OverAnalyzing Winnie the Pooh

Any other adults out there who still love Winnie the Pooh? I imagine there are quite a few who are still charmed by its timeless humor and wisdom. But you know what’s better than gushing about a dearly beloved book from your childhood??? Over-analyzing it ad naseum!!!!

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Or is that just me??? Nah, I’m pretty sure other people are into that too. Which is why I have dug up an old college paper I wrote about Winnie the Pooh. Below is my overview of some of the crazy theories scholars have come up with about Milne’s characters. Some of them are pretty far fetched. Enjoy!

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Taking a Magnifying Glass to Pooh’s Stuffing by Tahlia Merrill

Deep in The Hundred Acre Woods, A.A. Milne’s beloved characters welcome readers to their simple, enchanting world. For over 80 years, Winnie the Pooh and his friends have delighted both children and adult readers with their adventures. Milne’s books have become classics and, while most of us read them purely for enjoyment, there have been many scholars who have done considerable literary analysis on Milne’s work. What follows is an examination of several lenses scholars have used to interpret the inner meaning of the Winnie the Pooh books.

Benjamin Hoff’s bestselling book The Tao of Pooh and its sequel, The Te of Piglet are undoubtedly two of the most famous interpretations of Milne’s stories. Hoff uses all the characters in Winnie-the-Pooh and House at Pooh Corner as illustrations of Eastern philosophy. Winnie the Pooh, he argues, is the perfect example of a western Taoist. He embodies the concept of “wu-wei”, which means “not doing”, or a way of doing that is effortless because it goes with the flow of nature and does not fight against it.

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In The Tao of Pooh, Hoff calls wu-wei “The Pooh Way” because Pooh is has “the ability to enjoy the simple and the quiet, the natural and the plain. Along with this comes the ability to do things spontaneously and have them work, even if it appears odd to others at times. As Piglet put it in Winnie-the-Pooh, ‘Pooh hasn’t much Brain, but he never comes to any harm. He does silly things and they turn out right’” .

Piglet, on the other hand, represents the Taoist concept of virtue, which is believed to be attained by “sensitivity, modesty, and smallness”. In both books, the other animals in the Hundred Acre Woods represent the flawed philosophies of our world. Owl is portrayed as a Confusionist who accumulates knowledge for the sake of appearing wise, Rabbit makes life unnecessarily complicated by constantly working, and Eeyore twists everything in life into a complaint. Tigger is contrasted with Piglet because Piglet has achieved harmony with the world by working within his limitations, but Tigger’s downfall is that he claims he can do anything and does not acknowledge his limitations.

It’s not just the Taoists who have tried to claim Pooh as their own, but also Christians. C. J. L. Culpepper believes that Milne can be grouped with the great writers of Christian literature: Spenser, Bunyan, and Milton. He says that Winnie-the-Pooh contains a plethora of allegorical elements, starting with the very first chapter where Pooh climbs the honey tree. Culpepper places Pooh as an Adam figure:

He conceives a passion for removing and eating something he finds upon it (the tree). With increasing pride in his ability to snatch the spoils without assistance, much less with official permission to touch this certain product, he climbs nearly to the top of the tree and–falls!…having landed sorrowfully in a gorse-bush (East of Eden), betakes himself directly back to the forbidden food with renewed lust. This time he is significantly black from head to toe, and is pursued and tormented by “the wrong sort of bees“, little avengers which, in bring to my mind Christian devils…

If Pooh represents Adam, then Christopher Robin is an easy choice for the character representing God. Culpepper believes this is because Christopher Robin not only has a position as an authority figure in the stories, but he also has a sort of omnipresence that allows him to both teach and rescue with timing akin to divine Providence. And lastly, while Hoff’s analysis of Milne’s work results in the character of Eeyore being cast as the ultimate villain, Culpepper’s analysis does the exact opposite, making a case for the pessimistic donkey being the Christ-figure of The Hundred Acre Woods. Eeyore, Culpepper believes, is “the Lowly One, the Despised, Acquainted with Grief”, whose journey follows in the steps of the biblical Jesus. Eeyore not only follows the Golden Rule, but also acts as savior for several of the characters. He gives up his thistles to Tigger, tries to save Roo from the stream, breaks Tigger’s fall from a tree, and even gives a speech at a farewell party reminiscent of the Last Supper.

