Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Notes on the reading of Pooh

I have never been a fan of the Disney oeuvre, but it is my considered opinion that they have done a great disservice to the public and serious damage to the imaginations of small fry everywhere, with their conception of A.A. Milne's characters. I have a fondness for Pooh (as who does not?) and I loathe almost everything about the Pooh cartoons -- the simplification of Ernest Shepard's charming illustrations, the reduction of the stories from a form that necessitates adult interaction with a child to a smear of bright colors and noise, the dumbing-down of Milne's delightful prose -- but most of all, the voices. Pooh's querulous hesitancy, Piglet's effeminate stutter, Eeyore's moronic drone, Tigger's hyperactive lisp -- no more!

As I've been reading Pooh to the girls for the past several years, I've come up with a set of voices that seem more in line with the characters as written. Pooh, to me, is the quintessential John Bull country squire -- hale, gruff, full of bluster, none too bright but with a certain internal logic that may or may not connect with reality. This Pooh has no truck with apologetic character in the cartoons.

Piglet strikes me as having more than a touch of Bertie Wooster in him. He seems the type of useless young gentleman that one might kicking around a fictional English club (probably the Drones). He may stutter from indignation or surprise, but not because he's a frightened baby. (For the record, Piglet is rarely if ever written as stuttering.)

My model for Eeyore is the sarcastic, sharp, working-class intellectual J.G. Quiggin from A Dance to the Music of Time, or (for those who can't seem to find the time to finish all twelve volumes of that massive work) Barnes, the Captain's bitter valet in Gosford Park. (Coincidentally, Adrian Scarborough, the actor who plays Barnes, also plays Quiggin in the BBC's adaptation of Dance to the Music of Time.) Eeyore may be dour and self-absorbed, but he's not slow. Take his meditation on the letter A:
"I'm telling you. People come and go in the Forest, and they say, 'It's only Eeore, so it doesn't count.' They walk to and fro saying, 'Ha ha!' But do they know anything about A? They don't. It's just three sticks to them. But to the Educated -- mark this, little Piglet -- to the Educated, not meaning Poohs and Piglets, it's a great and glorious A. Not," he added, "just something that anybody can come and breathe on."
--The House at Pooh Corner
Tigger's energy and enthusiam make him the perfect candidate for an Australian voice. Think Steve Irwin. Think Crocodile Dundee.

Rabbit is thrifty, sensible, educated but not pretentious. I haven't quite pegged his voice yet, but I think he's Scottish.

Owl is not nearly as smart as Rabbit, but he has gravitas and a certain pomposity. I imagine him posing in a courtroom wearing a large powdered wig and saying "M'Lud". He is slow and grave and rather convinced by his own posturing. His voice is deep and measured and mellifluous.

Darwin and I are divided on the issue of Kanga and Roo. He was raised listening to a Kanga with a Southern accent. That doesn't sound right to me. I haven't placed Kanga in my own mind yet, so I don't have a distinctive voice for her.

One thing is for certain: the Disney cartoons have no place in my house. They may be innocuous entertainment for the young'uns, but one should never make the mistake of confusing blandness with quality.


Anonymous said...

I somehow couldn't get through Pooh (the literary one) as a child, but read the entire thing to Big Girl when she was about 4 or so. It's time to pull that big book down and read the whole thing again - this time to both girls.

I cried - to the point that I had to stop reading to get myself under control again - when Christopher Robin went to school. And an English friend of mine made it worse when she told me that it wasn't just school, but BOARDING SCHOOL, that Christopher was going to. So he'd really and truly not be with Pooh any more. How very sad.

I'll pull that big book down today, and I'll have to alternate it with my National Review Bedtime Treasury book. (Which, if you don't have, you can now order with Volume 2 - just out - for a really good price. The stories are awesome, the chapters, short, and the kids absolutely love the characters. "Please, one more chapter," seems to be standard when we read it.)

Pro Ecclesia said...

Disney completely bastardized the Pooh franchise. I'll never forgive them for that.

The illustrations by E.H. Shepard (what is known today as "Classic Pooh") are so much better than the Disney animators' "improvements" that it isn't even funny.

Disney also bastardized Anderson family favorite The Wind in the Willows with its horrid little tale "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride". Again, Shepard's illustrations of Willows is head and shoulders above the Disney studio caricatures.

When we were in England last September, we were privileged to visit the Wind in the Willows permanent exhibit at The Museum of River and Rowing in Henley-on-Thames. The entire exhibit is dedicated to the Willows artwork of E.H. Shepard. I wonder if there is a similar museum exhibit somewhere showcasing Shepard's Pooh artwork.

