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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Slinging Pooh in all directions: how every Winnie the Pooh meme you’ll ever read is rubbish

Author A.A. Milne has an endless amount of inspirational sayings in Winnie the Pooh that are sure to touch your heart.

Nina Tan, “Which Winnie The Pooh Quote Should You Live By?”,, April 19, 2015

Here's a phrase you all must memorize: "In the printed word is where truth lies. "

Karl Guers and Carter Crocker, “Pooh’s Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin,” 1997

I grew up on Winnie the Pooh.

I adore the stories. Until a few years ago, I still owned a copy.

At the same time, I recognize that it has been generations since anyone actually read the stories as written.  Their author, Alan Alexander Milne (1882-1956), seemed unable to fail at any form of writing. He wrote for Punch. He wrote plays. He wrote a detective novel:  just the one, but that was enough. There are still lists around that reckon it one of the best written in the 20th century in English.

As he wrote them, the Pooh stories remain enchanting.  

Well, for most.  The journalist and critic Dorothy Parker comma for example, came to a parting of the ways with Mr. Milne over them:

The first Winnie-the-Pooh episode had appeared on Christmas Eve of 1925 in the Evening News, and was radio broadcast throughout Britain on Christmas Day. Over the next three years, Milne's children's books -- When We Were Very Young, Winnie-the Pooh, Now We Are Six -- had dominated the best seller lists. Parker had panned Now We Are Six the previous year, even while acknowledging that "to speak against Mr. Milne puts one immediately in the ranks of those who set fire to orphanages."

And it is that sentiment Mrs. Parker identified nearly a century ago that has made such a vast and endless market for Pooh memorabilia, decade in and decade out.

It is also what made A.A. Milne, his son Christopher Robin (who said his father “‘had filched from me my good name and had left me with the empty fame of being his son’), and illustrator E.H. Shepard come to despise the very works that had made them rich and famous.  They simply swallowed up the reality, and all the other work and life experience, of every human they touched.

So while I love Winnie the Pooh, he and his pals are just characters in stories.

They are not life lessons, as Benjamin Hoff wheedled in his 1982 and 1992 discourses on Chinese philosophy, The Tao of Pooh (1982) and The Te of Piglet (1992), which spent 49 and 59 weeks, respectively, on The New York Times bestseller list.

So it caught me on my back foot, the other day, when a longtime friend reposted an article from an inspirational blather site,

The thing irked me from word one.

How? Let me count the ways.

First, there are no citations. Feel good memes on social media fly so thick and fast nowadays that they are like a shitstorm running for eternity through one of the circles of hell in Dante's Inferno.

All it has to do is seem like something the author, or character, would have written, or said.  Once set free, a quotation meme is like a new law review article:  someone else cites it, and then someone sites that article, and after a while citations accrete, like barnacles on a boat, to the original thought, however small its merits may be, and garb it in the shimmering garments of Widespread Usage.

By then, it has to be true.  And that is why, when you try to verify a Winnie the Pooh quote, it is a heavy lift.  The quotation pages of extend as far as the eye can see,  a veritable eastern North Carolina hog farm reservoir of bullshit, all taken as true simply because the citation says “A. A. Milne.”

Indeed, researching this article, I have found numerous instances in which someone tried to verify a Winnie the Pooh quote, only to have dozens of helpful people give them citations to Goodreads which, if clicked, simply read “A. A. Milne.”

“I saw it on the internet. It has to be true.”

But if you have read any Winnie the Pooh stories, these quotes all out to get your antenna quivering with suspicion from the get-go.  Can you really see Christopher Robin and Pooh having conversations about love with an ellipsis in them? Really?

Do the quotations scan like a Winnie the Pooh story?  Or do they sound like late-twentieth-century TV oatmeal?

There are not, in fact, endless stores of wisdom in the Winnie the Pooh stories. All his Pooh works amounted in total to 70,000 words – the equivalent of a small paperback.

In 1930, Stephen Slesinger, an American literary agent, bought the US and Canadian merchandising and television rights to Winnie the Pooh from A.A. Milne for a $1,000 advance and two-thirds of Pooh’s subsequent earnings. By November 1931 – having redrawn Pooh and given him his distinctive red T-shirt – Slesinger had a £25 million-a-year business with dolls, records, board games and puzzles. In 1961, Disney acquired the rights from Slesinger’s widow Shirley for a film and associated merchandise. She was supposed to get two per cent of their worldwide revenues. In 1991, she sued Disney, saying it had not accurately reported the earnings and owed her £100 million.

Christopher Robin, who died in 1996, sold his share of his father’s residuals to the Royal Literary Fund, using the proceeds to set up a trust for his disabled daughter. She sued Disney in 2002, claiming a 1983 deal with her father and the Slesingers cheated her trust of royalties. The Slesingers, who by 2002 were claiming $700 million owed, joined in. The stakers were considerable: Pooh revenue was generating $3-6 billion of the Mouse House’s $25 billion annual revenues.

