LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Humor in Winnie-the-Pooh

on April 18, 2013 1:08pm

A Good Thing To Do?

One of my favorite things about reading Winnie-the-Pooh was A.A. Milne’s obvious comedy-writing background. Throughout the entire book the tone was so witty and tongue in cheek (and it didn’t feel too forced, like it could have ended up feeling) that I, as an adult reader, never felt bored or unaccounted for while I was reading.  The jokes are ones that adults can easily laugh at but would force children readers think about why they are funny instead of just providing cheap entertainment (for example, “his grandfather had two names in case he lost one”). There were also many great puns, and I can always go for a good pun (of which there were many (for example, a sustaining book to entertain Pooh while he is stuck in Rabbit’s hole but also to be replacement for nourishment while he tries to get skinnier so he can squeeze out of the hole)). There was a sort of air of more mature jokes being made at the expense of the child-like characters in the book, but it was never in a very harmful way. Usually it happened when a character misunderstood what a word or idea was: “’What does ‘under the name’ mean?’ asked Christopher Robin. ‘It means he had the name over the door in gold letters, and he lived under it.’” This humor absolutely made this book for me. It was my favorite that we read all semester because it felt very whimsical and unique but at the same time almost wisening. I love that A.A. Milne seems to poke a little bit of fun at the didactic morals that most children’s books interject by capitalizing the lessons the reader might think the characters should learn from certain misadventures (for example, “A Good Thing To Do”) and then completely passing them by/making no big deal about them. It forces the child reader to decide what lessons to take to heart and allows them to create their own lessons.

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One response to “Humor in Winnie-the-Pooh

  1. I also really enjoyed the humor! And with the second person narration there was a sense that we, the reader, really both the adult and child readers, are in on the joke. I like that the original Disney animations retain this aspect of the narrator and the reader/viewer having this meta conversation outside the story but about the story that’s taking place and it’s always made even better when Pooh asks the narrator either who he is talking to or what he is talking about. I think this story definitely had the most real humor from all the texts that we read throughout the semester. The humor reminded me a bit of the humor you see in Lewis’ Narnia series and even a bit like Roald Dahl, but of course less sarcastic, which also use the second person narration. It makes me wonder how widespread children’s books with humor were at the time of Milne? I wonder if this time period is the first to have these types of tones or if it started earlier. “Alice in Wonderland” definitely has humorous parts, but not in the same way as “Winnie the Pooh” or other later books, at least it seems to me. Perhaps the lack of humor stemmed from the fact that earlier in the tradition of children’s literature, from the Puritan belief system, it was thought that children did not need imagination but instead facts. Thus, in keeping with this, humor might be seen as confusing to a child. In a very drastic departure from this early work for children, if you look at most picture books today, the ones that are receiving acclaim especially, so many of them have a lot of humor, especially sarcastic humor. It’s become a staple in many picture books to include this humor as a way to keep the adult entertained during many rereadings they have to undergo. Thus, it seems that the place of humor has been evolving in books for kids. And Milne seems to be a middle ground, where the humor is very witty but still innocent as well, not as snarky as today’s picture books; humor that both the child and adult will understand.

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