LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Winnie the Pooh Character Analysis: Pooh

The cover art of the book

In A.A Milne’s classic Winnie the Pooh, our titular character is a very interesting one to analyze, both  in regard to his role as the “protagonist” of the story and his relationship with Christopher Robin. He seems to be good friends with all of the regularly appearing residents of the Hundred Acre Wood and is very attached to Christopher Robin. 

Pooh definitely loves honey…

Pooh is arguably the most lackadaisical character of the entire novel. Unlike most protagonist of stories, Pooh is not driven by a quest nor fights against an antagonist. Instead, Pooh simply interacts with his fellow wood residents and gets into mischievous situations. Pooh’s one notable trait that compels him to complete tasks is his constant quest for honey, which he seems to adore almost as much as Christopher Robin (if not more so). This gluttonous quest for honey often causes the conflict in the stories centered on Pooh, notably including a chapter where he gets stuck in a hole leading to Robin’s underground home. This need for honey also can indirectly affect other characters, which is best seen when Pooh wishes to give Eeyore honey for his birthday but eats it all after becoming hungry. Although Pooh often complicates matters due to his seemingly unquenchable hunger for honey, he never purposely wishes to hurt his friends and even concocts solutions to fix his problems. Pooh at his core seems to be a very pure character with good intentions which can sometimes be affected by his character flaw.

A beautiful friendship

Another interesting dynamic concerning Pooh’s character is his attachment to Christopher Robin. Pooh seems to be the character that loves Christopher the most, which is paralleled by his “real-life” role as his teddy bear. In the novel, Christopher Robin is usually the one who comes to Pooh’s rescue when he gets in trouble. A very important detail to highlight is the boy’s patience with Pooh, something that never seems to be compromised. Other characters are usually quick to criticize and quip at Pooh due to his character flaws; in stark contrast, Christopher never becomes upset with Pooh and usually just refers to him lovingly as a “silly old bear.” Pooh’s love for him seems to definitely owe itself to this fact and can be paired with how Pooh looks up to Robin as both a guardian and a friend. This dynamic definitely gives Pooh a compelling characterization and enhances the arc he shares with Christopher, which comes to a bittersweet close when the boy leaves for school. Pooh states “if there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever”, which I think best captures their relationship. 

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Winnie the Pooh, a Classic

Is Winnie the Pooh a classic?

Yes, of course. It has had a presreadingence in each of our lives. The majority of people in the U.S. know about Winnie the Pooh or have heard of it. Particularly, it has been successful in capturing the interest of young children; though, Milne wrote the Pooh stories for both children and the child within adults. To this day, Winnie the Pooh remains a multibillion merchandising empire whose trademarks are owned by Disney. Disney has created numerous adaptations based off of Milne’s original stories, and is continuously releasing new Pooh movies, Pooh video games, Pooh TV series/specials, and a great variety of Pooh merchandise.

Now, what is a classic? What makes a story a classic? Well, a classic in the literary context is a story that transcends time and maintains itself as a source of value, relatability, and/or pleasure for the recurring generations. Although each classic is distinctively different from another in its unique form, style, presentation, and/or plot points and storyline, all classics share certain characteristics that nurture their success.

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Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh and The House At Pooh Corner have a distinctive writing style that distinguishes them from other texts. Milne adds humor at the expense of the characters who may have no idea what is going on, but we know all too well. We see such occurrences in chapter three, “Pooh and Piglet Go Hunting and Nearly Catch a Woozle.” Here, Piglet and Pooh are following animal tracks that they hypothesize to be Woozles. The reader is told that Pooh has been “walking round and round in a circle, thinking of something…” (A. A. Milne). Then Pooh and Piglet commence their tracking of some mysterious prints in the snow, which the reader knows them to be Pooh’s own footprints. More evidence of these being Pooh’s (and Piglet’s) own footprints presents itself as Piglet and Pooh come across more pairs of footprints along the same track. It is amusing to the reader to watch two completely oblivious characters waste their time in tracking nothing but their very selves, and then seeing Piglet in fear over what the creatures could be (and how many as well).

Milne uses characters who dominantly express one single trait: Pooh and his constant hunger; Piglet and his anxiety; Eeyore and his depression; Etc. Milne’s intention in doing so is to create a more enjoyable piece; to use exaggerations that are both humorous and enjoyable to the reader. Furthermore, as we discussed in class, because the characters never change and always result back to their original selves by the beginning of the next day (the next story), we have here everlasting characters who will always be in a single state of mind, and whom popular culture can make into infinite adaptations featuring new adventures and experiences, thus keeping Winnie the Pooh classic, interesting, and profitable.

