LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

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.

1 Comment »

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.

Leave a comment »

A.A. Milne and his Pots of Honey

For my final paper I really struggled throughout the research process because, as one source led me to another, I found that each of my grand and ‘original’ ideas were in fact, not so original after all.  The life of English scholar I guess…  However, one idea I think may work, an idea that, out of the many articles and books I’ve read on Milne and Winnie the Pooh, has not been approached in the way I think it could be explored.  The idea that Milne, not by his literary intention, is his own creation – he is Pooh bear.  Every source I’ve explored has discussed Milne’s life and how he tried, through his children’s stories, to recapture the idyll and Arcadian life and surroundings that defined his carefree and happy childhood; that he wanted to hold on to Edwardian England and sunny days at his family’s country home.

Would Lewis Carroll have been able to create the innocent Alice, immersed in an identity crisis in the fantastical, and god-like world of Wonderland, if his own life struggles didn’t exist?  If he himself wasn’t plagued by a stammer, distraught by the fact that the closest he could get to the children was by his, somewhat questionable, relationship to other family’s young daughters?  Would J.M. Barrie have been able to construct the boy who would never grow up, Neverland, Wendy, and Mrs. Darling if he were not depressed by an unhappy and adulterous marriage, desperate to be part of a family and have a connection with children, a relationship that ended up devastating him and the Llewellyn-Davies boys’ lives?  My answer is no.  Without the need to escape, this successful, escapist children’s literature could not exist.  Carroll’s stammer disappeared during his teas with the girls whom inspired Alice.  Barrie’s Peter Pan came to life when he played dress up with the Llewellyn-Davies boys.  So what was the great tragedy of Milne’s life?  In what ways was he trying to compensate for or fulfill sadness by writing Winnie the Pooh?

Image

A.A. Milne, Christopher Robin, and Pooh Bear

My argument is that he was not; it is that Pooh is not quite the same type of “escapist” children’s classics that were written by the ‘Greats’ who were his predecessors.  He wrote it from happy memories, he delighted in the nostalgia it surfaced within him, and it was something he could share with his young son.  As Jackie Wullschlager wrote in her book, Inventing Wonderland: The Lives and Fantasies of Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, J.M. Barrie, Kenneth Grahame, and A.A. Milne, “Milne grew simply from happy child into a charming young man excelling in the adult playground of pre-war London.” (181) Pooh and his friends did not come from a place of his deepest imagination and longings; they were just Christopher Robin’s toys, bought from Harrods (a high end London department store).

Image

Winnie the Pooh and his ‘Hunny’ pot.

It is for these reasons and many more that I am arguing that Milne is just like Pooh,leading a happy and bumbling life that looked much like the Hundred Acre Woods, full of friends, support, and success, and he wrote Winnie the Pooh not to escape, but because he was simply ‘hungry’.  He was hungry to use these Pooh stories as a way to revisit the times he was happiest: his boyhood, the whimsical Edwardian era, and pre-war London because they were, quite simply, his ‘honey pots’.

Rebekah – have I convinced you that this can work? 🙂

1 Comment »

Class Evaluations

Please take a few minutes to fill out the class evaluation form for this class.  I really look forward to hearing your feedback, especially what you liked, what you didn’t like and what you think I should do differently the next time I teach this class.

You can find the evaluation form here: https://evaluations.ufl.edu

UPDATE: We are up to 20 of 35 students!  For those of you who haven’t had a chance, please make sure to fill out the evals!

Leave a comment »

Can Pooh Influence Children to Binge Eat?

A. A. Milne’s characters of The World of Pooh, which include Christopher Robin and his animal toy friends, represent different disorders.  Can these disorders really be read into these characters and can they affect the children who read about them?

The book of Winnie-the-Pooh is structured in such a way that at points the narrator is talking to a Christopher Robin and then telling stories about Christopher Robin.  I thought this was interesting and imitative of real life—adults telling their children stories that include their children as characters.  However, is this potentially a way to prime schizophrenia and delusions in a child?

Christopher Robin lives a multi-faceted life in A. A. Milne’s book, and all of the talking animals have exaggerated traits.  Pooh is a bear who loves to eat and cannot control his habits.  In Chapter VI “Eeyore Has a Birthday and Gets Two Presents” Pooh plans to give Eeyore a pot of honey but gets hungry along the way to Eeyore so he eats it.  Then afterwards he realizes he ate Eeeyore’s present.  Pooh is constantly hungry, and he can’t control his habits surrounding food and hunger.  Is Pooh an allegory for an eating disorder?

