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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).