 

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The fall of Adam???

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The Last Supper????

Not all Pooh philosophy, however, centers on religion. In her article “Milne’s Pooh Books: The Benevolent Forest” Anita Wilson discusses The Hundred Acre Woods as a model for the Utopian ideal. In this imaginary world, Christopher Robin is able to play the adult and rules over the forest animals with benevolence. There is no need for law in this world, since Christopher’s authority stems from affirmation and friendship rather than enforcement. There is no death in Pooh and danger is manifested in the mildest of forms. The bees are a mere nuisance, the Heffalumps are imagined, and hunger is only felt as a rumbly tummy. “The animals do no mimic the everyday aspects of human life such as working and spending money; their existence is emancipated from such requirements…” (Wilson). The outside world is unavoidable, because it is part of growing up. It means Christopher Robin has to go to school and leave the forest behind him.  But as Milne says, “the Forest will always be there … and anybody who is Friendly with Bears can find it” . Pooh’s utopian lifestyle isn’t compatible with the grownup world because its purity and innocence are impossible to achieve in our corrupted world. While the highest level of a childhood ideal is not possible, the world would be a better place if people reminded themselves from time to time of those ideals.

Pooh has not just been evaluated on a purely philosophical level, but also on a psychological one. Elliott Gose looks at Winnie-the-Pooh through a Freudian lens, seeing all of the forest animals as extensions of Christopher Robin’s psyche. Gose suggests that there are two ways to view Pooh’s position in the forest—both as a protagonist containing all three aspects of Freud’s three-part diagram of self (Id, Ego, Superego) and, as a single facet of the diagram (the Id), with the other characters acting in the other roles. According to Freud, the Id contains a person’s subconscious appetites and drives. The super-ego is the conscious force that criticizes the Id and tries to suppress it, which can be a good thing if the Id’s impulses are harmful. The Ego is the conscious force that seeks to mediate between the other two halves, trying to find a balance. Gose sees Pooh as representative of the Id because the driving force behind most of his actions is an appetite for honey. By this appetite constantly getting Pooh into trouble, Milne shows that he needs to learn how to tame his appetite instead of letting it control him. When he gets stuck after eating too much, Rabbit acts as the scolding voice of the super-ego and Christopher Robin finds a middle ground by being supportive of Pooh, but insisting that he cannot eat anything for a week. Christopher Robin is never the star of the stories, but he is important because his “strengths are implicitly emphasized by contrast with the protagonists’ relative lack of competence.” At the end of the book, all of the animals are invited to Pooh’s celebration party. All parts of Christopher Robin’s self are accepted: “Gloomy Eeyore, aggressive Rabbit, expressive Roo, competent Kanga, pontifical Owl, anxious Piglet, and a basically self-confident Pooh”. This, Gose explains, shows that when every facet of a person is integrated with the others, you get a balanced and complex whole that is what makes personal growth possible.

As one of the most beloved and long-lasting authors of children’s literature, it’s only natural that Milne’s work has come under close scrutiny. Some scholars make more grandiose claims than others, but what is important to see is the deep impact that Pooh has made on his readers. While most of the analyses surveyed in this paper are not compatible with one another and some may take offense at scholars putting meaning behind Milne’s words that the author clearly did not intend, instead of letting them ruffle our feathers, perhaps we should take our cue from our mutual friend the good-natured bear and receive the Owls and Rabbits of our own world with the same easygoing acceptance as Winnie the Pooh.

