Controlling Your Emotions
IN WHICH IT BEGINS
For nearly a century, Winnie-the-Pooh has captivated children and adults alike with spectacular adventures and imagination, childlike curiosity and whimsy, and everlasting friendships. The connection shared between Christopher Robin, Pooh Bear, and all of the other tattered and matted, cherished stuffed companions, who live among the picturesque Hundred Acre Wood, surely remains timeless. This admirable Bear has won the hearts of many generations with his determination, loyalty, and unwavering camaraderie, as well as his humor, lightheartedness, and innocent foolishness. “The world’s most famous bear, with his simple line-drawn illustration and gentle philosophical musings” (Salter, 2017) has shaped minds of all ages, evoking bittersweet emotions and fond memories of a simpler time of carefree reminiscence and bliss.
This warmhearted, adoring creation of Winnie-the-Pooh and his amusing “Expotitions” originated from much different and unfathomable circumstances, however. The storytelling of a romanticized childhood stemmed from unforgiving internal and personal anguish, and inevitably the perpetual escape from such torment. According to the United Kingdom’s Royal Signals Museum, the traumatic background that was A.A. Milne’s “nightmare of mental and moral degradation,” resulted from his experiences while serving as Second Lieutenant in the Western Front during one of the darkest and goriest battles of World War I – the Somme Offensive. Milne’s literary reputation and writing style shifted after witnessing warfare, and he credited his jarring memories of combat toward an escape in writing about childhood innocence. (Karbiener and Stade). This helped Milne cope by vicariously living through the therapeutic simplicity, silliness, and safety of Winnie-the-Pooh’s stories, while also helping humanity find hope, humor, and something to hold onto during a harrowing season.
A.A. Milne’s stories of trials and triumphs through friendship and fellowship in, The Complete Tales of Winnie- the-Pooh, with E.H. Shepard’s intricate illustrations included, helped a crippled nation recovering from the devastation of WWI rediscover solace in an unknowing time. Although this was experienced through the make-believe play and hillside explorations of a carefree child and his unforgettable and beloved stuffed animals, the emotions and events are genuine. The world was able to heal and connect with a “Silly Old Bear” through unbreakable and deep bonds, reassurance in troubling times, sharp wit and comic relief, and eventually the gradual acknowledgment of having to grow up, and with that, saying goodbye and letting go of childish folly.
IN WHICH FRIENDSHIP PROMOTES REASSURANCE
Milne introduced the world to an endearing friendship through the inseparable bond between a Boy and his Bear in the Hundred Acre Wood. When most of the nation was discovering how to survive while persisting and navigating through life without their loved ones, some authors, such as T.S. Eliot, were writing about the surreal chaos which was surrounding society (O’Connor). Milne, on the other hand, created a spectacular world overflowing with childlike wonder, and captivated readers with friends who they could turn to in every neck of the Wood. There is encouragement and hope in always knowing that Someone, at least in their “Brain,” has a solution and answer for absolutely everything in their quaint haven, while also being a nurturing, supportive ally at all times, uniting and leading the community. Whether it is teaching Spelling or explaining lessons of Education and Ethics, sitting with someone while they are jammed in a tight place, or devising the masterplan to rescue Tigger and Roo from the tallest towering tree branches, (Milne 234), the inhabitants of the Forest are never alone.
Meaningful moments are strewn throughout Milne’s work, but the reader gets an intimate glimpse of Christopher Robin’s love and favoritism for his worn-out, shabby Bear when Pooh casually happens to get himself wedged in Rabbit’s front door. Instead of chastising or criticizing Winnie-the-Pooh, (Connolly 1995), Christopher Robin lovingly, patiently, and affectionately smiles at him and tells him that he is a “Silly Old Bear.” (Milne 27). Every character, including the reader, breathes a sigh of relief as they begin brainstorming ideas on how to get unstuck together. Even when plans do not follow the path Pooh would have preferred, it is not as dismal as it appears, because Christopher Robin sits with Pooh daily, keeping him company, uplifting his spirit, and reading “Sustaining Books” (Milne 28) to him, until he can easily slip out of his predicament.
