Every Christmas I haul out my old Winnie-the-Pooh story books written by A.A. Milne and travel down memory lane as I reread several of my favourites. We lived in Regina in the late 1940’s and there, at Christmas time, my dad and I would sit on our living room chesterfield and read Christopher Robin stories.
Milne originally named Christopher Robin’s stuffed bear, Edward Bear, but Christopher liked calling it Winnie-ther’-Pooh, but couldn’t be bothered to say that every time he talked to the bear, so he just said Pooh and that name stuck.
I, too, had a stuffed bear and I named him Pooh. My mother sewed some clothes for my Pooh, similar to those that Winnie the Pooh wore in the books, when he wore anything at all. That bear of mine was loved a lot and not much was left of it when I moved on to other interests like model trains.
A few years ago we were looking through the array of unique shops in the Inglewood area and came across one that sold many ceramic collections of caricatures and animals that have been in movies. Amongst the collections there were the characters from the Disney Winnie-the-Pooh movies including Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger, Kanga, and Owl. I was surprised that they did not stir up any memories. What I finally figured out was that these Disney-designed characters did not represent the images I had in my mind. What I remember are the Ernest J. Shepard pen and ink drawings that A.A. Milne had in his original books, which were printed back in the 1920’s.
When I came home from that shopping trip, I pulled out my A.A. Milne books again and was immediately taken in by those older sketches of the characters in the stories. They are more crude than the Disney characters, but they invoke my memories of Pooh and his friends.
E.J. Shepard’s drawings of Winnie-the-Pooh.
Disney version of Winnie the Pooh
This got me thinking about all the transitions that occur from generation to generation. Each generation will remember different things from their childhood as they age. While some may continue to read A.A. Milne stories to their kids, the present-day competition for memories with all the characters that are in the animated shows, versus something like the original Winnie the Pooh story characters, is overwhelming. I have no idea what childhood story characters will remain in my grandchildren’s minds when they reach fifty years old.
A.A. Milne’s writing, however, is unique. It is definitely related to life in England, but it is quirky, fun to read, and, I think, for the most part, timeless. Even adults seem to enjoy reading the stories. My Aunt Marg, who was in university in Saskatoon in the 1920’s, used to tell me about reading A.A. Milne. The Pooh stories were being published for the first time then and evidently she and her friends at the university read them all. She told me that each week they had one of Pooh’s Hummms that they all would recite to each other for fun. These Hummms were thoughts that Pooh had. They were mostly nonsensical, but some were thoughtful.
I think there is something about A.A. Milne’s writing that will remain popular forever. I’ll be rereading my favourite stories and looking at Shepard’s drawings again this Christmas. I’ll be remembering good Christmases in the past with my parents as well as those nights when I read A.A. Milne stories to my young boys.
I did ask my older grandchildren, both boys and girls, who or what they remember from stories they were told when they were young. I even expanded that to characters from movies or videos they may have seen. They didn’t have any specifics, although one felt connected with Peter from the Narnia Tales and another has a fond remembrance of the animals in Good Night Moon.
To satisfy my curiosity, I also asked some older friends and acquaintances about their memories of characters from stories that their parents read to them when they were very young. I learned, much to my surprise, that many didn’t remember having stories read to them by their parents. However, those that did remember said they had good feelings about those times.
As a closing, here is one Pooh’s thoughtful Hummms.
“Some people care too much. I think it's called love.”
A nice thought, from bear or human.
Merry Christmas to you all and best wishes during this special season.
If, for some inexplicable reason, you want to know why Christopher Robin called his bear Pooh rather than Edward, you’ll need to read the introduction to the book When We Were Very Young which is named ‘Just Before We Begin’, also a chapter of the same book called ‘Teddy Bear’ in which Pooh meets the King of France, and finally, chapter 1 of the book Winnie-the-Pooh. All these are told using Christopher Robin’s logic, so when you finish reading these you may still not really understand why Edward Bear is called Pooh.