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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Examining the Hundred Acre Wood With Winnie-The-Pooh

I think if I were to go back in time and re-examine each year that I spent in school, third grade would probably be one of those years in which I remember quite fondly.  It doesn’t rank as my favourite year, but I’d say it would be in the Top 3.

In third grade, my teacher was named Mr. Porter, and as far back as I can remember, he was a teacher that I liked.  He had some interesting art projects, his gym classes were mostly ones that I liked because he made sure that everybody participated despite athletic ability, and on Remembrance Day, he would play the bagpipes in real Scottish attire, complete with the traditional Scottish kilt. 

I wouldn’t say that it was all fun and games in his class.  I was known for being quite the chatterbox in third grade, and was probably booted out in the hallway countless times for ‘disrupting the class’.  You know, come to think of it, I think some of those hallway visits were set up by some kids in my class who found it great fun to watch someone else get in trouble by the teacher.  But, I’m not a paranoid person, so we shall never speak of this again.

The point was that I have more positive memories of third grade than negative ones.  In third grade, Mr. Porter made sure that we all had library cards so that we could leave the school to walk to the Public Library every Thursday to check out a few books each week.  I still have the library card from third grade, and have used it ever since...although considering that the last date on the card reads as August 9, 2002, I’m guessing that I’m going to have to renew it if I expect to use it again.
If memory serves me, third grade was the year that I invited most of the boys in my class to my 9th birthday party so we could watch the ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ movie at the movie theater.  Come to think of it, I think that entire year, I was obsessed with the Ninja Turtles, and would often write and illustrate my own Ninja Turtle comic books so that the kids in the class could read them.

(Yes...even at the tender age of nine, I had been bitten by the writing bug.)
I think one of the things I liked best about third grade were the projects that we had to do based on books that we studied in class.  I already talked about how one of the books we read in the third grade was Mordecai Richler’s ‘Jacob Two-Two Meets The Hooded Fang’, and how much I loved it.

That wasn’t the only book we read in class though.
Today’s blog topic is a book that was written in the 1920s about a bear and the many adventures he had in his forest home.  And if you click on the video below, you can see how the title character was created.

Yes, today’s blog entry is the A.A. Milne classic, Winnie-the-Pooh, released in 1926.  A book that has been translated into several languages, has sold millions of copies worldwide, and spawned a sequel, 1928’s “The House At Pooh Corner”

It was also a book that I was first introduced to in third grade.  My class even went to the town arts center to watch a stage performance of Winnie-the-Pooh put on by a local theatre group.

And of course, everyone has likely seen the number of Disney adaptations of the book.  Whether it was the motion pictures, the direct-to-video films, the live action series “Welcome To Pooh Corner”, or the Disney cartoon series, Winnie-the-Pooh was one popular bear.
The Heritage moment video that I posted earlier in this blog entry sort of explains the reason behind the bear’s unusual name.  As you have seen, the bear was named after a real life bear seen at the London Zoo during that time.  It was a Canadian Black Bear who had the name of Winnie (which was named after the Canadian city of Winnipeg, Manitoba).  A.A. Milne would frequently take his young son to the zoo to see the bear, and the boy loved the bear so much that he decided to name his beloved teddy bear after Winnie.  Today, you can see the bear on display at the New York Public Library.

Oh, and the name of A.A. Milne’s boy?  Christopher Robin Milne.

Christopher Robin, as you know by reading the book, was one of the main characters in the book.  And Christopher Robin Milne was responsible for naming other characters that appeared in the book as well, taking the names from various toys that he had played with.  These included Tigger, Piglet, Kanga, and Roo, in case you were interested in knowing.
As for how the ‘Pooh’ in Winnie-the-Pooh came about, well, the answer came about during the first chapter of the novel.

“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.”
I’ll let you interpret that however you like.

The one thing I find wonderful about the book was that the setting was based on a real-life place.
That place was Ashdown Forest, situated south of London.  In Christopher Milne’s autobiography, he went into great detail about how each weekend, he and his family would drive down to the family’s country home to spend time together.  A lot of the features of the forest were used to illustrate Winnie-the-Pooh’s home.  For instance, the “Hundred Acre Wood” was inspired by the real-life “Five Hundred Acre Wood”.  The section of the forest known as “Gill’s Lap” became the fictional “Galleon’s Leap”.  And Christopher Robin’s “Enchanted Place” was based on a clump of trees located on Gill’s Lap.

Further evidence of the influence of Ashdown Forest in the book ‘Winnie-the-Pooh can be seen in the illustrations provided by artist E.H. Shepard.  Shepard took the features of the real life Ashdown Forest and incorporated them into the pictures he did of the landscape.  It has also been said that if one were to take all of the illustrations that appeared in the book, and compared them to real-life locations of Ashdown Forest, the similarities would be striking.

