Study Guide

The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh Writing Style

By A. A. Milne

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Writing Style

Playful, Ironic

We dare you to play a game. Pick a sentence from Winnie-the-Pooh, any sentence, and choose sentences from any number of other books. Children's books, even. Do a blind reading test and we guarantee that 8 out of 10 players will correctly guess Milne's writing. That's because no one else writes like Milne.

Shhh: This is Just Between Us

Milne writes very intimately, addressing us readers as if we're friends or family members. And he surrenders to a complete suspension of disbelief when narrating his tales. In short, he immerses himself in the imaginative world of the Forest and treats all actions as if they actually happened.

Thus, his writing is often as playful as the characters themselves. He frequently comments on his own writing, mentioning the length of his sentences, or how his characters speak directly to him as if they were real.

Milne's narrative is loaded with dialogue, so much of the action and characterization is driven by what the animals say to each other. Take another look at the chapter in which Pooh gets stuck in Rabbit's door. As Pooh is pulled free, Milne writes

And for a long time Pooh only said 'Ow!'... / And 'Oh!'... / And then, all a sudden, he said 'Pop!' just as if a cork were coming out of a bottle. (Winnie-the-Pooh.2.75-77)

It's clear what's happening here. All his friends are pulling on Pooh's arms, and he stays stuck, Ow-ing and Oh-ing until finally he comes free in a spectacular surprise jack-in-the-box fashion. Of course, Milne doesn't actually tell us that any of this is happening. He tells us what Pooh says, and we infer from there.

In fact, in spite of all the dialogue, Milne tends to leave a lot unsaid. He uses nonsense words, fails to complete sentences, and sometimes writes entire conversations using only subject clauses, in which the characters aren't actually talking about anything or any object in particular. Our "Language and Communication" section in "Themes" has more on how this works. Needless to say—

Don't Forget to Look

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. We say a picture makes words a thousand times better. We'd like to take some time here to talk about the illustrations. The publisher labels them "decorations" on the cover, implying that the pictures are ornamental and don't really add much to the meaning of the book. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Shepard's drawings provided the image for generations of children's toys and TV series, so there's that. But when you look at the text itself, the illustrations provide a lot of information that adds to the experience of reading. Scholars like to say that the illustrations and the text interact with each other.

For example, in the first chapter of "Winnie-the-Pooh," Pooh hears a buzzing noise in paragraph 25. In 26, he sits down to ponder what it could be. Next, there's an illustration of bees, so the reader is told what the sound is long before Pooh ever figures it out. Paragraph 27 shows Pooh's deduction to determine there are bees. But we already know that.

Next is a depiction of Pooh looking up, presumably at the bees above him, but also at the paragraph that just outlined his logic. It's as if we're looking at Pooh watching his own thought process, and he's as much of an outsider to his own thoughts as we are. This parallels his self-talk—the way he speaks every step in the deductive process to himself in order to keep it straight.

Okay, we're geeking out a bit on the illustrations, but it's worth it. The pictures add to the dramatic irony, showing us Eeyore's tail on Owl's door long before the characters learn about it in the text (Winnie-the-Pooh.4.56-57). They show us how the footprints that Pooh and Piglet follow are actually their own (Winnie-the-Pooh.3.11-14). And they emphasize how cold Eeyore gets without a house by showing him buried progressively deeper in the snow, when the text makes no mention of such an event (House.1.41-55).

Shepard brings to life some of the most heartwarming relationships in the book. We see Christopher Robin and Pooh literally supporting each other as CR puts on his big boots (Winnie-the-Pooh.8.11-12). Not to mention countless depictions of Pooh and Piglet holding hands, an image which is by now the stuff of countless tear-jerking birthday cards (Those were happy tears, we promise. It gets us every time). 

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