The rest of the Hundred Acre Wood gang also seem to exhibit other DSM-worthy diagnoses.   Piglet is constantly battling his own cowardice, stuttering, and afraid of many things.  Owl is always thinking of what story of his own to tell next, displaying his superiority of knowledge, and just talking over others and to others without caring if the listener even cares.  Eeyore is gloomy and pessimistic and hardly ever happy.  He can also be angry and sees all the faults in people and situations.  Rabbit expresses always needing to be in control of situations and being the leader.  He has to have things done in a certain way, and he tries to make other characters at time conform to what he wants them to be, such as when he didn’t want Kanga and Roo in the Hundred Acre Wood causing change or Tigger to be so bouncy.  Tigger himself bounces from one idea to the other and is quite energetic to the point where he can’t control it.  The animated versions of these characters also play on these exaggerated traits epitomizing them.

Christoper Robin.  Schizophrenia.  Pooh.  Eating Disorder.  Piglet.  General Anxiety Disorder.  Owl.  Narcissism.  Eeyore.  Depression.  Rabbit.  Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Tigger.  Attenion Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Do these characters represent these disorders and then influence children in a way that may prime them for the disorders and cause them to imitate them?

I believe that in literature and TV and all other forms of media, traits are normally exaggerated for entertainment’s sake.  It does not mean that the general masses will all of a sudden experience these disorders because a favorite character does.  Granted, children may imitate these disorders, but psychology has researched them enough to show that for most disorders a genetic priming is also a factor.  Environment is also a factor.  Eating disorders, for example, will not come about because of one instance of a bear character exhibiting it.  First, animal characters are not human characters, so children are less likely to want to “be” them, and second, one character from childhood is almost insignificant in the sea of parenting and media that may actually really cause an eating disorder.  A cute, fat, yellow bear’s influence is almost nothing when compared to the models in magazines and commercials and the advertisements that flood our children’s and our own vision everyday.

I also believe that creative works of art, such as literature, can be interpreted however the reader chooses to so if the reader does not notice or choose to see these characters as allegorical representations of mental disorders, then they will not influence the reader as such.  If parents do not present them as so to their children, then there is less of an opportunity for the children to see the characters that way.  I do not think that The World of Pooh and its characters are harmful to their child consumers.

Leave a comment »

Theme and Moral in A.A. Milne’s The World of Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner

 A.A. Milne’s poems and stories were greatly influenced by his wife Daphne and his son Christopher Robin.  The most obvious influence, however, came from Christopher Robin’s stuffed animal toys that he had as a child.  The toys took the form of animal characters in Milne’s Pooh stories: Tigger, Eeyore, Kanga, Piglet, and, of course Winnie-the-Pooh, also known as Edward Bear.  The picture below shows Christopher Robin’s actual toys that influenced his father.  These toys are held in a display at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building in New York.

 

poohtoys

Each one of the animals in the Pooh stories is different in their own way, not only because they are different animals biologically, but they also have different personalities.  The differences among the animals are highlighted throughout the novel by repetition.  When Eeyore lost his tail, Pooh offers to help him find it.  To this nice gesture, Eeyore expresses his gratitude and explains that he is a good friend while others are not (Milne 49).  Pooh sees Kanga and wishes that he can jump like her.  To this, he says, “Some can and some can’t.  That’s how it is” (Milne 106).  When Pooh takes Tigger to Piglet’s house, Pooh briefly warns him to not be bouncy because Piglet is a small animal who does not like bouncing (Milne 200).  Then, Pooh and Piglet take Tigger to see Eeyore and Piglet warns him to not take much to mind of Eeyore because he is always “gloomy” (Milne 205).  Each of the animal characters is different and they are aware of it.  The idea that “some can” and “some can’t” is repeated throughout the novel, thus portraying the differences among each character.

Milne chose to repeat this motif because I believe that he wants to inform children that everyone is different.  Everyone should be accepted for who they are, even if they think he or she is different, or in Pooh’s case, a “Strange Animal.”  However, I believe that Milne chose to repeat this moral to prepare the young readers for the most important moral at the end of the novel.  He uses the repetition of the motif to present the moral that every child will grow up.  Christopher Robin, the only non-animal character in the novel, leaves the fantasy-imaginary-like Hundred Acre Wood for school, which represents the “reality.”  Christopher robin, a human child, leaves behind the animals, which are symbolic of his toys, representing his leave of childhood.  He represents the child who grows up and moves on, unlike his animal friends who can not change or grow up; they are static characters, as the toys are inanimate objects.  The difference between characters is highlighted as Christopher Robin’s leaves, portraying the moral of growing up.