The case eventually settled in 2010. Disney kept the brand, and the never-ending challenge of finding more ways to exploit it. As a New York Times article noted in 2011,

"Branding experts say aging character franchises are among the most difficult to keep alive because they require continually walking a tightrope. 'With Winnie the Pooh, Disney is going to continue to struggle with the tension of remaining relevant to kids versus maintaining a love-mark brand that parents trust,' said Matt Britton, a founder of Mr. Youth, a New York marketing firm."

How far was/is Disney willing to go? As far as the market will bear.

The Times article chronicles a corporate reboot of Pooh arising from a 2007 clanger:

Hollywood’s formula for freshening up old cartoon characters like Alvin and the Chipmunks and the Smurfs goes something like this: Reformulate them in 3-D, give them a skateboard and sunglasses, add some dance moves and inundate children and their nostalgic parents with advertising.

And it has worked with one very notable exception. Winnie the Pooh.

In 2007, the Walt Disney Company followed the blueprint, abandoning the character’s gentle hand-drawn look in favor of slick Pixar-style animation. Pooh got a scooter and a superhero outfit. Christopher Robin was jettisoned in favor of a 6-year-old tomboy named Darby.

As it turned out, nobody wanted to see Eeyore breakdance.

So Disney is re-introducing the classic Pooh characters across its empire, most notably in a new movie that arrives in theaters on Friday. It is a bid to capture a generation more accustomed to the special effects wizardry of Harry Potter, the smart-alecky knowingness of “Kung Fu Panda” and the fast pace of “Cars 2.” Because the bear with the rumbly tummy has traditionally been one of the first characters parents introduce to their children, Disney is reverting to what it does best — pushing the nostalgia button.

Out of A.A. Milne’s slender oeuvre- When We Were Very Young (1924, poetry, which first mentions Winnie-the-Pooh); Winnie the Pooh (1926); Now we Are Six (1927) (more children's poetry); and The House at Pooh Corner (1928)- Disney has spun nearly seven hours of feature film footage since 1966, never mind direct to video cartoons and TV amusements without number. It is a virtual certainty, then that almost every Milne quote you see- or ever will- is bullshit.

That’s how, of these twenty nuggets of Pooh profundity, thirteen are fakes, five a dumbed-down paraphrasings, and one- exactly one- is real.

Oh, and one is ripped off from a comic strip.

1.  Piglet: “’How do you spell ’love’?” Pooh: ’”You don’t spell feel it.”

Let’s recap: The Winnie the Pooh stories are about a boy of about five years, who hasn’t started school yet, and his stuffed teddy bear, and their imaginary friends, the best of whom can scarcely read. All of them except one are male.  The exception is Kanga, and even she was originally written as a male character.

Here are two examples from The House at Pooh Corner (1928) that put the lie to this high-falutin’ fluff-passing-as-wisdom quoted above:

And he respects Owl, because you can't help respecting anyone who can spell Tuesday, even if he doesn't spell it right; but spelling isn't everything. There are days when spelling Tuesday simply doesn't count." (Chapter Five - Rabbit, speaking of Christopher Robin).

Owl took Christopher Robin's notice from Rabbit and looked at it nervously. He could spell his own name WOL, and he could spell Tuesday so that you knew it wasn't Wednesday, and he could read quite comfortably when you weren't looking over his shoulder and saying "Well?" all the time, and he could— (Chapter Five).

The literal record aside, does this first quote really sound like a five-year-old?  Or any one of a set of animals notorious for falling into traps of their own devising?

2.  You are braver than you believe. Stronger than you seem. And smarter than you think.

Claimed source: The House at Pooh Corner.  This quote is sometimes parceled out into bits, but the full quote is this:

“If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.”

Actual source:

“So where did the Facebook favourite come from? A clever writer at Disney, of course, in a 1997 direct-to-video called Pooh’s Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin. Don’t rush out to buy this forgotten classic – Rotten Tomatoes gives it a rating of 38%, and frankly it sounds ghastly.

“But here’s the point. A.A. Milne was a writer who knew that it’s more powerful to show than to tell. He shows us two young friends trying to find their way through a thicket of unexpected emotion, using the simple words of small children. The Disney writer, afraid we might miss the point of their undying friendship, takes out a verbal sledge hammer and hits us over the head with it.

“Which one works best? Well, the Disney piece is ideal for Facebook—sentiment neatly tied up with a bow. But Milne’s words make me cry every time I read them.”
Pat Morden, “A.A. Milne Would Never Write That!”, March 3, 2016.

The unutterably stupid script of The Search for Christopher Robin is here. That the writer of this quote used to do Star Wars novels is plain. You can feel its origins as a disturbance in The Force.