In the same fashion, the reader and listener are also included in witnessing another heartfelt moment between these two best friends. This occurs as Christopher Robin stumbles upon a wobbly, clumsy Pooh Bear, who is awkwardly bumbling about the Forest with a honey pot stuck on his head. This subsequently frightens and embarrasses Piglet, but Christopher Robin reacts differently and is not at all alarmed. Again, instead of questioning any rationality or becoming short, Christopher Robin immediately, proudly, and humbly exclaims with a chuckle to Pooh, oh, “How I do love you!” (Milne 69). This compassion and adoration for another is pure and sincere, and Milne lets everyone be a pivotal part of it.
One also cannot forget the affection and thoughtfulness which Pooh, Piglet, and Eeyore exchange among each other, as well, with their innocent and thoughtful gestures and their attempts to cheer one another up. In chapter 6, In Which Eeyore Has a Birthday and Gets Two Presents, Pooh and Piglet make it their mission to bring Eeyore happiness for his birthday, so they specifically go to surprise him with festivities and merriment. Neither Pooh nor Piglet have new gifts for their friend, but they do have items that are important and priceless to them – a jar full of honey and a red, shiny balloon. Obviously, if it is valuable to them, it would only make sense that these items would also instill joy and elation for their dear friend Eeyore, too.
However, along the way, Pooh’s tummy rumbles like one would expect, resulting in him slurping down every last “Smackerel” of honey, and poor Piglet pitifully pops the brilliantly bright balloon, while excitedly rushing to Eeyore. Again, when they think all hope is lost, the opposite holds true. Eeyore ends up cherishing the broken items even more so than if they were intact and pristine, and proudly and enthusiastically shows them off while tinkering and playing with his new prized possessions. Everyone can feel Eeyore’s thankfulness, as his actions demonstrate sincere happiness and gratitude for the thought and time put into him, making the gifted objects hold a higher sentimental value. As simple as it seems, Piglet’s “Something” and Pooh’s “Useful Pot” make Eeyore “as happy as could be…” (Milne 87), and in turn, make Pooh and Piglet beam from ear to ear, as well.
Once again, A.A. Milne shows immense enthusiasm and affection for everyday events involving Pooh and Piglet’s interpersonal interactions and daily discussions, while casually strolling home one evening. The following pleasant and carefree conversation occurs between the two pals, conveniently as the sun is setting, adding to the melodious rapport:
““When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet, at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?” “What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say Piglet?” “I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet. Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.”” (Milne 158). One cannot help but smile when musing over this delightful and good-hearted chat, and that was absolutely Milne’s intention.
There is yet another comforting moment of reassurance when a weary and worried Piglet reaches out for and grasps Pooh’s paw, while they nervously wander the woods, unknowingly lost under Rabbit’s Leadership. Whenever Piglet is fearful, he craves the immediate soothing gratification that can only be found in Pooh’s comforting, physical touch. Even though Piglet expresses that “Nothing” is wrong and that he only wanted to be sure of his friend’s presence, (Milne 284), his body still craves and requires that tactile assurance that everything will truly be copacetic. Piglet had always trusted that Pooh was his Knight in shining armor, well before Christopher Robin’s ceremonious dubbing of him, (Milne 341) and because of this, he could feel his shield of protection cover his timid body with the instantaneous touch of Pooh Bear’s fluffy paw.
In the same way, Milne allows the reader into Piglet and Winnie-the-Pooh’s comforting bond when Piglet has another episode of alarm and anxiety over things which have not even happened yet. As his little mind is racing and contemplating the inconceivable, unsurprisingly filling his head with more doubt and fear, he summons Pooh out loud. Piglet, seemingly already expecting a hopeful reply, questions, “Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, and we were underneath it.” Pooh then replied after careful thought, “Supposing it didn’t,” (Milne 297). There is comfort and reassurance in the way these friends communicate and interact, look out for one another, and intentionally lift each other up. This brings a warm smile to the outsider’s face because they know there is nothing to be concerned about and there is no real reason to fret within the Hundred Acre Wood.
