Apr 28, 2008

Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne (Among Other Things)

As most of you no doubt know, Winnie-the-Pooh is a collection of interrelated stories about a little boy, Christopher Robin, Pooh the bear, Piglet, Eyeore the donkey, Rabbit, Owl, Kanga and Roo, and their many adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood.

Somehow I didn’t expect to love this book half as much as I did. I mean, I didn’t think I’d dislike it – it’s a children’s classic and I love children’s books – but I wasn’t prepared to be so completely charmed. I could barely stop smiling the whole time I was reading this book.

The first thing to conquer me was Milne’s humour. Then his warmth. Then the fact that the stories are just so good. Reading this book, I was reminded of what Jean Pierre said about Roald Dahl in a comment once: that his stories are silly, but in a way that doesn’t insult the intelligence of children. Instead it tells you, “Let’s have some fun together!”
I was surprised with how respectfully, how tactfully Milne enters the world of a child. He tells stories that are silly and important at the same time. He achieves a very precious balance – he doesn’t disturb the house of cards, so to speak. There’s a story in which Christopher Robin organizes an expedition to the North Pole. All his friends follow him, but naturally they never leave the Hundred Acre Wood. I remember feeling like that so well – I remember summers at my grandfather’s house when I would hassle all my cousins to Go On Adventures with me. "Adventures" meant invading the neighbour's backyard until the dog chased us out, but it felt big. It felt like an expedition. These stories respect the childhood feeling that everything is big and exciting and awe-inspiring. They are make-believe, but in a way that goes along with a child’s worldview without ever, ever being patronizing. And I loved them for that.
I had forgotten that Neil Gaiman had said that it was from Milne that he got The Capitals That I So Love. An example:
"Pooh rubbed his nose with his paw, and said that the Heffalump might be walking along, humming a little song, and looking up at the sky, wondering if it would rain, and so he wouldn't see the Very Deep Pit until he was half-way down, and then it would be too late."
Plus, there was another dimension to the stories that made me love them even more. These are stories told by a father to a young son, stories about him and his toys and their adventures. They are part of an act of joint storytelling, and there is such tenderness, such warmth in the way this is done. The book shows this in a simple and subtle but very touching way. Just look at this little interlude at the end of chapter six:
“And I didn’t give him anything?” asked Christopher Robin sadly.
“Of course you did,” I said. “You gave him – don’t you remember – a little – a little—“
“I gave him a box of paints to paint things with.”
“That was it.”
“Why didn’t I give it to him in the morning?”
“You were so busy getting his party ready for him. You had a cake with icing on the top, and three candles, and his name in pink sugar, and—“
“Yes, I remember,” said Christopher Robin.

It goes without saying that E.H. Shepard’s lovely illustrations do much to add to the book’s charm. I'm very glad to have finally read this book.

Other Opinions:
Dog Ear Diary
Lost in a Good Story

Melody tagged me for the 123 Meme. I’ve done it before, but the results are different every time, so it’s always fun to do it again. The rules:

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

The book nearest me is Philip Pullman’s Once Upon a Time in the North (it arrived today—yay!). Unfortunately, this little gem is only 95 pages long, much to my sadness, so I’m going to have to reach further. On my nightstand I have the Wordsworth Classics edition of The Completely Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. This will do. Page 123 is "Cinderella":
Then the girl took the dish to her step-mother, and was glad, and believed that now she would be allowed to go with them to the festival. But the step-mother said: “No, Cinderella, you have no clothes and you can not dance; you would only be laughed at.”
There. This meme has gone around a few times, so I think I’ll skip step five, but if anyone hasn’t done it yet or would like to do it again, I’d love to see what you come up with.

Since we’re on the topic of fairy tales: today I went to the library to get Eudora Welty’s The Optimist’s Daughter to read for the Pulitzer Project. They only had it in an edition of her complete novels, so I got that.

Then I noticed that the first novel in the volume was called The Robber Bridegroom, and that it was described as “an exuberant fantasy set along the Natchez Trace.” I vaguely knew that "The Robber Bridegroom" was one of Grimm’s fairy tales, but I didn’t think it was one I was familiar with. With a little googling I discovered that it is a version of "Mr. Fox", a fairy tale I absolutely LOVE (and how come I didn’t know that?) I also discoveredthat Welty’s novel "is a Southern folk tale set in Mississippi" and "utilizes aspects of the Cupid and Psyche myth". Oh my, I am SO sold! I won't be able to return the book to the library without reading this as well. Fortunately it is very short, more a novella than a novel. And I can use it as an extra for the OuAT challenge!

(And of course, Margaret Atwood’s novel The Robber Bride retells the same story using a female protagonist…how exactly did I not know that either?)

It's funny how "whim reading" is a monthly slot I have no trouble whatsoever filling.

Speaking of which, while I was at the library I couldn’t resist also bringing home Jack Zipes’s The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests to the Modern World. I’ve wanted to read it for ages, and now seemed like a good time, since I’m also finally reading The Complete Grimms. The book is described as “part biography, part critical reassessment and part social history”. Sounds good to me.

