Study Guide

The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh Cottleston Pie

By A. A. Milne

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Cottleston Pie

A Good Way Out of a Sticky Situation

Cottleston Pie only appears in the book once, but boy does it come in strong, as one of Pooh's most memorable hums. This particular Pooh song is inspired by Eeyore's confusing ramble about joy and fun and complaints about no one remembering his birthday. Pooh is no good at "riddles" so he sings instead.

Each stanza names a different animal's limitation (e.g. "A fish can't whistle and neither can I" [Winnie-the-Pooh.6.17]), followed by the refrain, "Ask me a riddle and I reply: / Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie". To be fair, this is pretty nonsensical. For a bear of very little brain, what do you expect? But people have gone crazy reading something deeper into this thing, and we at Shmoop can't help ourselves either.

Full disclosure: Shmoop is not the first to get stuck on the sweet intellectual taste of Cottleston Pie. Yes, it's true. Benjamin Hoff famously related it, along with many other portions of the Pooh books, to principles of Taoism.

At Shmoop, we think that the philosophical weight attached to Cottleston Pie extends beyond that specific doctrine. To begin with, Milne was never explicitly Taoist, though he did exhibit some tendencies to lean away from the dominant Christianity of his time and place. Religious views aside, this symbol can teach a little something about self-awareness.

Stuffed Bear, Know Thyself.

While Milne may very well have intended this to be a cute little song acknowledging Pooh's endearing dumbness, there is a subtle wisdom to it. This song shows that Pooh is aware of the things many of his fellow animals aren't able to do. He's also keenly aware of his own limitations, i.e. he's no good at riddles...he's not the sharpest tool in the shed.

Amazingly, Pooh is completely at peace with the acknowledgement of his own shortcomings. In fact, it seems he doesn't view them as shortcomings at all. Just like "a fly can't bird," he can't figure out a complicated problem. This isn't a failure, but rather the natural way of things. A fish whistling is a ridiculous expectation. A bear of very little brain understanding Eeyore's foggy metaphors? Not a chance. Thanks in part to the hype the song has gotten after the book's original publication, Cottleston Pie has come to represent just this kind of self-awareness and self-acceptance.

Know your place in the world, it seems to say. And if you don't quite fit in at the moment? No bother, just sing a verse of Cottleston Pie instead. You'll be happy either way. 

The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh Cottleston Pie Study Group

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