Furthermore, Milne demonstrates how even the most terrifying and intimidating situations can be confronted, solved, and conquered together and with the assistance of others. Whether it be fictitious phobias of Heffalumps, Jagulars, or Backsons, or legitimate and very real issues of War, homelessness, depression, or being rescued during a natural disaster, there will always be hope and optimism in knowing that “just when things look their bleakest,” (Canham 25), a true friend will reveal themselves in their time of need. Even if someone is struggling at the bottom of a dark pit and cannot see their way out, whether that be because there is a honey pot stuck on their head, or because reality is legitimately too deep and there is no fathomable escape, a friend will appear while strolling along and lovingly help them out. Stephen Canham, a retired English Professor from the University of Hawaii, explains this reassurance most eloquently with these words, “there is beauty, order, and harmony”…”despite the apparent confusion and chaos of the world,” which guarantees that “…all of life’s crises…can and will turn out right.”
IN WHICH CHARACTERS GET SOME EXPLAINING
It is necessary to briefly address that each toy possesses uniquely remarkable traits and distinguishing qualities, as well. It is important to remember that although a rarity of other scholarly critics, such as Sheila Egoff, a former Professor of Librarianship at the University of British Columbia, would dispute, these comrades are not simply static, “one-dimensional” characters. They do have particular mannerisms, attributes, and contradictions, and they frequently show this and achieve notable progress throughout Milne’s writing. These fictional playthings with humanized personalities should not be underestimated or devalued, as their subtle complexities and charismatic charm would be completely and utterly lost.
Although Paul Wake and the “prolific and versatile writer,” Humphrey Carpenter (Anderson 217), are also in agreeance, Winnie-the-Pooh is not merely “a series of incidents which could be put in any order,” and it is an objectionable insult to think so. Pooh and the gang are much more intricate and complicated than the surface reveals, and they show definite and concrete growth, development, and reasoning throughout each chapter and circumstance. To undermine the depth of each personage is quite discouraging to the effort and genius invested within each character. Afterall, this is an Enchanted place where dreams come true – where an underestimated Bear solves unimaginable problems, a small schoolboy “gains respect and adulation” from his peers, a misunderstood Eeyore “writes a [beautiful] poem of love,” and a fainthearted Piglet becomes fearless – befitting that of a “brave and noble hero.” (Connolly 1995). These protagonists are undoubtedly more than meets the eye.
These multifaceted characters help the onlooker relate their outside tangible experiences, internal thoughts, and varying conflicts to the character’s progress, notions, and events. These imperative specifics weave themselves throughout every encounter, and as each plush persona is “transformed into seemingly breathing ones with complicated lives of their own,” as stated by Ellen Tremper, both fictitious and physical children and adults wait intently for the “miraculous life-giving metamorphosis to begin.” One must remember, despite the fact that these truly are inanimate stuffed animals, each character has a distinct, unforgettable, and relatable personality and charm, complete with worn-out wear-and-tear from Christopher Robbin’s loving and exuberant excursions. These toys and their tumultuous voyages are very real to Christopher Robin, and especially to the devoted reader. Consider also, as Paula T. Connolly, Professor of English at the University of North Carolina, penned, these friends’ “adventures may begin as external ones, but in the end they are internal journeys to hunt and tame…fears.”
IN WHICH HUMOR, WORDPLAY, AND COMEDY PROVIDE RELIEF
The subtly satirical and sophisticated humor which Milne so graciously, respectfully, and strategically places in each particular character, their personalities, and the plot, commanding comical prominence to the storyline in its entirety, should not be overlooked. Again, Ellen Tremper, Professor and Chair of the English Department at Brooklyn College, provides valuable insight, as these “humorous books written for children, or, I should say, for adults” are “the most delightfully arch, witty, and humorous” events to be articulated. After all, even ancient aphorisms have taught that “laughter is the best medicine,” and despite the triteness of that expression, it rings true when following Pooh and the Crew around, while laughing at all of their shenanigans and humming along on their way. Their amusing antics will undoubtedly leave enduring memories of laughter, which is undeniably therapeutic in and of itself.