One last thing: my days as a monogamous reader seem to be over. Before, I was one of those people who very rarely had more than one book going at any given time. But then I decided to try and read more non-fiction, and I like to have a novel going alongside my non-fiction. And then I decided to have shorter things going at the same time as chunksters, otherwise I grow impatient. And then I noticed that I also grow a little impatient with collections of short stories/fairy tales/essays if I'm not reading a novel alongside them. As a result, these days I almost always have two or three books going at the same time, and I feel sort of naked when I’m only reading one. If you’d told me this a year ago, I wouldn’t have believed it.


  1. I'm here from weekly geeks. That was a beautiful review, I love Winnie the Pooh and the drawings are beautiful.

  2. This was such a great review ~ I remember my father reading Milne to me, and later in my 20s I bought a harbound ed. just to enjoy them again

  3. Well you little hussy, you! LOL...you totally cracked me up with the forsaking of your monogamy! It wasn't until I started homeschooling Annie almost two years ago that I would read more than one book at a time. Now I can't imagine not having more than one going.

    What a perfectly delightful review of Winnie-the-Pooh! You made me want to go dig it out of my piles immediately. I can't believe I've never read it before! Looks like the boys and I are in for a real treat when we finally get to it. (We're starting Peter Pan tonight, another one I'm embarrassed to say I've never read.)

  4. How on earth did I miss that when reading Atwoods The Roober Bride? Durr @ me!!! My mum is a big fan of Winnie The Pooh and has a really old copy she read as a child. I got the collection last year and am waiting for just the right moment to start reading it. When I was little my mum got me a little book of Winnie The Pooh that had me (and my sister) put into the story for my birthday which was awesome. I must see if she still has it somewhere.

    I know what you mean about reading more than one book at a time. I used to only read one as a child, then moved on to two (one fiction and one non-fiction) and now I am sometimes up to three. I don't so much non-fiction (non so far this year which is terrible), but will hopefully start reading more again soon. It's so easy to read anthologies of fairy tales and short stories and then a fictional novel at the same time. I know what you mean about feeling naked, I am only reading Slam at the moment and feel a need to pick up something else...

  5. Shame on me! I haven't read anything on Winnie The Pooh (can you believe it?!), and although I've one or two picture books of them which I'll read to my daughter, I don't think they're quite the same. Well, I need to look this up! Thanks for the great review, Nymeth. :)

  6. Winnie the Pooh has always been my very favorite childhood character. I love the Disney Pooh...but this is such a wonderful book!! I just HEART Pooh!

  7. I've been meaning to read this since I heard it praised some time ago. I grew up loving the disney movie, but of course I'm sure its not the same thing.

  8. Your beautiful review of Winnie-the-Pooh touched my heart. My brothers and I were raised on Pooh, and phrases from the book became part of our family culture, and we've passed all of that onto our own children. It is, simply put, my most beloved book. I'm so glad you loved it, too.

  9. Haha, I love Debi calling you a hussy...That's ashame Nymeth...cheating on your one and only book, tsk tsk. :p I've been doing the same thing. I can't stick to just one book anymore either. In fact I've just started reading Crossroads which was recommended by you and I'm really enjoying the stories so far! Great collection!

    I want to go get the Winnie the Pooh book now after your review! And if the bookstore wasn't closed, I would. I've never read it and I've always wanted to. The illustrations have always been appealing to me. They're so touching and I've always imagined that the stories would have that same charm. Can't wait to read it now!

  10. Milne is the bomb! I am so glad you enjoyed these. Winnie the Pooh has been a favorite for decades, mostly from my adulthood, however, and I have always loved the lyricism and humor of the prose.

    My funniest Pooh memory is when my wife and I bought a gift at the bookstore for her brother who was also a big Winnie the Pooh fan. It was a scratch and sniff Winnie the Pooh book. The funny thing about this was that her brother severely damaged his sense of smell from antibiotics when he was a child. Both of us had completely forgotten that when we bought the gift which made for a hilariously embarrassing moment when he opened the present.

  11. wow.. i remember reading winnie the pooh to my sons when they were very young..i wish i knew what happened to those books!

    I've had Winnie the Pooh 80th Anniversary Edition on my wish list for a while now.. got to get it soon!

  12. Ohh Pooh. I was raised on dear Winnie-the-Pooh, and think that AA Milne may be entirely responsible for my love of reading. It was his books that my parents read to me, and that I remember reading for myself from a beautiful hardback copy bought for me by my grandparents. I have the entire set, and still find myself poring over the map of the Hundred Acre Wood today!

    Every Christmas Eve for years when my sister, two cousins and I were all tucked in bed, my uncle would tell us one of his special Willie the Woo stories (his best friends were Billy the Boo and Silly the Soo). My favourite was always when his Christmas Pudding (Willie's favourite food of course) went rolling into the sea. I always loved going to bed on Christmas Eve!!

    By far my favourite children's books of all time, with the most exquisite drawings that are perfectly suited to the style of Milne's writing (I still know all the words to "nobody knows..how cold my toes..."!!!).

    My favourite quote has always been AA Milne...

    "sometimes i sits and thinks, and sometimes i just sits.."


