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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Charming Note #2: To Shannon Hale

I’m a few days behind in mailing this note off because my Hunger Games post distracted me. But I have now written my letter and will send it off tomorrow.

Shannon Hale

This charming note is going to young adult author Shannon Hale who I think gets the award for my current favorite author. I started reading Shannon’s books in high school and have been a devoted fan ever since. I don’t usually gush over style, but every sentence Shannon writes feels like a sweep of a calligraphy brush. Sometimes an author’s style can smother her characters, but Shannon’s lyrical words gives her characters wings. When I read Jane Eyre for the first time, I thought, “Wow, Charlotte Bronte writes like a 19th century Shannon Hale!” Some books you tear through, others you nibble at bit by bit. I always glide (or maybe waltz) through her books. It’s smooth and effortless.

Also, when I read her books, I can sense Shannon’s great affection for her characters. She has no problem with throwing plenty of conflict at them, but at the end of the day, you can just tell that she dearly loves even the most flawed of them. I can just sense her special motherly relationship with them.

Shannon is a regular blogger on her website: Squeetus.com and after following her through several book releases, three babies, and a movie deal for Austenland, I almost feel like I know her! I also read her husband Dean’s blog because he writes these twisted and morbidly funny micro-stories.

Because I feel like I know a lot about Shannon as a person and not just as an “About The Author” blurb, it made writing to her much easier. I tried to communicate in a page, how much I appreciate all the above.

For those of you not familiar with Shannon’s work, here’s what she’s written:

1. Books of Bayern Quartet: Started as a standalone novel Goose Girl, which was a fairy tale retelling. The characters and the world worked so well, she continued the series without needing any fairy tale-ness to keep it going strong. The setup kind of reminds me of Tamora Pierce’s Circle of Magic series.

The first three Books of Bayern

2. Princess Academy: I remember expecting this book to be saccharine and cliched, but that is the last thing it is! I’m not sure I can explain why it’s such a special book because there’s some intangible quality to Shannon’s writing that makes it so winsome. If her book was a singer, Simon Cowell would say it had star quality or maybe the X-Factor. It’s a perfect harmony of character, plot, setting, and tone. That’s the best description I can give.

 

 

3. Book of a Thousand Days: I almost said it was a retelling of Scheherezade’s 1001 Nights, but then I checked and found out that it’s actually a retelling of the little known Grimm’s Tale  “Maid Maleen.” It’s written as a diary of a girl shut in a tower for seven years as a maid to the princess. Like all of Shannon’s books, it’s beautifully written.

4. Austenland: VERY different than Shannon’s other books. This is about a modern woman who wins a trip to an full-immersion Jane Austen-themed resort, complete with actors playing all the characters. This is probably my least favorite book of the lot, but it’s becoming a movie, which has been exciting to hear about.

5. Rapunzel’s Revenge and Calamity Jack: Graphic novels written by both Shannon and her hilarious husband and set in the wild west. Plenty of fun to be had here!

6. The Actor and the Housewife: Shannon’s first and only book marketed for adults, not teens. I…ummm, haven’t read it yet, but if any of you have, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it!

After reading so many dystopians lately, I kind of feel like giving Goose Girl a re-read just to warm up my soul a bit.

Alright, that’s it! This weekend, I’ll write to Vivian Vande Velde!

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/

Part 2: LA SCBWI 2011 Play-by-Play

SATURDAY: Another early morning. Although it was very sad that John Green couldn’t be at the conference, they found one heck of a replacement–the one and only Judy Blume! She and conference organizer Lin Oliver sat down on stage and had a wonderful Q&A session and we were all impressed to hear her story. She truly is a class act.

David Small gave a heart wrenching presentation about his childhood and a heart warming talk about his first book signing. I am very ashamed to say that I had never heard of him until I signed up for the conference, but the fault is my ignorance, not his lack of talent as a writer and illustrator, that’s for sure! His latest bookStitches is a coming-of-age graphic novel/memoir that many of us wanted to buy from the bookstore after his speech, but it sold out very quickly. I’ll be buying the book soon, though! Here’s a link to it: http://stitches.davidsmallbooks.com/

So many more workshops and presentations that I can’t go into or else I’d never finish this post. Met so many lovely people. Then at the end of the evening, we had a big pajama party in the courtyard. I have to say that even though I just graduated from college, these publishing people party harder than I’ve ever seen before! I’ll never forget the sight of 1,300 authors/illustrators/agents/editors screaming the words to “I Kissed a Girl” at the top of their lungs while jumping up and down to the music. I’ll be posting a video of the conference on my youtube channel soon (see right column of links) so if you want to see some of the outrageous costumes, go there.