Milne delicately integrates satire and irony in more respects than just the outspoken prose, but also through E.H. Shepard’s accompanying sketches, “which are irrevocably wedded to the text,” as Stephen Canham illustrates. There are multiple understated instances where “[Milne] wittily points to the absurdities in language that we ignore,” such as italicized and capitalized wording and accentuation, “which become very amusing when we pay them any attention,” emphasizes Ellen Tremper. The most obvious ridiculousness, though, being the multiple careless misspellings, which are precariously stationed all around the forest, nailed on rickety wooden signs and left on notes from a young child who has not yet obtained any formal Education. The phonetic sounding of each phrase is sloppily written, instead of correctly spelled out, just as a child would scribble on items – like Pooh’s jars of “Hunny” and Owl’s notifications around his door reading, “PLES RING IF ANRNSER IS REQIRD” and “PLEZ CNOKE IF AN RNSR IS NOT REQID.”(Milne, Shepard 47).
In the same manner, Ellen Tremper conveys how “Milne delights in exploding the idiomatic language of adults, so opaque to children, by supplying very literal translations that answer a child’s desire for pictorial representation.” This is seen again on damaged sign boards and with the explanations given behind them, which are posted on or near the homes of other characters in the Hundred Acre Wood. Piglet justifies his broken sign which reads, “TRESSPASSERS W,” (Milne 32, Shepard 33) as a family name that has been passed down through generations, and not the actual representation and eminent danger of a “No Trespassing” warning. Even Good Ole Winnie-the-Pooh owns a sign above his door which reads, “MR SANDERZ,” and the only obvious and logical explanation is that “It means he had the name over the door in gold letters, and lived under it.” (Milne 2).
Continuing in the repartee, Milne creates imaginary words for make-believe creatures that are fun and exciting to speak aloud. Hearing how “Heffalumps” and other wonky words, like “Woozles” and “Wizzles” roll off the tip of the tongue with enunciation, while exploring on an “Expotition,” can be something quite comical, and will bring a glimpse of much-needed liveliness and joy to anyone, no matter the age or understanding. Additionally, there are stimulating and elaborated sounds to pronounce, which seem sporadically strewn about, such as Tigger’s boisterous introduction into the Forest as he vociferously clamors, “Worraworraworraworraworra” (Milne 185) and again while he is discovering that he really is not an enthusiast for haycorns, either. (Milne 191). While children certainly appreciate the narratives, their often exquisitely side-splitting humor, clever word play, and ironic witticisms, go above a child’s comprehension and are almost exclusively available to the adults reading to children. (Temper 33, 34). However, still, no epigram goes unnoticed or unappreciated.
In addition to playing with wording and written language, Milne adds hilarity and humor to his characters through foolishness and sheer silliness, even and especially if, they are going through difficult and confusing times. Throughout each scenario, the reader takes on the role of the omniscient observer, standing outside of the action and acknowledging how the characters respond to, or overreact to, the situation. This comic relief is seen frequently throughout the group’s travels, such as, In Which Pooh and Piglet Go Hunting and Nearly Catch a Woozle, when Piglet and Pooh Bear are duped by their own footprints and believe they are joined by not only a Woozle, but at least one Wizzle too, and possibly even multiple Woozles and Wizzles! The bystander obviously knows the truth all along, which cleverly adds to the comedy.
Similarly, when Owl and Rabbit become confused over a misspelled note, they automatically jump to ridiculous conclusions and believe Christopher Robin has gone somewhere with “the Spotted and Herbaceous Backson.” (Milne 245,255). They allow their imaginations to run wild and get away from them as well. This lack of understanding and education is not to embarrass the toys or to show some level of stupidity or ignorance, but to demonstrate how a child and his imaginary stuffed animals would react to and in this situation. The observer laughs sympathetically with these tiny beings, “whose stratagems imitate,” in a childish manner, adult attempts to solve problems. (Tremper 36). To them, this is how they can use logic and problem-solving skills to work out their world independently.
Excitedly, A.A. Milne continues this path of humor through comments, remarks, and playful teasing, straight from the characters mouths and contemplations. Immediately upon entering the living room and the story, Pooh Bear is seen being tenderly tugged behind Christopher Robin, while bumping his head on each stair and considering that there really has to be “another way” to get up and down those stairs, “if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.” (Milne 1, 159). Again, Pooh relieves the writer and the reader with comedy as he is wedged and stuck in Rabbit’s door and Christopher Robin tells Pooh, after a brief banter back-and-forth, that “You can stay here all right, silly old Bear. It’s getting you out which is so difficult.” (Milne 28).
