Friday, December 31, 2010

"Lucky we know the Forest so well, or we might get lost"

The World of Pooh: The Complete Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner (Pooh Original Edition)I sometimes wish there were no movies based on great children’s literature. The movies in and of themselves may be fine, but I hate when the movies become substitutes for the books. So much good material is lost when that happens.

Take Winnie-the-Pooh. My four year-old announced last week that she doesn’t like Rabbit because he doesn’t believe in celebrating Easter. Me saying, “Honey, that’s not in the book,” is no argument at all, because she saw it in a movie. But our current read-aloud is The World of Pooh: The Complete Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, and I’m hoping she will absorb enough of it to know there’s way more to Rabbit than the DVD reveals. Actually, I’m hoping we can just erase most of the detritus the DVD left behind.

Last night we read the chapter titled, “In Which Pooh is Unbounced.” It begins with Rabbit’s absolutely horrible plan to take Tigger to the top of the Forest and lose him there, leave him overnight, and then rescue him, in hopes of unbouncing him. Because he’s gotten entirely too Bouncy, you see. As Rabbit says, “Because he’ll be a Humble Tigger. Because he’ll be a Sad Tigger, a Melancholy Tigger, a Small and Sorry Tigger, and Oh-Rabbit-I-am-glad-to-see-you Tigger. That’s why.”

Should I stop here to tell you how amazing A. A. Milne is? Do I need to tell you how good he is at seeing and illustrating human nature? How Rabbit is a character who can exhibit downright despicable behavior and yet somehow at the end of the story you are still able to love him? No, I probably shouldn’t do that and interrupt the story, because that would be bad writing. Much too didactic. How about if I tell you that if you haven’t read this book, whether you have children or not, (or if you have children, whether they are too old or too young for it,) please read this book! Watching Disney versions of it is not a fair substitute! Too preachy, huh? Back to the story, then.

They manage to lose Tigger, or at least leave him alone, and he promptly goes home to play with Roo. Rabbit, on the other hand, has a little more trouble.

“’Lucky we know the Forest so well, or we might get lost,’ said Rabbit half an hour later, and he gave the careless laugh which you give when you know the Forest so well you can’t get lost.”
I read sentences like that to my kids and things start bubbling under the surface of my soul. I think of pride and arrogance, and the all-too-familiar human tendency to want to squash what is different from oneself. While I continue reading the story out loud, there is this rich under-tapestry of thoughts, images, impressions, insights being woven in my heart, and the whole time I’m thinking, “Are my children hearing this? Oh, I hope they aren’t missing this!” Have you had this experience? We talk about things we read, and I ask questions and try to point a few things out, but having that feeling inside, experiencing that under-story, gaining understanding—those things happen because of the literature. I figure the more I expose my kids, and the more experience they get, the more that will happen for them, too.

It's my understanding that A. A. Milne was frustrated by how his books for children overshadowed all his other writing. I’ve only read his four children’s books. But I consider it literature for myself, too, as much as anything I’ve read that was written for adults. 

Maybe some great classic children's literature has been saved from obscurity by movie-adaptations.  Maybe it is a necessary part of culture to respond to great works and retell the stories in new ways.  I can't argue with those goals.  But at the same time, I fear that something can be lost in the process.  So, okay, you've seen the movie.  But will you read the book?


  1. Oh yes! I get so much from reading books to my children! Sometimes I wonder if we waste too much time reading, but I truly think reading (good literature) is what helps us to understand life--and to understand ourselves.

    There is so much richness just in this little bit you shared--thank you!

  2. There's always that worry that we're doing too much or not enough, isn't there? I agree with you, though--I don't think reading (good literature):) can ever be a waste of time!

  3. Ha, ha, love the smile with the (good literature)

    BTW, thanks for expanding my vocabulary: I had to look up detritus to see what it meant! ;)

  4. Beautiful post and AMEN! I make my kids "read the book" before they can watch the movie but there have been some I wish we just skipped the movie altogether. Case in point, we all LOVE the book Tale of Despereaux. It illustrates the pain of betrayal and the power of forgiveness among other topics. The movie was a terrible waste and lost the beauty of the book entirely. We'll never watch it again.

  5. "Lost the beauty of the book"--that's a really good way to put it. I've had that experience with movies, too. I try to keep in mind that the movie HAS to be a different thing than the book, but still...

    I think you just inspired our next read-aloud, by the way. Thank you!

  6. Karen-
    How timely! A friend just lent us today (!) one of the Pooh cartoon DVDs. I have never seen any and E. (who has not heard the books yet) was intrigued. So glad I read your post before we popped it in. I plan to hold out for the books on this one and keep a pure experience of the characters!

    Both Pooh books are among S's favorites - we have read them so many times I can scarcely believe it, given that he is 5! Frequent references show up in his play (bouncing and unbouncing being one!) - it is such a joy to behold. I wish more people discovered these books but I can see that they are a bit awkward to read aloud, especially at first.

    Have you read Charlotte's web aloud recently? Another great discovery for us! I'm sure as a young reader I appreciated it for the wonderful story...but as an adult, wow! The writing and observations are extraordinary!

  7. Amy, I haven't read Charlotte's Web recently! Sounds like it should be on our short list, though. That experience of coming back to a children's book as an adult and discovering it's even better than you had thought is a pretty cool one.

    I adore the language in Winnie-the-Pooh; I think it adds to the humor. However, it probably does take some getting used to. I love that the book shows up in S' play--what a wonderfully rich thing to draw on!


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