Pooh stuff         A good sign of the timelessness of Winnie the Pooh is its popularity in terms of merchandise and profitability. In fact, Winnie the Pooh is Disney’s most profitable franchise, and brings in over a billion dollars in revenues each year. Just surfing through the Disney online store, there are Winnie the Pooh plush toys, figurine playsets, crib bedding sets, mugs, quilts, tees, beanie bags, pillows, slippers, cups, pajamas, and even a limited edition signed artwork for approximately $800.00. It goes to show that children and adults alike enjoy Pooh and may develop nostalgia — or “expensive” nostalgia — for the lovable bear and his companions. There is no doubt that Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh and The House At Pooh Corner will continue to be classics for years to come as they inspire new adaptations and new adventures that offer joy and value to the young and old alike, as well as for many future generations to come.

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Language in “Pooh”

I have always found the language of A. A. Milne’s Pooh stories to be one of its most endearing facets. There is something totally charming about the odd ways that the characters speak and write, especially the excessive capitalization and frequent misspellings. I think the appeal of the language quirks, for both children and adults, is probably because the speech patterns mimic those of real children.

The narrative function of Owl’s misspellings is the easiest to understand. Owl claims to be one of the most intelligent residents of the Hundred Acre Wood and Pooh often seeks his advice, but he still spells “his own name WOL” (50). Even the smallest children hearing these stories can understand that Owl is not quite as smart as he believes himself to be.

The more general misspellings seem like the way a genuine child might write the word, such as ‘heffalump’ for elephant. (‘Eeyore’ also seems to be an onomatopoeia of the sound a donkey makes, though it isn’t a misspelling). The misspellings in the dialogue are even more convincingly childlike. Christopher Robin’s misspellings on his signs are understandable, given that he is five, but Milne carries these misspellings into his writing of dialogue, when he presumably could correct them. Milne is therefore privileging entertainment over education in his stories: rather than correcting his characters, he respects their juvenile education and reports it honestly, without thought to his young readers perhaps learning to spell words incorrectly.

 

Finally, my favorite part of the quirky language of Pooh is the frequent capitalization. Pooh and his friends capitalize words and phrases to emphasize them: “Bear of Very Little Brain,” “being Useful,” “Not like Some” (50, 90, 50). To me, it seems to hearken back to the earliest parts of childhood, when we were first learning words and their meanings. Milne’s characters speak carefully and deliberately, and the capitalization supports this. They have recently learned to speak, and are still exploring language, words, and meanings. Language has not yet become a casual form of communication; it is still a Careful Way of expressing Oneself.

Finally, and interestingly, some dictionaries have actually incorporated some of the words that Milne created: “Eeyorish” is defined as “pessimistic and gloomy.”

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The Childhood Celebrity?

When we think of novels based around certain children, we might think of the dreaded child celebrity that has started to sweep across the world. Today, more and more kids are trying to claim the spotlight and generate some sort of fame through any sort of outlet. This topic made me think of certain children from the novels we have discussed in class like the Llewelyn Davies boys from the Peter Pan stories or Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh. But what we see from these children is a drastic 180 degree flip from how children today react to the fame and recognition.

I find it fascinating that today children like Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson are celebrate as Harry Potter and Hermione but embrace the fame and fortune. They were not teased or picked at for embracing the characters from the famous novels; no they loved it! So why is it different for the children of the novels we have read? It could definitely be the large generational gap from then until now. Obviously there was not a large “Hollywood” glamorization or novels being made into movies. But still, I know that if I was a child, I would love having stories written about me! But at the same time, there could have been enormous pressure from fans to live like the characters from the novels.

So what made these children hide from the world? I cannot give an answer. But the stark contradiction of today’s celebrity children status compared to that of Christopher Robin’s time is totally different. If we still lived in a society where celebrity status was not being craved for every small thing, how strange would our world be? Just some food for thought!

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Winnie-the-Pooh and Disney’s Influence

A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh has definitely been largely incorporated into popular culture. From television shows, films, video games, plays, and of course, the Disney adaption, millions of people around the world love Winnie and his friends of Hundred Acre Wood. Milne’s story has been translated into many languages. In fact, the Latin translation, Winnie ille Pu, became the only Latin book to have ever been placed on the New York Times Best Seller List. The work remains a very important piece of children’s literature, and Pooh really is an iconic, fictional character loved by both little kids and adults internationally.