Even funnier are the dialogues and subtle exchanges between Piglet and Pooh Bear. For instance, when Pooh is traveling about absentmindedly to visit Piglet, his humming along becomes a distraction, making him think that, for some unknown reason, Piglet could not possibly be at home, but that he was “out.” Obviously, it comes to Pooh’s great surprise as he continues moseying along and happens to stumble upon Piglet, who is sitting quietly in his armchair and voicing the quick quip, “no, it’s you who were out, Pooh.”(Milne 168-169). More hilarity ensues as Pooh tumbles into the same Pit that Piglet had just previously plummeted. As Pooh is excitedly hopeful and blindly searching for Piglet, he is completely unaware that he has fallen on top of, and is currently squashing, his pocket-sized pal. Piglet announces for Pooh to “Get up!” because he was “underneath” him “in an underneath sort of way.” (Milne 207-208). Everyone can laugh at this silly interaction between the two friends and the hysterics intertwined within their confusion.
Still, Ellen Tremper emphasizes that “the side-splitting laughs come from the ironic and sarcastic wit of…Eeyore.” No one expects the ornery, depressed donkey to spout the deadpan wit and comebacks that he so easily does, which is why each character’s growth and attributes are crucial. Eeyore bluntly and quickly says, as Tremper points out, “what we wish we could have said” in that moment, but unfortunately, not everyone is as spontaneous and sharp thinking as him. Eeyore immediately displays this dry sarcasm just seconds into meeting Tigger, and although he clearly has no regard for how others may feel as he outright asks, “when is he going?”, part of the pleasure is found in his cynical drollness and impulsive boldness.
Again, the brilliance of Eeyore’s biting remarks appears after he has accidently fallen into the river where everyone, except Eeyore, was playing a rousing game of Poohsticks. While spinning and floating aimlessly along with the current, Eeyore sarcastically replies rhetorically to himself that he is “Waiting for somebody to help me out of the river? Right.” (Milne 262). Once Eeyore is finally rescued from the babbling brook, Piglet reaches out to feel his sopping fur and realizes how truly drenched he is. Although Piglet is genuinely concerned about him, Eeyore snaps off with, “somebody…explain to Piglet what happen[s] when you [have] been inside a river for quite a long time.” (Milne 265). One can only imagine the dramatic eyerolls which follow, as Eeyore’s ripostes “tickle as they prick.” (Tremper 43).
IN WHICH “CHRISTOPHER ROBIN IS GOING” (Milne 329)
Regretfully, even in the Hundred Acre Wood, time does not stand still or wait for Christopher Robin anymore. There are lectures to attend, Wars to fight, loved ones to bury, economies and homes to rebuild, and minds to heal. School has unavoidably entered the forest through the experiences of Christopher Robin and have trickled down through the whimsical companions who try to emulate him. Now, it is Christopher Robin who is seeking the refuge and respite found only among his beloved and fascinating friends, and he is especially pleased and content when the animals do come to visit him. (Connolly 1995). It is Christopher Robin who is experiencing overwhelming anxiety, unreasonable fears, and continual nervousness nowadays. It is he who needs to retreat with his troop, while being rescued from his troubles, instead of his toys searching out for his guidance.
Unfortunately for Christopher Robin, the substantial fear of losing his toys and days of imaginary play has become an overwhelming and profound reality. “For [Christopher Robin] knew now where [he] was going…and, being grown up, [he] did not run and jump and sparkle along as [he] used to when [he] was younger.” (Milne 256). He is hopelessly, yet fully aware that the unhurried and leisurely days of frolicking and doing “Nothing” are not as feasible as once before (Milne 342), and he will not be allowed to continue with his amusing charades and lighthearted pastimes. Now, there are obligations, responsibilities, and matters of the utmost importance to address and attend to. Time is no longer surreal or paused in motion, as it is now just a dreadful actuality.