Sources:

  • Hoff, Benjamin. The Tao of Pooh. London: Egmont, 2003.
  • Hoff, Benjamin. The Te of Piglet. London: Mandarin, 1993.
  • Culpepper, C. J.L. “O Felix Culpa! The Sacramental Meaning of Winnie-the-Pooh.” The Pooh Perplex: a Freshman Casebook. By Frederick C. Crews.
  • Wilson, Anita. “Milne’s Pooh Books: The Benevolent Forest.” Touchstones: Reflections on the Best in Children’s Literature. Ed. Perry Nodelman.
  • Gose, Elliott “Id, Ego, and Self.” Mere Creatures: A Study of Modern Fantasy Tales for Children. Ed. Children’s Literature Review. 

 

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WriteOnCon 2011!

If you’ve been following my blog for a long time, you might remember WriteOnCon from last summer. It’s a perfect opportunity for those of you who wish you could go to a writing conference, but don’t have the money because it is 100% online and FREE! 2010 was its first year and it was so successful that it is back–bigger and better than ever!

And it’s starting this next week! The dates are August 16-18!

Just like live conferences, there will be agents, editors, and authors giving presentations, Q&As, and critiques. The curriculum is geared for kid lit writers, but I can guarantee there is still plenty to learn for writers of adult novels as well. This year, they even have an awesome query ninja event going on where literary agents sneak around the forums offering random critiques for writers who have posted their query letters.

What I find really cool is that many of these people were at the SCBWI conference (To only name a few: Alan Silberberg, Jay Asher, Steven Malk, Tina Wexler, Kelly Sonnack, and Lindsey Leavittgrew (who I’m pretty sure I shared a hotel shuttle with).

Hope to see you all there! Register here: http://writeoncon.com/

Glimmers, shards, and rays

I know I posted just a few days ago, but last week I bought a ticket to my first writing conference and I’m really excited about it!! It’s called the SCBWI summer conference (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and it goes from August 5-7 (http://www.scbwi.org). This is a huge investment for me–I’m paying $500, which isn’t even including the hotel room. That’s typical, though. But it means I had to save up for a really long time and choose which conference to go to VERY carefully.

I’m really looking forward to hanging out with other writers of children’s books at a fancy shmancy hotel and maybe meeting some editors and agents too. Oh, and also, the lineup of speakers is AMAZING! I will finally get to see John Green in person, who is not only an amazing young adult novelist, but I have watched him and his brother for years on youtube–go Nerdfighters! But wait, it gets better. Laurie Halse Anderson, Bruce Coville, Libba Bray, Mary Pope Osborne, and Paul Zelinsky (an illustrator) will all be there, plus many more! My goal this summer is to read at least one book by every author lined up to speak. Here’s a rundown on those I already am familiar with:

1. John Green = Humorous contemporary coming-of-age novels, usually with an intellectual twist (for example, in An Abundance of Katherines, the main character comes up with a mathematical formula to predict the outcome of relationships).

2. Laurie Halse Anderson = Riveting coming-of-age novels, often with darker themes such as teen anorexia and rape. Both Speak and Wintergirls are highly psychological and definite page turners.

3. Bruce Coville = Middle grade fantasy novelist from my hometown of Syracuse, NY! I loved his unicorn chronicles when I was younger and it’ll be great to hear from someone who writes in that genre.

4. Mary Pope Osborne = Oh, come on, we’ve all read The Magic Treehouse series, right? I devoured those books as a kid and they fueled my love of history and stories about time travel.

5. Paul Zelinsky = I fell in love with his work during my children’s lit class this year and even before I knew he was going to be at the conference, I had bought myself a personal copy of his version of Rapunzel. His fairy tale picture books are breathtakingly beautiful and reminiscent of the famous Renaissance painters.

6. Libba Bray = (most famous for A Great and Terrible Beauty). I have heard so many good things about her and she hangs out all the time with Shannon Hale (probably my #1 favorite author at the moment), so I am looking forward to reading her books!

So that’s what I’m looking forward to this summer! If by any chance someone reads this who is going to be at SCBWI, please comment and say “hi”! I’m excited, but nervous because it’s weird to be doing something like this all by myself. I’m hoping to make some connections, learn a bunch, and get some practice pitching my novel.

Alright, I have a paper to write (on Winnie the Pooh!!!!) so time to stop procrastinating 🙂