  13. I have fond memories of Winnie-the-Pooh from growing up--and what beautiful pictures you've posted.

    I had never heard of the Robber Bridegroom until reading Atwood's book--one of the characters reads the tale to the children as a bedtime story. It would be interesting to read the story after reading Atwood's chilling book.

  14. Pooh is one of the touchstones of childhood (whether through the books, disney, or the toys), your post brought back a flood of memories for me (and lots of other folks, I'm sure). Your thoughts on Milne's respect for his readers are spot-on, he understood that childhood is a thing to be treasured and nutured.
    My most infamous Pooh-related story was inspired by the image you included of Christopher Robin tacking the tail on for Eeyore - I was four, we had a bob-tailed cat, and all I was trying to do was help...

  15. Oh, thanks so much for reminding me how wonderful Pooh is. I'd quite forgotten.

    But, my favorite work by Milne isn't Pooh. It's a poem, which is amazing since I'm not one for poetry.

    When I was little, we had a raggedy picture book out at our family cabin. It was over-sized and had the most amazing illustrations in it. It included a wide variety of short stories and poetry that I still remember to this day. One was about a swing... "How do you like to go up in a swing, up in the air so blue" and the other was Vespers, by AA Milne:

    Little boy kneels at the foot of the bed,
    Droops on the little hands little gold head,
    Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares!
    Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.

    There's more to it, but that's all I'll post.

    Thanks so much for the trip down memory lane, Nymeth!


  16. Oh dear, like Rhinoa I've read The Robber Bride eons ago and I didn't even know about that! Talk about learning something new everyday :)

    And thanks for reminding me that A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh is such a lovely, lovely read. I adored the drawings a lot. I think my sister has our old copy of this book. Either that or it's in her old room, something I need to check when I go home next week.

  17. Welcome to the world of literary polygamy. One day you will find yourself juggling 15 books at the same time.

  18. Alix: Thanks for visiting! And yes, I love the drawings :) They fit the story perfectly.

    D. chedwick byrant: I'm pondering doing the same!

    Debi: lol! I'm afraid I can't imagine going back to book monogamy either...ah well :P Peter Pan is lovely, I hope you and the boys are enjoying it. And I think you're in for a treat with this one!

    Rhinoa: I think I'd have missed it too, since I wasn't even aware of the fairy tale's existence until recently. And yeah, it is easy, much easier than I expected. I hope you're enjoying Slam - I really want to read that one!

    Melody: I'd say shame on you indeed, but here I am, just having picked it up for the first time :P I hope you and your daughter enjoy this one!

    Stephanie: He really is a great character :)

    Kim: You know, I don't think I have ever seen the Disney movie. But Disney does have a way of completely changing things around.

    Robin: I wish I'd have discovered this as a child! It'd be one of those books I'd read again and again for sure. But I did love it now, so I can't really complain. It's a timeless book (as the best always are)

    Chris: lol :P I'm glad you've been enjoying Crossroads! I can't wait to read your review. Yes, the illustrations are touching, aren't they? And so are the stories. I'm sure you'll really enjoy this one!

    Carl: Lyricism and humour, that's exactly it. I had no idea I'd love Milne so much. And lol! That must have been one of those is-there-a-Very-Deep-Pit-where-I-can-hide moments :P

    Deslily: I want to get it too!

    Mariel: Silly the Soo! lol, I love it. Your Christmases sound wonderful!

    Trish: I can't wait to read Atwood's book now! I'm very very curious.

    Ken: Pooh, Watership Down...you spent your childhood surrounded by such great stories! and lol, I don't think I want to hear the rest of that story :P

    CJ: I have my eye on a Complete Pooh edition that also includes his poetry...I'm looking forward to reading it!

    Lightheaded: I hope you manage to find your old copy of the book!

    Dark Orpheus: I'm not quite ready for that yet, but I've learned to never say never :P

  19. I think what I love best about the Milne stories are the characters. The old ones, not these new Disney versions.

    I'm about to read The Optimist's Daughter, too! I have an idea, but please don't think you'll hurt my feelings if you say no! What if we read it around the same time, and then discuss it via email or google talk and then we can both post our discussion? It'd be something different, anyway.

  20. Dewey: I love the idea of an e-mail discussion. The only problem is that I've started the book already. In fact, I'm almost done, as it's very short. How long do you think it'll take you do get to it? If I take notes of all the thoughts that have been floating around my head I'd still be able to discuss it in a week or two. The only problem is that I have to give it back to the library on the 8th of May (10 days is a ridiculously short loan time if you ask me, especially for a university library) so I can't refer back to it after that. But I can write down favourite passages and the like. It would be something different, yes, and I really like the idea!

  21. Ok, I'll make sure to read it next! I should definitely be finished in a week.

  22. I love Winnie-the-Pooh! I just read it to my son. He's only six-month-old, but I had such a fun time reading it to him. Perfect children's book!

  23. i couldn't agree more - and that example about the expidition is a very good one.

    there is also something very wise about milne isn't there?

    mentioning those capitals made me smile!

    and welcome to the world of polygamy! yay!

    there is, of course, much to be said for book monogamy, but i prefer polygamy becuase i'm just not always in the mood for the same book...


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.