And why am I quoting Winnie the Pooh, when I should be talking about something historical? Well, it's almost historical. The other day we wenches were chatting about our anniversary — it's our 6th anniversary next week, and Susan suggested the title "Now We Are Six," which is the title of an AA Milne book of poetry for children. This in turn sparked a discussion about much loved books from childhood, and we discovered some of us were passionate AA Milne fans and others had grown up without him.
AA Milne? He was an English writer and playwright born in 1882 whose writing for children — his poems, and particularly his stories about Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore and others— became classics.
I guess the poems are less well known than Winnie the Pooh, so let's start with them. They're wonderful poems for reciting aloud — satisfyingly rhythmical and they rhyme, which as any child knows, a good poem should!
I had them read to me as a child, often, and I still know many of them by heart. And snatches of them pop up at the oddest times. This one, for instance, had generations of children leaping from square to square on the footpath, because you mustn't ever tread on the lines because then the bears can get you.
The whole poem is here: Lines and Squares
Here's one that shows how bullies should be dealt with — Bad Sir Brian Botany.
There are more poems here.
And if you like bread with butter... or prefer marmalade, this one is for you. But I have to say, I prefer reading the poems with the drawings.
Many of you will be familiar with the Disney version of Winnie the Pooh, in film and cartoon. But if you haven't read the original stories, especially those with the original line drawings by E.H. Shepard, you're in for a treat. E.H. Shepard was a staff cartoonist for the magazine PUNCH and because of these charming little drawings for children his name will live forever.
I'm not going to get into the argument which is better, the Disney Pooh or the original — both are very sweet and I've found people usually get attached to the first version of Pooh they met. But the Disney versions are not the same as the originals, and if you're someone who likes the clever use of language, and the subtlety and delicacy of line drawings, try reading Winnie The Pooh in the original.
They were written in the 1920's by A.A Milne for his son, Christopher Robin. At the time, Milne was a very successful playwright, and he had no idea his serious works would, in the end, be completely overshadowed by his children's poetry and the stories about a bear, a boy and their friends and their adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood.
It's based on the real forest where Christopher Robin played — Ashdown Forest in East Sussex in southwest England. It's still beautiful and these days tourists visit it because of the books, and they stand on this bridge and look down into the stream and play the game called Poohsticks. (You'll have to read the story.) The beautiful pic below is by Paula Pullinger.
The characters in the stories were based on Christopher Milne's real toys but for the drawings of Winnie the Pooh, E.H. Shepard used his own son's teddy bear, Growler. Christopher Robin's toys are pictured here and you can see that his teddy is not the model for Pooh Bear. Sadly Growler was eaten by a dog.
The books have sweetness, innocence, humor and also great wisdom. How's this for an example of what modern gurus call "mindfulness" or living in the moment?
'When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,' said Piglet at last, 'what's the first thing you say to yourself?'
'What's for breakfast?' said Pooh. 'What do you say, Piglet?'
'I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today,' said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. 'It's the same thing,' he said.
When I was discussing these books with some others who hadn't ever read them, the comment was made, "Oh, by the time I'd heard of them I was too old for them, and I don't have children, so I never read them."
The thing is, these books are not just for children. One of the secrets of the books' great popularity is that they're just as entertaining to read as an adult, I think.It's the humor, and the characterization. And the little gems of wisdom. For instance, these four quotes on love ...
'How do you spell 'love'?' Piglet asked.
'You don't spell it...you feel it,' said Pooh.
'Sometimes,' said Pooh, 'the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.'
Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.
'If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you.'
My brother took a copy of The House at Pooh Corner and Winnie the Pooh with him when he went to university. My brother wasn't the literary type: he was a hunter and a bushwalker and a rock climber. He was living in a residential college at the time and got stirred by a few of his mates for having kids' books on his shelf. He read a few bits out. They laughed. They ended up borrowing the books.
It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like 'What about lunch?'
'People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.'
'Oh Tigger, where are your manners?'
'I don’t know, but I bet they’re having more fun than I am.'
There are also some wonderful life lessons. Christopher Robin says this to Pooh:
'If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together... there is something you must always remember. You're braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart... I'll always be with you.'
In fact, if you put all four books together — the two volumes of poetry and the two collections of stories, you pretty much have a recipe to live by.
For instance, this certainly covers how I feel about my writing sometimes:
'I don't see much sense in that,' said Rabbit.
'No,' said Pooh humbly, 'there isn't. But there was going to be when I began it. It's just that something happened to it along the way.'
AA Milne even has something to say about being tubby — read this poem and you'll find yourself smiling at the end.
A bear, however hard he tries,
Grows tubby without exercise.
Our Teddy Bear is short and fat,
Which is not to be wondered at;
He gets what exercise he can
By falling off the ottoman,
But generally he seems to lack
The energy to clamber back. (read the rest here)
And if you're the academic type, there are even treatises on Winnie the Pooh -- mostly they're very funny spoofs on academic writing. I have this one that I bought many years ago when I was at university. It's still in print today: The Pooh Perplex. The full subtitle is: In Which It is Discovered that the True Meaning of the Pooh Stories is Not as Simple as is Usually Believed, but for Proper Elucidation Requires the Combined Efforts of Several Academicians of Varying Critical Persuasions.
So what about you — are you a devotee of Winnie the Pooh? Do you have a favorite A.A. Milne character or poem? And who did you meet first — the E.H. Shepard versions or the Disney ones? Or have you never read Winnie the Pooh? If you haven't there's a treat in store for you.
And do you know the next line? James James Morrison Morrison Wetherby George Dupree...