Me and my roommates at the pj party

SUNDAY: Listened to a panel of agents (who came on stage in their bathrobes in protest of the early morning) talk about an assortment of children’s book topics. For some reason agent Barry Goldblatt’s workshop reminded me of a more outspoken version of Artie from Warehouse 13. Maybe it was his talk about his authors being his family (literally in the case of his wife Libba Bray) and I could see Shannon Hale and Holly Black having a blast calling him up on a Farnsworth asking for advice on artifacts.

We had a very fancy lunch and the star of the show was the dessert. I think nearly everyone took pictures of the little chocolate 40th anniversary books, but just in case you haven’t seen a picture already, here’s one:

Laurie Halse Anderson gave a closing speech and almost convinced me that cloudy cold Syracuse has some sort of writing magic and I should move back since there is a long list of writers living there. Then she went onto the main theme of her truly inspirational speech, urging us to “Dare the Universe.” This may sound trite, but I’m not big on motivational speeches and there are very few that I would ever sincerely call inspiring. However, this one really touched me. I seriously was tearing up at the end of it. If anyone finds a recording or a transcript of it, let me know, because I will seriously frame that speech.

My signed copy of Wintergirls ❤

That night, I joined a huge posse of conference peeps at The Pink Taco, a local watering hole. At 9 pm, agent Mary Kole had a crazy Pitchathon for anyone gutsy enough to try. She and the guys from Boys Don’t Read took over a table right in the center of the busy restaurant and let authors sit down and take 30 seconds or less to pitch their book to her. Mary warned everyone ahead of time that she was putting on her meanest grizzly bear personality and was intentionally going to give everyone a hard time. She roared taunts at us and loudly drilled writers with questions.

And you know what? I actually gave it a try!

You might think this sounds terrifying, but she wasn’t really being that serious and there was a lot of laughing going on. Now, while this was still pretty gutsy of me, I didn’t actually pitch my novel because I knew it was a little too personal to me. So I pitched my Little Mermaid short story, which is one of the simplest concepts to explain to someone. Literally: “It’s a young adult Little Mermaid retelling where the main character is Ophelia from Hamlet.” DONE.

It went pretty well all things considered (except for the part when I thought she said “Does the witch die?” and she’d actually said “Does the bitch die?”) and I went away feeling proud of myself for being fearless.

This was the only picture I could find of the pitch session. In reality, Mary was pounding the table a lot more than she is here. 🙂

MONDAY: This wasn’t a conference day for me because the Monday Intensives had cost extra money. But my flight didn’t leave until 3:30 that afternoon, so I was able to mingle a bit. And I’m really glad I did because I met some great people while waiting in the lobby, including Jenn Klein Kompos, who went to Westmont, so she must be cool. We’re going to talk about Great and Terrible Beauty sometime since we didn’t have much time in the lobby before her shuttle came.

Then my college friend and ex-roomie Rose drove up and we hung out for lunch. After a weekend full of strangers, seeing her familiar face was a relief. It was also really nice not to have to ask her what kind of stuff she writes, since I already know!

And then I flew home and gave my couch a great big hug. I was happy to see my bed too, but it’s not quite the same relationship.

So that’s the diary/story version of the conference, but I didn’t want to lose all the gems of the “What I Learned”, so believe it or not, I’ll be writing ANOTHER post that will be a list of stuff I learned. And it will be a lot shorter than what I’ve written so far.

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 🙂

Writing Conferences

I’ve been looking into summer writing conferences this summer and getting both excited and bummed. It’s exciting because there are so many in California and it would be a great opportunity to meet people who love books as much as I do. Conferences give writers a chance to go to workshops, meet agents/admired authors/other writers, get critiques on your work, and have a week full of fun. I’ve never been to one, but I feel like it’s the thing to do if you intend to be an author someday soon, which I do. I’ve known for a long time that there’s a big writer’s conference every year right here in Santa Barbara. Ray Bradbury always attends and it would certainly make me feel confident going to my first conference in my own city.

I’ve also just learned about the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference in LA, which sounds super exciting because Gail Carson Levine is a keynote speaker ❤ ❤ <3…probably one of my favorite authors of all time (Ella Enchanted and many others if you don’t recognize the name). http://www.scbwi.org/Conference.aspx?Con=6 . Some of the agents I’m currently querying will be there, too! I’m hoping to go to one of these conferences next summer, but there’s just one problem:

They are REALLY expensive! For a college student who can barely afford rent and groceries, these conferences are impossible for me to afford on my own. They are around $600 to attend and that does NOT include your hotel room and meals! Remember, it is a whole week, and it’s totally worth it, but still!

Which is why I am so stoked to spread the word about this “little” thing called Write On Con. It’s an online writing conference that gives you most of the perks of a live in-person conference, but it’s FREE. All the better for me, it’s focused on kid-lit! For Aug. 10-12 there will be agents offering critiques, authors doing live chats, and lots of making new writing friends. If you’re a writer, you should check it out at: WriteOnCon.com because you have NOTHING to lose by signing up! I’ve already joined and started saying hello to people on the forums. ~sigh~ Don’t you just love technology?