Of course, Winnie-the-Pooh was our main character of the book.  A bear that lived in a house bearing the name Mr. Sanders, Winnie-the-Pooh loved honey, and often did everything in his power to get his fill of honey.  If I remember correctly, he borrowed a blue balloon from Christopher Robin to fly up to the tree tops so he could grab a giant beehive filled with sweet, delicious honey.  While the plan was resourceful, it wasn’t very successful.
Neither was his plan to visit his friend, Rabbit.  After eating every bit of honey in Rabbit’s house (and, while we’re on the subject, why would a rabbit have honey in his house in the first place?), he proceeds to get stuck through the door because he ate too much.

But that was part of the charm and fun of Winnie-the-Pooh.  How he innocently ended up getting caught in some of the strangest situations, and the methods he took to try and get out of these situations. 
At least Winnie-the-Pooh had a great group of friends on his side.

Christopher Robin was Winnie’s only human friend.  He helped Winnie out of some very sticky situations throughout the book, and always had a kind word to say about everyone.

There was Piglet, a small pig named after one of Christopher Milne’s toys.  He was probably the closest friend that Winnie-the-Pooh had, and lived in a “very grand house in the middle of a beech tree”.  He liked to hunt Heffalumps, his favourite food was the ‘haycorn’, and ended up trapped by a flood in the first book.

Next is Eeyore, the donkey that never smiles.  With his monotone voice, and gloomy, depressing outlook on life, it seems hard to believe that he and Winnie share a close bond.  Eeyore’s other main distinguishing feature is his detachable tail, accented by a bright pink bow.  He is one of the few characters who can write.  He lives in the southeastern area of the Hundred Acre Wood known as “Eeyore’s Gloomy Place: Rather Boggy And Sad”.  He seems to have negative opinions towards most of the animals that live in the forest, and his favourite food is thistles.

Then we have the mother/son kangaroo duo known as Kanga and Roo. 
Kanga is the only female character to appear in the two Winnie-the-Pooh books.  She is kind-hearted, and extremely devoted to Roo.  She is constantly looking out for Roo, making sure he gets his medicine for strength, and making sure that Roo stays out of trouble.  She ends up serving as a motherly figure to Winnie-the-Pooh and all of his friends, and her pocket is big enough for both Roo and Piglet to ride inside.

Roo is the smallest animal in the book, even smaller than Piglet.  Some of his adventures in the story include being ‘kidnapped’ by Rabbit, going with Piglet on an expedition to the North Pole, and getting stuck in a tree with Tigger.  He also takes the medicine that Kanga gives him, although he doesn’t really like it very much.

Next, we have Rabbit, who was one of only two characters who were not named after one of Christopher Milne’s toys.  Rabbit lives in a house in the northern area of the Hundred Acre Wood and sees himself as being a wonderful leader, even though his plans don’t always go off as planned.  Rabbit is also quite wary of newcomers.  He was initially cold towards Kanga and Roo when they were introduced in the first book, and also showed similar feelings towards Tigger in the second book, but as he got to know them, he welcomed them into his life with open arms.  He’s more or less a dependable friend to the animals of the forest, though his patience does get severely tested.

Owl lives in a tree (referred to as ‘The Chestnuts’) in the heart of the Hundred Acre Wood.  Widely regarded as the wisest creature in the whole forest, Owl loves to offer advice to the other creatures, whether they want it or not.  He can spell his name “Wol”, can write the word ‘Tuesday’, and wished Pooh a ‘Hipy Papy Bthuthdth Thuthda Bthuthdy.’

Lastly, we have Tigger, the striped tiger who bounces on his tail.  He isn’t introduced until the second book of the series, but when we do meet him, he arrives with a bang.  After sampling every possible food to eat for breakfast, Tigger finds that his favourite food is Roo’s medicine!  Tigger forms such a strong bond with Roo that Kanga actually looks at Tigger as another one of her children!
Quite the motley crew of characters, huh?

Yet, when you put them all together, you have a group that gets along well with each other.
Personality wise, they could not be more different.  But none of that mattered to the group.  They all liked and respected each other very much.  If they did get into a conflict, they managed to resolve it fairly quickly.

And, you know, I think that’s why I have such a fondness for Winnie-the-Pooh.  It’s a classic tale of friendship at its finest.
I’ll admit right now that I wished that I had a group of friends in third grade who I was really close to in the same way that Winnie-the-Pooh was close to his friends.  I wish I had a Tigger who could teach me how to bounce.  I wish I had a Piglet who I could go on expeditions to the North Pole with.  I wish Owl could wish me a hipy papy bt...well, you get the idea.

Come to think of it, that sounds kind of nice right now, matter of fact.

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