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I think it’s fascinating that a children’s story that is more than 90 years old can be so popular and beloved to this day, becoming an important part of children’s reading history around the world. For this paper, I will be analyzing A.A. Milne children’s book Winnie the Pooh (1926), and how fantasy and nonsense in children’s literature are both used as an effective mode of writing to engage the attention of the inexperienced reader and how both encourage the use of creativity and imagination.
A.A. Milne’s first collection of poems in 1924 introduced arguably the most famous bear in the world, Winnie-the-Pooh and two years later in 1926 introduced Pooh’s friend’s Piglet, Tigger, Rabbit, Kanga, and Roo. These stories were something completely new. In the Hundred Acre Wood, a young boy named Christopher Robin accompanies his toys that have come to life through the power of imagination on adventures. He lives in a world without adults and his toys can talk and walk and who struggled with reading and writing just like him. The leading character, Winnie-the-Pooh, a teddy bear that makes up for his naivete with his playful and thoughtful inherent features. Regardless of Winnie-the-Pooh is a “bear of very little brain” as A.A. Milne said, Pooh, visits his friends, takes consideration of everyone, and often goes out of his way to help his friends. “The simplicity of the prose and illustrations served to heighten the beautiful and philosophical undertones, which were key not only to their appeal but to their endurance”. The plot was perfect for beginning readers and the characters and their experiences, like history has seen, has been adored by many generations.
The popularity of the adventures of Winnie the Pooh and his friends lay in the relatability of the character to every child who read or listened to the stories. We all know someone who reminds of a Piglet, a shy timid friend, or an Eeyore a gloomy friend, or a Winnie-the-Pooh, someone who finds light and joy in every situation. These stories encourage the reader and listener to use their creativity and imagination. A.A. Milne’s use of puns, linguistic inventions, comical sounding words, and witty names given to characters and places in fiction are full of meaning and are not only amusing to children but also allow children to understand the symbolic meaning of words. For instance, much of the humor in Winnie-the-Pooh is based on problems with words. “But he didn’t feel very brave [Piglet], for the word which was really jiggeting about in his brain was ‘Heffalumps’. What was a Heffalump like? Was it Fierce? Did it come when you whistled? And how did it come?”. The creative employment of language gives the children the power of expression. By challenging the causal rules of written language, children learn to be critically-thinking individuals. A.A. Milnes adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh. A.A. Milne’s stories are written with a tenderness and with such simple dictation that has catapulted these stories to international bestsellers.
One of the most important facets of children’s literature is that children’s minds are engaged. I think A.A. Milnes’s use of fantasy with a mixture of nonsense is important because it is part of his appeal to child readers and listeners. He is able to capture the wide-eyed innocence and thrills of children; by the imposing of human characteristics on his animal characters. It makes it easier for all children to identify with the characters, and thus more able to learn from their interactions with each other. Together with the innocence of an imagined world and E.S. Shepards deliberately simple and approachable illustrations, “he [along with Milne] was trying to convey a sense of innocence and simplicity, a world that was uncomplicated and where the issues and problems were resolved in a humorous and non-threatening way’ in contrast to the real world’ of the time” (Johnson p.).
This was different from children’s literature of the time. Children’s literature has remained constant in that it has always been the aim to direct children’s moral character education. Children’s literature was full of stories of discipline, “almost exclusively, the first written stories for children featured themes of religion and then instructions in polite conduct (Johnson p.6). Much attention went to a child’s moral development like the fables from long ago. “There work featured flat characters and a plot that consisted of a child at fault receiving moral correction” (p.8). A.A. Milne stories bear little resemblance to the books written for children a hundred years ago. The adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends provided children the same enjoyment and understanding as does literature for adults. Because children have restricted knowledge of the world A.A. Milne, like many other great children’s authors, “are very mindful of this by tailoring stories to suffice with vocabulary discrepancies and inadequacies as well as sometimes waning attention span”.
Furthermore, A.A. Milne’s adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh were innovative because it was in contrast to the progressive plots of the time. “Progressive plots where the central conflict poses as the catalysts for action, episodic plots deal more with incidents related to a central character”. Winnie-the-Pooh entertained his audience with different shenanigans in every story. This was intuned with children’s ability to maintain mental focus. A.A. Milne’s stories about Pooh and his friends did not require children to know the details of a prior story, this way the child could easily follow along with the storyline. Whatever problem there were Pooh and his friend would find a solution to it before the end of the story. This unique writing style helped captivate children around the world and set A.A. Milnes’s work apart. Never having been out of print since their initial publication, a testament to the Winnie-the-Pooh’s enduring popularity.
To begin to understand nonsense in children’s literature, an accurate definition of nonsense must be given. “Nonsense is a noun with two meanings; an idea, something said or written, or behavior that is silly or stupid, language that cannot be understood because it does not mean anything”. This definition although accurate cannot fully define children’s literary nonsense. This is because the aim of nonsense in children’s literature is not to to be absurd per se, it does mean something. “Nonsense is ‘meta-sense’ and that ‘nonsense’ text is not explicit parodic, they turn parody into a theory of serious literature. Meaning that children literacy nonsense in all its simplicity has actually a meaning it wants to convey. Nonsense in a way encourages children to use their creativity and imagination to see the things around us as something which is not fixed. That ideas are that every human being sees things differently depending on the situation, the background, and the knowledge of the world the reader/listener has. The narratives that can attract the attention of children with their imagination are those which can express most of the fears of the unconscious and explorer the mind. For example, A.A. Milne writes the following:
But he couldn’t sleep [Pooh]. The more he tried to sleep the more he couldn’t. He tried counting sheep, which is sometimes a great way of going to sleep, and, as that was no good, he tried counting Heffalumps. And that was worse. Because every Heffalump that he counted was making straight for a pot of Pooh’s honey, and eating it all. For some minutes he lay there miserably, but when the five hundred and eighty-seventh Heffalump was licking its jaws and saying to itself, ‘Very good honey this, I don’t know when I’ve tasted better’, Pooh could bear it no longer. He jumped out of bed, he ran out of the house, and he ran straight to the Six Pine Trees. The sun was still in bed, but there was a lightness in the sky over the Hundred Acre Wood which seemed to show that it was waking up and would soon be kicking off the clothes.
Literary nonsense is a genre that has been unjustly treated. It is not simply a tool used as a playful thing that helps human beings escape the reality of their life. Nonsense can be a great tool not only for children but also for adults, to understand what is happening around them and inside their minds. “It is a playful way to explore the most threatening aspects of the human personality. And it can be a great source of help and answer to deal with some of the problems that we, humans, face during our lives”. A.A. Milne’s adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh his friends Piglet, Tigger, Rabbit, Kanga, and Roo are not only a source of amusement, but these stories carry deep meaning in its text and drawings. Although Shepard’s illustrations are toys, the text takes us on imaginary adventures in the woods like real animals and people do and even though they are toys they have the same human emotions and weaknesses like we do. A.A. Milne’s stories feel familiar to us instantly and allow us to feel comfortable to explore our imaginations.
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