These motifs enhance the overall understanding of Milne’s message.  Young readers are taught that everyone has to grow up out of their childlike ways where imagination, egotism, narcissism, friendship, and adventure exist.  Along with this rather sad moral, he also presents a little positivity.  Milne gives the children hope that Christopher Robin and Pooh will be reunited and that their friendship will remain in tact.  They promise each other that they will not forget one another and that they will visit each other (Milne 361).  For the adult audience, Milne reminds us that there is still a child within us.  He reminds us this with the last quote of the novel: “But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing” (Milne 362).  Milne reminds the adult audiences that no matter what happens or how old we get, we are still young at heart.

il_570xN.304157260

3 Comments »

Children’s Literature Bibliography

Children’s Literature Bibliography

Having trouble finding sources?  Have you looked here? (linked in the blogroll on the right hand column too!)

Leave a comment »

Grammar Post: Introductions and Conclusions

Introductions

The introduction is the broad beginning of the paper that answers three important questions:

  1. What is this?
  2. Why am I reading it?
  3. What do you want me to do?

For a paper less than 5 pages, it should be a paragraph.  For a paper between 5-10 pages, it can be as long as the first page.  For an even longer paper, an introduction can be a couple of pages, and will often have its own section heading.

In a good introduction, you should answer these three questions by doing the following:

  1. Set the context – provide general information about the main idea, explaining the situation so the reader can make sense of the topic and the questions you will ask
  2. State why the main idea is important – tell the reader why s/he should care and keep reading. Your goal is to create a compelling, clear, and educational essay people will want to read and act upon
  3. State your research goals – compose a sentence or two that clearly communicate what you want you hope to discover, why you are interested in the topic, or where your idea for the essay came from.   You might also include an overview of the types of sources you explored, the methods of research you engaged in, or particular sources you found inspiring.

Some Basic Guidelines Read the rest of this entry »

Leave a comment »

Children Do Grow Up

Christopher_Robin images

Something that struck a chord with me with this weeks’ reading of A.A. Milne’s The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh and The House At Pooh Corner, is how different a character Christopher Robin is from Peter Pan.  Also, please note that the Peter Pan that I will be referencing is the Peter from Peter and Wendy.

 

Within these novels we see two young boys who live in a world filled with fantasy and magic.  Both boys have a band of merry friends and are somewhat seen as the leaders within there groups.  They seem to be the problem solvers and decision makers when questions are asked and decisions need to be made.  Both Christopher Robin and Peter Pan enjoy going on adventures with their friends and exploring.

 

However, there are numerous differences between Christopher Robin and Peter Pan.  One contrast is education.  Peter Pan has fled to Neverland where he lives without any schooling or education, but Christopher Robin spends his mornings getting an education and even teaches his friends in the Hundred Acre Woods some letters and spelling.

 

Another difference is quite possibly the most important difference between the two boys.  Peter does not wish to grow up at all and even goes so far to refuse to do so.  Christopher Robin does not seem to wish to grow up but he also understands that this is something that must occur.  He spends the time to say goodbye to Pooh and to ask him to never forget him and his pledge to return to their enchanted place.

 

The idea of growing up can be disillusioning to children but it is a practical idea and Milne has taken the time to show how growing up is inevitable but at the same time if you maintain a desire to remain youthful you can.

1 Comment »

Winnie-the-Pooh: Christopher Robinson’s Toys

In the children’s classic The World of Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne created a vast array of characters based directly off his own son’s childhood toys. These toys take on their own characteristic traits in the story that differ from previous works that we’ve read.

Each of the toys, which are animals in Hundred Acre Wood, have personalities that are extremely centered on one direct trait. A study published by the Canadian Medical Journal took these characters and analyzed them according to standards in the DSM-IV and noted that their personalities could notably relate to mental disorders.

tumblr_m17pj3qmh51qhgeiwo1_500

According to DSM-IV criteria by this study, Christopher Robin could be considered schizophrenic because he imagines that his childhood toys are living and can talk. Pooh bear has an eating disorder and obessed with honey, which has led to obesity. Piglet has anxiety, which is demonstrated in his fear of everything. Eeyore has depression and Tigger has ADHD. Owl is dyslexic.  These are all very interesting connections that individuals have made about this story.

Whether it’s fictional or factual, such connections made about this story only show that the story of Winnie-the-Pooh have endured the test of time and become an interest to the minds of both children and adults. People have been influenced by these characters because of their ability to relate to real human traits. Unlike the perfect children of Five Children and It, the egotism of Owl and the impulsiveness of Roo and Tigger are all characteristics that children show in their everyday lives. When these children grow and become adults, they remember how they related to certain characters in this story and still feel a sense of nostalgia that sometimes appears in collections of Winnie-the-Pooh paraphernalia or tattoos.

This makes The World of Winnie-the-Pooh not only a part of the classical editions to children’s literature, but also a part of the sentimental canon. Its story and all of its adaptations still continue to be relevant today. As for the “mental disorders” shown by the characters of this story, we can only guess whether or not these statements are true. However, the truth is that Winnie-the-Pooh is a character loved by many even today.

2 Comments »