Monday, 21 May 2012

Winnie the Pooh

    We had a get-together tonight with Dan, Mon, Ronja, and all the Pleasses, for Amelia's ninth birthday.  It was a beaut night and we had a lot of fun. Sully's dancing was worth the entrance fee!

    Recently, I've been thinking about A A Milne, brought on by the fact that his property in England, the setting for the Christopher Robin stories, is on the market for around 2 million sterling (which seems to include no premium for fame).  Looking on Google for his writings, I was dismayed to find that it is almost impossible to avoid Disney and find references to his original works.

    Tonight, in discussion, I was more dismayed to find there is a school of thought that claims "Pooh" should not rhyme with "blue", but relates to the noise made blowing up a balloon.

    This post is to set the record straight.  On eBay you can buy any number of books of Winnie the Pooh adventures which have nothing 
to do with the original stories, and none of the illustrations relate remotely to the sketches by E H Shepard.

    A A Milne wrote two books, "Winnie the Pooh" (1926) and "The House at Pooh Corner" (1928) with illustrations by the Punch cartoonist E H Shepard who was working for Punch magazine when Milne was an associate editor.  Milne also published two books of poetry "When We Were Very Young" (1924) and "Now We Are Six" (1927) which relate to his son, Christopher Robin.

    After Milne's death in 1956 the rights to these works were sold by his estate to Disney, and apparently history has been re-written (manufactured?) since then.

    Based on my reading (and personal recollections), the blowing-up-balloon story to explain Pooh's name is either apocryphal or a Disney invention.  As I understand it, Winnie comes from Winnipeg, the name of a Canadian bear, and Pooh from a Christopher Robin name for a swan.

In "Winnie the Pooh" (1926), the writer says  

"But his arms were so stiff ... they stayed up straight in the air for more than a week, and whenever a fly came and settled on his nose he had to blow it off. And I think – but I am not sure – that that is why he is always called Pooh."

    But if that isn't sufficient to establish pronunciation, I have my own copy of "When We Were Very Young", dated 1931 (22nd edition), with a hand-written dedication dated 30/10/32.

    In the introduction, A A Milne says 

   "You will find some lines about a swan here, if you get as far as that, and I should have explained to you in the Note that Christopher Robin, who feeds this swan in the mornings, has given him the name "Pooh".  This is a very fine name for a swan, because, if you call him and he doesn't come (which is a thing swans are good at), then you can pretend that you were just saying "Pooh!" to show how little you wanted him.  Well, I should have told you that there are six cows who come down to Pooh's lake every afternoon to drink, and of course they say "Moo" as they come.  So I thought to myself one fine day, walking with my friend Christopher Robin, "Moo rhymes with Pooh!  Surely there is a bit of poetry to be got out of that?"  Well, then I began to think about the swan on his lake; and at first I thought how lucky it was that his name was Pooh; and then I didn't think about that any more…and the poem came quite differently from what I intended…and all I can say for it now is that, if it hadn't been for Christopher Robin, I shouldn't have written it; which, indeed, is all I can say for any of the others." 

    While it concerns me (who is into ebooks!) that children might miss out on the delight of the original texts and illustrations, it is even more concerning that Disney or whoever have the licence to distort and manipulate the originals as much as they like to make a buck, with no respect for the original author who produced a children's classic. 

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