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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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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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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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

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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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