What undoubtedly plays a huge role in the popularity and success of Winnie-the-Pooh today is Walt Disney’s adaptation to the book. Disney gained rights to Milne’s story in 1961. Disney originally produced a series of cartoon based from the Milne’s Pooh chronicles. Disney used illustrations from Stephen Slesinger, and these animations are now characterized as the “Classic Pooh.” In addition to these cartoons, Disney released multiple films and introduced the new character of Gopher. Disney has also produced multiple animated series and even aired a TV puppet show. Another movie, Winnie the Pooh, was released as recently as 2011. There are as many as eight films based on Milne’s book, and stars in five television series. Clearly, this story and Disney’s adaptations have remained a very prominent part of today’s popular culture.

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In my opinion, my most significant encounters of Winnie-the-Pooh come from Disneyworld itself. As a young girl, I remember visiting Magic Kingdom and just adoring this loveable bear. Apparently I am not alone as Pooh is the second most requested Disney character next to Mickey Mouse. He has his own park ride dedicated to him in Magic Kingdom. In 2006, Pooh even received his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It very evident that Disney’s adaption of Milne’s original story has greatly influenced the presence and love of Winnie-the-Pooh in today’s society. Here is the link to the Disney website devoted to Pooh.

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winnie the pooh: character development

As we discussed in class on Tuesday, one of the things that makes Winnie the Pooh so universally appealing is its potential for identification with the characters. Each of the main players in A.A. Milne’s vignettes is distinctly different from the others; while certain characters share certain traits, they are, for the most part, each very singular. Milne does a great job of flushing these differences out, even including favorite foods, favorite activities, and catch phrases for each of the animals. Likely, such distinct personalities have led, in part, to the conclusions drawn by some regarding the “disordered” natures thereof; however, it is likely that any personality, when taken to an extreme, can be linked to some type of disorder.

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With such clear and vivid character definition, it is easy – and extremely appealing – for readers to choose “their” character; an animal with which they identify the most, and is a hyperbolic (and animal) version of themselves. For me, that character is Piglet: small body, big heart, scared of loud noises and the dark. Piglet is a favorite for many, owing in part likely to his aesthetic appeal (small, all in pink, chic striped tunic) and in part to his unfailing kindness and desire to help others.

However, while Piglet appeals to me (and to many) for personal reasons, I also think that some of the most poignant moments in the text (and, relatedly, some of the most oft-quoted) are ones that he and Pooh share together. For example, one of my favorite moments – and one that i feel stands alone, even without the rest of the story) is when Piglet and Pooh have just finished with the great flood. As they are walking together, this exchange occurs:

“Pooh?”
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, sidling up to Pooh from behind. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

This moment is a perfect microcosm of the universality that makes Winnie the Pooh so great, and so classic. We can all identify with these sentiments, even though we are not stuffed animals and do not live in the woods. We relate.

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So Long, Farewell

Throughout both Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, Milne repeatedly draws attention to the comings and goings of the characters from the Hundred Acre Woods. This is especially true in regards to Christopher Robin.  Christopher Robin is admired by the other inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood.  He is an authoritative figure, seen as the voice of reason in any dilemma.  His character is portrayed as more intelligent than his animal companions.  When Pooh is trying to pass as a rain cloud in order to steal some honey away from the bees and asks Christopher Robin to go home and get his umbrella, then walk around underneath proclaiming that it looks like rain, Christopher Robin laughs to himself because he knows that this is a nonsensical idea.  However, out of fondness for Pooh, he does it anyway.  In addition to helping get his friends out of their individual misadventures, Christopher Robin also serves as a mediator between the animals.  When Owl’s house is destroyed by the storm and he is about to move into Piglet’s house, Piglet is at a loss. What is he going to do? It is Christopher Robin who steps in to smooth things out and prompts that Piglet should live with Pooh.

Christopher Robin’s identity as the authority, the problem solver, and the peacemaker set him up as an idealized child.  No child is ever really like that, at least, not all the time.  So Milne has created in Christopher Robin the ideal child who is always looking out for his friends.  It is in viewing him as the ideal child that the preoccupation with his leaving is significant.  The World of Pooh is a very nostalgic tale.  Milne was writing long after the other Golden Age authors and was in a way regressing back to that time when this sort of whimsical, carefree writing was popular.  Milne was trying to hold onto a time that had passed.  Christopher Robin’s character is like that time for the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood.  When he isn’t around, things go amiss.  Eeyore’s house is stolen by Piglet and Pooh (with good intentions of course),  Pooh and Piglet get stuck in the gravel pit while trying to catch a Heffalump, and Tigger gets stuck up a tree.  Without his guiding presence, the forest enters a state of chaos.

