When We Were Very Young became a bestseller, but it wasn’t until the publication of Winnie-the-Pooh in 1926, and The House at Pooh Corner in 1928, that Mr Edward Bear, as Pooh was first called, rose to fame. Over the years, Milne’s books have been translated into many languages, including Latin (Winnie ille Pu is the only book in Latin to have made the New York Times Best Seller List), and since publication, they have never been out of print.
The popularity of the Winnie-the-Pooh series is down to the characters, and the way in which Milne depicts them. The language he uses gives each character its own personality, its own voice, and its own set of unique traits, which have, I believe, ensured the lasting legacy of Winnie-the-Pooh.
As Christopher Robin’s favourite toy, Winnie-the-Pooh is the protagonist of the series, and the subject of many of Milne’s poems. He is charmingly dim-witted, and refers to himself as ‘a Bear of Very Little Brain’, and if he situation allows, ‘a Bear of No Brain at All’. That said, he is aware that the other characters are more intelligent, and often thinks of them in terms of what they know and the words they use.
An interesting example is Owl, the elder of the forest, who is often consulted by Pooh in difficult situations because he is wise and ‘able to read and write and can spell his own name WOL’. He also has two signs outside his door, which Pooh finds deeply impressive, that read ‘PLES RING IF AN RNSER IS REQIRD’ and ‘PLEZ CNOKE IF AN RNSR IS NOT REQID’. When Pooh consults Owl to find out what the opposite of an introduction is, Owl tells Pooh that ‘the Opposite of an Introduction [is] a Contradiction,’ which Pooh assumes to be correct as Owl is ‘very good at long words’. In a child’s point of view, Owl is an appealing character because even a young reader could figure out that he is not as wise as he pretends to be.
Rabbit, on the other hand, has a quick wit and is never afraid to say what he is really thinking. In an exchange between Pooh and Rabbit in The House at Pooh Corner, Pooh asks, ‘Hello Rabbit, is that you?’, to which Rabbit responds, ‘Let’s pretend it isn’t. . . and see what happens.’ He also has a great feeling of self-importance, as displayed when he considers the other characters in the forest.
Christopher Robin depends on Me. He’s fond of Pooh and Piglet and Eeyore, and so am I, but they haven’t any Brain. Not to notice. And he respects Owl, because you can’t help respecting anybody who can spell TUESDAY, even if he doesn’t spell it right; but spelling isn’t everything. There are days when spelling Tuesday simply doesn’t count. And Kanga is too busy looking after Roo, and Roo is too young and Tigger is too bouncy to be any help, so there’s really nobody but Me, when you come to look at it.
But when we look at Rabbit through Pooh’s eyes, we get a very different view of him. As with Owl, Pooh thinks of Rabbit in terms of the language he uses, and how complex his vocabulary is. Pooh thinks to himself that he likes talking to Rabbit because ‘he uses short, easy words, like “What about lunch?” and “Help yourself, Pooh.”’
Piglet, Pooh’s side-kick, thinks in much the same way as Pooh. He lives in constant fear of predators coming to attack him, as he is aware of his small size, and often makes comments like ‘It’s hard to be brave when you’re only a Very Small Animal’. But Piglet is also fiercely proud of his background, and what he lacks in physical size, he feels he makes up for in other ways. An amusing example is the sign outside Piglet’s house.
Next to his house was a piece of broken board which had: “TRESPASSERS W” on it. When Christopher Robin asked the Piglet what it meant, he said it was his grandfather’s name, and had been in the family for a long time. Christopher Robin said you couldn’t be called Trespassers W, and Piglet said yes, you could, because his grandfather was, and it was short for Trespassers Will, which was short for Trespassers William.