Anonymous said...

The Pooh recording that Darwin grew up with was put out by Caedmon and was done by Carol Channing. Actually, I think Kanga's accent had only the very mildest touch of the South to it. Her intonation was Motherly rather than regional.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

I believe Disney bought all the rights to the Pooh material, including artwork, about ten years ago. So I assume any exhibition of the artwork would have to be licensed by The Mouse.

Dorian Speed said...

You know, just when I was becoming resigned to the Omnipresence of Disney Magic, you have to go and post this.

I was actually looking on Amazon yesterday for a good "REAL" Pooh treasury type-book, since I didn't read the stories as a child. Do you have any recommendations? I figure I'll have to go the used-book route to find an authentic Pooh collection.

Or maybe I'll go to Wal-Mart and buy a Disney Friends Pooh storytime fun book with battery-operated buttons, just to be ornery.

mrsdarwin said...

Here's the one we bought: The Complete Tales & Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh. It's big and a nip unwieldy -- sometimes I wish we had the individual collections -- but it's a great resource.

Or maybe I'll go to Wal-Mart and buy a Disney Friends Pooh storytime fun book with battery-operated buttons, just to be ornery.

Now you know you'd only be hurting yourself, especially after hearing those buttons pushed for the umpteenth time.

mrsdarwin said...

Let's try that link again:
The Complete Tales & Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh

Pro Ecclesia said...

We have The Complete Tales & Poems, too - I highly recommend it.

Also, do yourself a favor and purchase this.

Darwin said...

And if you don't like a monolithic Pooh edition, there's always the boxed set.

(No, we don't get kickbacks from Amazon, but we should!)

Dorian Speed said...

That set (The Complete Tales and Poems) is what I was eyeing, but I wasn't sure if it was the real deal or not. It looked a little colorized. I think they've done that with the original Thomas the Tank Engine stories (I know you're no fan of Thomas, but we have a one-track mind around here GET IT? TRACK??? HA HA HA HA HA). You have to TRACK (snicker) down one of the older books to see the original illustrations - the reprints have "new and improved" brighter colors, etc.

Bernard Brandt said...

Actually, I'm looking forward to the time that both Milne's and Shepard's works will be in the public domain. As Milne died in 1956, at least according to British law (which extends copyright to 50 years after the death of an author), I suppose that copyright has expired on that one. Shepard, however, died in 1976, and so, alas, we have another 20 years before that will be in the public domain.

But wait! If someone (other than Disney) manages to get the pictorial rights of Shepard, we could probably get someone to do a proper animated version of Pooh. I'm thinking line drawings in the style of Murikami/Wolf, but faithful to Shepard's images.

And in googling up Shepard, it appears that he donated most of his drawings to the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the rest to Surrey University. I dare say that somebody could suggest to Her Royal Highness that the BBC, the Museum and the University get together to collaborate in a proper animated version. Let's see the Mouse try to stop the Crown!

Sir Galen of Bristol said...

My little ones love the Disney cartoons, but they best love having the books read to them. Dorian they are still in print, and you can find them at any major bookstore, and most minor ones.

My 3-year-old daughter, who adores the cartoons, best loves to be read the first chapter of the first book at bedtime. "The bees!" she'll demand. The two of them can almost recite that chapter from memory.

Darwin said...

A number of the big Pooh collections do indeed have tinted versions of the original line drawings. I suppose if I were a true, true purist I would get more worked up about this, but I guess I make the excuse that it's not like tinting drawings and engravings is a new thing by any stretch.

One solution (and a cheap one!) is of course to look for an old set. Copies from 30-40 years ago will definately only have the black and white drawings.

Amazon also has this edition (of just the Pooh stories, not the poems and such) which claims to be a "Pooh original edition" and the one drawing from the inside that they show (Pooh being dragged downstairs: bump, bump, bump) is indeed black and white. I don't know if all the illustrations are, however.

Though I'd be annoyed if they swapped Shepard out entirely, I guess I don't mind the colorized versions so long as the text is left alone. What I won't stand for is the Disney re-tellings of Pooh and additional stories.

Pro Ecclesia said...

Shepard colorized his own drawings for later editions.

Anonymous said...

I grew up with "The World of Pooh" and loved it. There are colored illustrations, but they are all Shepards and (I think) colored by Shepard.

Unfortunately I was never able to get my kids to read the book for themselves, though they did love having it read to them.