The point arrives, of course, when Christopher Robin’s presence starts to fade.  When Pooh first realizes that Christopher Robin is often unavailable in the morning time, he is a bit dismayed and, try as he might, he cannot provide Rabbit with a satisfactory explanation of where Christopher Robin might be between the hours of eleven and twelve.  In the last chapter, when it comes out that Christopher Robin will be going away, all of the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood know that, from now on, things are going to be different and Christopher Robin implores Pooh that even though he must go away, Pooh must not forget him.  He must move into the next phase of his life, and Pooh and his friends are losing their idyllic child friend.  But they are the embodiment of his childhood, and they will continue on, just as they are, even though he cannot.  So although it is troubling to be losing Christopher Robin, he will never really be gone, because our idealized memories stick with us.

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Winnie-the-Pooh in Popular Culture

Pooh bear pictures winnie the pooh Poohbear

Is it without second thought to realize that Winnie-the-Pooh has been a well-known piece of work for nearly a century. It has revolutionized the entire genre of children’s novels, that authors have striven to emulate and should strive to emulate. In fact, this text has had such a huge, positive impact on the world that it has had a great deal of adaptations, including: theatre, audio, radio, film, and television. I would like to expand on all of these subsections of popular culture.

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In terms of theatre, there have been two plays adapted from the original text, one called “Winnie-the-Pooh at the Guild Theatre” in 1931, and more recently one called “Bother! The Brain of Pooh” in 1986, which was a one-man show, which is pretty interesting. In terms of audio,  Pooh stories were read in different decades by many different people, including: Maurice Evans,  Peter Dennis, and, David Benedictus. In two different instances, famous celebrities, Carol Channing and Stephen Fry both were involved with Winnie-the-Pooh. In terms of radio, Winnie-the-Pooh was debuted in England almost 7 years before it was debuted in the United States.

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In terms of film, Disney has had a number of adaptations, which were divided into theatrical featurettes and full-length theatrical features, the former being short films, that had varying success. The Soviet Union also had film adaptations, and made a trilogy. The aspect that is interesting about the Soviets, is that unlike Disney, the animation team made a new look for every character, and did not base their ideas on illustrations of Shepard. They played close attention to the original work by Milne, and utilize specific characteristics representative of the characters’ personalities that Disney neglected to do. In terms of television, Winnie-the-Pooh was separated into television shows, Holiday TV specials, direct-to-video shorts, and direct-to-video features.

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Humor in Winnie-the-Pooh

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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Winnie-the-Poor-Friend

In Chapter 2 of Winnie-the-Pooh, “…IN WHICH POOH GOES VISITING AND GETS INTO A TIGHT PLACE”, Pooh find himself stuck in Rabbit’s front door – the epitome of the “friend who just won’t leave” – because of gluttony and a lack of manners.

The scene is comical, true, but it also demonstrates Pooh’s lack of self-control – and more importantly his lack of manners. If we run through a checklist of everything he did, it looks bad:

-Entering Rabbit’s home uninvited
-Eating all of Rabbit’s food
-Deciding to leave immediately after the food was gone
-Complaining about his situation (That he clearly caused)
-Forcing his friends to care for him and continued to make demands of them

It is interesting to me that these things are still considered by many to be poor form. I cannot count the times I was browbeat into having decent manners by my parents, and I remember even as a kid watching other kids doing “the wrong thing” and wondering why.

The reasoning behind it seems clearer to me now, and I see these manners faux pas as a failure to be a good friend. Pooh’s greed and selfishness – which is already well established – is not as happy-go-lucky as some people think; he actively uses his friends and when they have nothing more to give him, he moves on. He sees people as ways to get things he wants:

“‘If I know anything about anything, that hole means Rabbit,’ he said, ‘and Rabbit means Company,’ he said, ‘and Company means Food…'” (Milne, CH2)

Mind if help myself to everything?

Mind if help myself to everything?

I see this attitude as the “me first” – and really “me only” – attitude that Pooh applies to his interactions with others. Even at the end of the story, it is all about him:

“So, with a nod of thanks to his friends, he went on with his walk through the forest, humming proudly to himself.” (Milne, CH2)

He proudly hums walking away, as if he did a good job. This is of course after he did nothing except sat there, blocking the entrance, being read to, and generally inconveniencing his friends. Pooh is, in my opinion, an excellent example of “those kids” your parents told you not to hang out with as a kid.

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