VIII: In Which Christopher Robin Leads an Expotition to the North Pole, pg. 111

Once upon a time there was a bear named Edward.  Sound familiar?  Well it isn’t.  But if I reminded you that this bear was later given the nickname of Winnie-the-Pooh…well, things are a little clearer now, aren’t they?  And if some of you out there wonder why a boy bear has a feminine name of Winnie…then, as Christopher Robin himself points out, his name is “Winnie-THER-Pooh.”  Don’t you know what ther is?*  Of course.  It all makes sense now.

Anyone who says that Winnie-the-Pooh is for children, or is just some Disney franchise gimmick, should pretty much just shut up and read the book before making such scurrilous remarks.

Because Winnie-the-Pooh is Awesome.  Here are the reasons why:
1.      Winnie-the-Pooh is a Bear with Very Little Brain but a ton of heart.  In today’s cynical and “smart” society, we need more people like Pooh.

2.      Piglet is a very small and Timid animal who overcomes his fears and jealousies (even though he doesn’t have a forward devoted to him). 

3.      Eeyore. 

4.      Tigger is unique and jumps on everyone.

5.      Kanga forces treacle stuff down everyone’s throat.  Roo is super.

6.      Rabbit has nifty catchphrases like “why oh why oh why” and “A-ha!” and is super-paranoid. 
7.      Owl acts smarter than he actually is, and therefore is relatable to pretty much everyone in the universe.

8.      As you can see from this entry’s opening quotation, they find the North Pole.  Have YOU found the North Pole?!!!  I didn't think so.

9.      There are awesome wordplays like the broken trespassing sign being mistaken by Piglet as a sign of his grandfather’s name.  Obviously the sign which now reads “TRESPASSERS WILL” used to say “TRESPASSERS WILLIAM.”

10.  When you read Winnie-the-Pooh, you learn how to capitalize Important Words.
11.  There are plenty of poems.

12.  The book is oh-so-quotable.  If you have read it, then you are justified in looking up at dark skies from under an umbrella and exclaiming, “Tut tut, it looks like rain.”
13.  Unlike the entertainment for “kids these days,” there is a lack of meanness in the tone of Milne’s writing.  His writing invites one to delight in the characters rather than sneer at them.

14.  Also unlike the entertainment for younger kids—and many ways unlike the Disneyfied Pooh—the characters are all sympathetic, but all flawed.  Even Pooh is not above pride or selfishness at times, but these flaws in the characters are something that make them more relatable and, when they overcome such deficiencies, more admirable.

15.  Make no mistake.  Just because there’s a cartoon based on the book does not mean that these books are not Poignant.  I dare you to read the part where BOTH of Eeyore’s presents are ruined, or when Owl thinks Piglet’s house is his and Piglet generously lets him take it, and not sob your eyelids off.**  In addition to this specific example of my personal trauma, there is a dichotomy in the tone of these books: a sweetness of childhood and a sadness at growing up; a sense of transience as even Christopher Robin knows that he can’t stay in the Hundred Acre Wood forever, and yet at the same time there’s a sense that all these adventures will echo forever throughout history.

*A.A. Milne doesn’t explain this, but my theory is that it’s a grammatical male “the” like the German “der.” OHCOMEONITMAKESSENSEDON’TGIVEMETHATLOOK.

** I know that’s so gross.  But it’s also a really good description of how I felt at the time so it stays in.

RECOMMENDED READING AGE: As soon as possible.  I’m not kidding.  Do it now.  And there is no age cap for this one: even if you’re a curmudgeon you should read this book.


AVAILABILITY: Lucky for you there are tons of hardcover collectible copies with my preferred illustrator Ernest H. Shepard included.  Or, if you prefer having the books separate (and would like Milne’s two poetry collections including poems about a Certain Bear, When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six—which are both really good and I’ll probably discuss those in a future entry), then you can be like me and have the four-volume Library Binding edition.

ADAPTATIONS:  There’s this one by a little-known animator named Walt Disney that has not gotten much press at all….  In all seriousness, the movie The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh  contains a lot of the events from the books.   And to be fair the animated series, The New Adventures ofWinnie-the-Pooh, while not based on the books, wasn’t all that bad.

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