Hundred years ago, in 1914, Lieutenant Harry Colebourn bought a bear cub for $20 in Ontario, Canada, and named her Winnie. Twelve years later, she found her way to AA Milne’s first volume of stories, ‘Winnie-the-Pooh.’ A classic character, Pooh continues to teach us how to catch the whispering strains of a child’s world
You are reading Winnie the Pooh!
Yes, I am.
Who gave it to you?
A Tulip, but, how?
What do you mean?
A tulip doesn’t have hands, so how would it give a book to you?
Well, she has petals, which close and open up like hands.
…And will she give books to me too?
In an imaginary conversation as the one above, we do not even perhaps need to mark the people who are talking, though they are likely to have names like all people do. For, it is obvious that this dialogue could possibly take place only between an adult and a child.
While adult voices get blurred in the daily din of adulthood, a child’s voice is different. Everytime you hear it, you pause. It has that distinctive and irresistible exclamatory dimension to it. Just like a squirrel, which comes out of its hiding to steal a crumb and disappear — with speed, urgency and abundant curiosity.
Perhaps it is only a child who wouldn’t question the fundamental validity of a Tulip-premise. Instead, she would be more eager to be part of the conclusive experience.
Reading AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh is a similar experience. While it is a delight to read the adventures of Pooh, Piglet and Christopher Robin, one wonders how Milne could possibly have built such a delicate story from within his son’s babble-world.
As an author-friend said, when I excitedly read out a line from the book.
“Well, it is a classic!”
A journey together
Milne introduces his readers to the Pooh-stories in an interesting way. Instead of acquiring the position of a narrator who dictates his characters around, the author includes Christopher Robin — Pooh’s friend and our protagonist (as Owl would have perhaps used this heavy word) — in the story-telling business. They meander through the maze of thoughts together, negotiating a range of elements that create not necessarily an established syntax of story-telling, but one that keeps evolving as the story progresses.
So Christopher is not just being told a story. As one of the characters, he has an opinion. And that’s only fair, it seems.
Once upon a time, a very long time ago now, about last Friday, Winnie-the-Pooh lived in a forest all by himself under the name of Sanders.
“What does ‘under the name’ mean?” asked Christopher Robin.
“It means he had the name over the door in gold letters, and lived under it.”
“Winnie-the-Pooh wasn’t quite sure,” said Christopher Robin.
Again, when Pooh has a bad fall and he thinks of Christopher Robin, the latter expresses surprise and asks the storyteller, “Was that me?”…. ‘hardly daring to believe it.’
Also, Milne never loses perspective despite playing with shifting realities of a child’s world. So when Pooh, after much excitement, gets a blue balloon from Christopher Robin and goes up in the air, hoping that he would have access to the bee nest where the honey is waiting; hoping the bees would not notice him because he would just look like a piece of black cloud after rolling in mud, his friend tells him the truth — that he looks just like a bear holding on to a balloon.
Or, for that matter, when Pooh goes visiting Rabbit and gets stuck in the rabbit hole, the Rabbit wants to use Pooh’s back legs as a towel horse! Well, what do you do when a guest not only ends up eating all the honey and the condensed milk, but also gets stuck at your entrance door.
From ‘almost’ catching a woozle, finding the old grey donkey Eeyore’s tail to an ‘expotition’ to the North Pole and rescuing Piglet from the water, Pooh’s adventures take us to a world, which is real, yet so supple.
Milne does not, at any point, try to impose a sheath of moral platitudes in the guise of a story. On the contrary, there are several instances when the characters convey a range of emotions, not always perfect.
In fact, we see how Rabbit, Piglet and Pooh get jealous and feel slightly threatened with the entry of Kanga and Roo. What Rabbit doesn’t like about the new entrants in the forest is that their fiefdom is threatened. In fact, they hatch a plan of kidnapping Roo and returning the little one only if Kanga promised to never come back to the forest.
But, then, that is the magic of Milne, he finally succeeds in retaining the innocence of the characters despite their grey areas. Also, at the end, he subtly manages to slip in a piece of advice for Piglet.
And finally, Christopher Robin, like any other child, is unconditionally affectionate, loving, caring. While he calls Pooh, the silly old bear and sometimes is baffled by his antiques, he announces happily that Pooh is the ‘best bear in all the world.’
Perhaps Owl who always uses big and heavy words would have said that Milne is one of the authors, who traverses a child’s world without overlooking the real-world dynamics of life.
And like Pooh, more simply, readers across the world would agree that what makes Milne special is that his stories are imaginary but truthful and though truthful, not harsh. Something like a Tulip with soft petal-hands.
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