Despite the fact that his escape to the Forest will vanish one day, and sorrowfully soon, Christopher Robin longs to embrace the coattails of his limited adolescence, which he is currently experiencing while simultaneously living in two, separate yet overlapping worlds. (Connolly 1995). Many readers, likewise, tend to weep as they read the final chapter of Winnie-the-Pooh, evoking in hindsight, their own mourning and loss of innocence, comparable to that of Christopher Robin, as they remember that they too have forgotten to return to their childhood Utopia. Unfortunately, Paula T. Connolly reiterates to one and all, that this day-to-day escapade is now only “a remembered rather than a present place…waiting only in dreams and memories.”
Recall also “the last pitiful sentence of the book, in which Milne asserts that in some sense Pooh and Christopher Robin ‘will always be playing,” (Crews 84)” (Wake 2009). This is actually a clever ruse designed to divert attention away from the harsh reality that Christopher Robin is “dashing away from us forever,” as acknowledged by Frederick Crews, Professor emeritus of English at the University of California, and Paul Wake. It is intended to console the Empath, but in retrospect, Christopher Robin’s promise to return to and never forget Pooh is woefully abandoned, consequently crippling the reader, and obviously the tossed-aside stuffed animals, to their core. Christopher Robin is halting all folly, and even the “Bear of Very Little Brain” comes to the heartbreaking realization that “Christopher Robin won’t tell [him] anymore,” so he will have to continue being faithful in his Knightly position of Valor, Valiance, and Honor, “without being told things.” (Milne 342).
Everything is now permanently dusted with a bittersweet poignancy as the reader recalls that there has never been, and never will be, a simpler time. There will be no more playing or doing Nothing, because frankly, “they don’t let you” (Milne 342) anymore. There are no “Poohsticks” drifting down the stream, being cheered on from the stuffed spectators, shouting from the sidelines, eager to see which twig will sprint out in the lead first. There will never be anymore small talk or “Sustaining Books” (Milne 328) or skipping along, singing songs and writings “POEMS” (Milne 329). Just a Silly Old Bear will ever exist, pondering things he does not completely comprehend, while gazing over the horizon in an Enchanted Place, without any concept of time and waiting for Christopher Robin to eventually surprise him.
But he will never reappear for Pooh Bear.
IN WHICH IT IS THE END
Milne returned readers and listeners of young and old to a nostalgic naivety with a sweet, sentimental simplicity – a time without famine and war, devastation, or death. While other period writers, such as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, capitalized on the complex and harsh societal distinctions and decadence resulting in the aftermath of the Great War, (Salter 2017), Milne used pleasing lyrical stories, sprinkled with sophisticated humor and delightful fantasies, to relieve the reader’s never-ending nightmares and nervousness. These tales brought an escape and deterrence from reality, governmental constraints, pressures from outside forces, and relief from even the most trivial matters, such as Kings and Queens and how to make a Suction Pump. (Milne 337-338). By telling of Winnie-the-Pooh’s grand adventures, as well as challenges along the way and within each character’s reflections, Milne established welfare, security, and comfort in a tranquil and controlled environment – one that was quieter, and not quite as chaotic as the rest of society.
Winnie-the-Pooh’s “loosening of the restrictions of childhood,” (Egoff 240) revealed to the world and taught all who dare to dream that doing Nothing with your closest Somebody was Everything. (Milne 336-337). Moreover, there is an everlasting and lingering poignancy which tenderly pulls at one’s heartstrings, simultaneously overwhelming, as Paul Wake clarifies, “both the child within the text and the implied reader.” The world wistfully witnesses one “Silly Old Bear,” who still sits patiently pondering and eagerly waiting for his best friend’s long-awaited and highly anticipated homecoming, in which Christopher Robin will regrettably never return. Somehow, though, the rest of the world is still clinging to the hope and promise suspended in time that, “it isn’t really Good-bye, because the Forest will always be there…and anybody who is Friendly with Bears can find it.” (Milne Contradiction).
Someone, go find Pooh Bear. He is waiting.
AA Milne A Signals Officer during WW1 From the Somme to Hundred Acre Wood. Site Developed by Sandra Hutchinson, Royal Signals Museum, www.royalsignalsmuseum.co.uk/a-a-milne/.
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