Friday, January 6, 2017

Winnie-the-Pooh

.... I am on record somewhere saying that Winnie-the-Pooh — the 90th anniversary of whose publication passed last October — and its sequel The House at Pooh Corner are better than anything by Faulkner or Joyce. Returning to them once again, I find myself standing by that judgment; indeed, I feel inclined, if anything, to double down and say that they are among the ten or so finest novels in our language.

It is important to recall that Milne, like Dickens, the novelist whom in many ways he most resembles, did not sit down to write books from beginning to end but rather published chapters that appeared in serial form and were meant to be self-contained. ....

Some adult Pooh readers will be surprised by what they have not remembered or were never acquainted with in the first place because they have seen only the old Disney film (the less said about the computer-animated sequel and the television series, the better). The books are, for one thing, uproariously funny. Most of the dialogue is worthy of P.G. Wodehouse, Milne’s great contemporary, with whom he had an unfortunate falling-out during the Second World War:
“Hallo, Rabbit,” [Pooh] said, “is that you?”
“Let’s pretend it isn’t,” said Rabbit, “and see what happens.”
“I’ve got a message for you.”
“I’ll give it to him.”
“We’re all going on an Expedition with Christopher Robin.”
“What is it when we’re on it?”
“A sort of boat, I think,” said Pooh.
Others will be put off by unexpected hints of melancholy. Milne’s trees loom in the background as a kind of reminder of the adult world with its attendant horrors. It is difficult to think of a novel with a more memorable ending than The House at Pooh Corner (Great Expectations comes to mind); it is almost impossible to think of one that is sadder. In “an enchanted place on the very top of the Forest,” after confusing him with talk about “People called Kings and Queens and something called Factors,” Christopher Robin dubs our hero “Sir Pooh de Bear, bravest of all my Knights,” and begs his friend never to forget him while tacitly begging his forgiveness in the — well-nigh inevitable — event that he will leave his animal friends forever. ....“Wherever they go,” Milne tells us in his final paragraph, “and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.” ....
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