Posted by: Mark Nielsen | March 26, 2008

II. In Which a Search Is Organdized, and Pooh Nearly Meets the Mickey Mouse

“Winnie-the-Pooh woke up suddenly in the middle of the night and listened. Then he got out of bed, and lit his candle, and stumped across the room to see if anybody was trying to get into his honey-cupboard, and they weren’t, so he stumped back again, blew out his candle, and got into bed. Then he heard the noise again.”

(The House at Pooh Corner, opening paragraph of Chapter II.)

Just look at that paragraph. (I wish I could cite a verse, but they have not been numbered…) Such terrific, whimsical, subtly humourous prose. This passage shows several of the reasons I really enjoy A.A. Milne’s style in the two Winnie-the-Pooh books. That first sentence is a familiar moment of fear and curiosity, the late-night waking moment, a compelling way to open the chapter. Then Pooh lights his candle, a nod to the rustic and timeless quality of the Hundred Acre Wood. (What would we do if, for example, Pooh “switched on his halogen lamp”? … or “grabbed for his flashlight, and a baseball bat”? ) Then Pooh “stumped” across the room. Because a cute, rotund, toddler-like bear does not walk, he stumps. Now the sentence starts wobbling and meandering –”running on” as we English Grammar Nazis are fond of saying — as he completes his survey of the one-room house (and the key focal point here, the honey cupboard), then goes back to bed. I especially like the efficient, funny, matter-of-fact phrase “and they weren’t”. It’s like a small pivot point around which the whole paragraph revolves. 

Lastly, keeping us right there in the room, all senses heightened by a mild adrenaline rush, Milne introduces “the noise”.  It’s not panic-inducing. It’s not a scream, or a growl, or the rattle of a snake’s tail. It’s vague enough to be potentially safe, maybe nothing but a cricket scurrying across a piece of paper. At first, it’s just “the noise”. But that’s what builds the tension, folks: the vagueness, the not knowing. Alfred Hitchcock couldn’t have done it any better.

The noise, as those who have read the book or seen the first film (The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh) will already have figured out, turns out to be Tigger, who has just arrived in the Hundred Acre Wood. Yet because Tigger is the type who commands so much of our attention, this is precisely why we shall make no further mention of him today, for we do not wish to encourage him. Poor Tigger.

I believe I said yesterday that today I would go into all my complaints and cheers for the Disney versions of these characters and situations. (Speaking of yesterday, I fixed the chopped-off comic strip from yesterday’s post. Check it for one more joke you missed yesterday.)

Unfortunately, I have to change the plan. For one thing, I want to re-watch a few parts of Many Adventures later today (along with the last few movies, which broke away from Milne’s stories) before I go flying off the handle. For another thing, I’m out of time this morning, having used it all up by raving about Milne’s artful writing. And unlike Owl – and sometimes Rabbit – I don’t want to just go rambling on, enjoying the sound of my own voice, running off at the mouth about unnecessary particulars when everyone is ready to move on to the doing of the thing.

So the Dreaded Mickey Mouse shall have to wait until tomorrow. (See how I used the more British-sounding “shall” instead of “will”? Aren’t I adorable when I am badly mimicking one of my idols, A.A. Milne?… No? Oh. Sorry.)


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