3.  The things that make me different are the things that make me.

That doesn’t even make sense, which is why it only pulls up three citations in a Google search. Prove to me it’s real.

4.  ’If the person you are talking to does not appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in this ear.’

"Pooh", said Piglet reproachfully, "Haven't you been listening to what Rabbit was saying"? "I listened, but I had a small piece of fluff in my ear. Could you say it again, please, Rabbit?" (as an excuse for not paying attention).

5.  If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart. I’ll stay there forever.

This is a clip from the quote cited as #2, above:

Claimed source: The House at Pooh Corner (1928).  This quote is sometimes parceled out into bits, but the full quote is this:

“If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.”

6.  As soon as I saw you, I knew an adventure was going to happen.

Actual source: Winnie-the-Pooh, p. 58:

As soon as he saw the Big Boots, Pooh knew that an Adventure was going to happen.

7.  Sometimes the smallest things take the most room in your heart.

Another Mouse Quote from Disney Words on Twitter. See also #16, below.

8.  Some people care too much. I think it’s called love.

Actual source: The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, (TV series, 1989-91). Again: does a five-year-old boy talk like this with Imaginary Friends?

9.  Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.

This, too, has been stripped of its context and refined into the purest pablum. Here is the original, from The House at Pooh Corner, Chapter 6- "In which Pooh Invents a New Game and Eeyore Joins In." It starts:

"By the time it came to the edge of the Forest, the stream had grown up, so that it was almost a river, and being grown-up, it did not run and jump and sparkle along as it used to do when it was younger, but moved more slowly. For it knew now where it was going, and it said to itself, "There is no hurry. We shall get there some day."

10. If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you.

Claimed source: The House at Pooh Corner.

Actual source: Disney mines the hell out of the slender lode of Pooh stories. Pat Morden (see #2 and #5, above), traced this one to that damned awful 1997 video, too:

Now, I’ve always felt that this quote didn’t feel quite right – as the words of A.A. Milne, or for that matter, of six-year-old Christopher Robin. Yet when I Googled it, site after site confirmed the attribution.

Finally I took out the book from which it is supposed to have been taken, The House at Pooh Corner. At the end of the book, Christopher Robin realizes he is growing up and says goodbye to his animal friends.

Here is the actual and utterly brilliant valedictory exchange between Christopher Robin and Pooh, as written by Milne.

“I’m not going to do Nothing any more.”

“Never again?”

“Well, not so much. They don’t let you.”

Pooh waited for him to go on, but he was silent again.

“Yes, Christopher Robin,” said Pooh helpfully.

“Pooh, when I’m – you know – when I’m not doing Nothing, will you come up here sometimes?”

“Just Me?”

“Yes, Pooh.”

“Will you be here too?”

“Yes Pooh, I will be, really. I promise I will be, Pooh.”

“That’s good,” said Pooh.

“Pooh, promise me you won’t forget about me, ever. Not even when I’m a hundred.”

Pooh thought for a little.

“How old shall I be then?”


Pooh nodded.

“I promise,” he said.

Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put out a hand and felt for Pooh’s paw.

“Pooh,” said Christopher Robin earnestly, “if I – if I’m not quite –“ he stopped and tried again – “Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won’t you?”

“Understand what?”

“Oh, nothing.” He laughed and jumped to his feet. “Come on!”

“Where?” said Pooh.

“Anywhere,” said Christopher Robin.”

Once again, apply the reality test: Does a boy- even one on the verge of outgrowing his teddy bear-  really wish that he will die before the stuffed animal? Or is it the other way around? One of the hallmarks of the Pooh bullshit industry is that you have no idea who said these quotes. You have no idea of their context.  They have been boiled down to pure treacle,  the better to be made into key fob mottos, sweatshirt logos, and any damn other things that will sell.

11.  Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them.

Actual source: "Pooh's grand adventure: the search for Christopher Robin" (1997). This quotation hasn't been found in any original work of A. A. Milne, just in Disney's version of his books.”

“This quote is perfect for Eeyore. He is always depressed and lethargic, but it takes true friends to see the sweet and kind ‘person’ he is.”

12.  I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart for so long. If we’re in each other’s dreams, we can be together all the time.

13.  You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.

Claimed source: Winnie-the-Pooh.

Actual source: Jessica Hui,, January 31, 2010:

It's in Pooh's Little Instruction Book on page 52, but I think the actual instance comes from The House At Pooh Corner when Eeyore finds the Wolery.

Jessica Hui is wrong. Here is the relevant chapter. It ain’t there.

14. Promise me you’ll never forget me because if I thought you would, I’d never leave.

Claimed source: The House at Pooh Corner.

Actual source: The 1997 video again. See #2, 5, and 10, above. And what the hell does that sentence mean?

15.  A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.

This quote is actually genuine. It has simply been stripped of its context. Where now we sigh and reach for the hand of our beloved, in Winnie-the-Pooh (1926),
it meant exactly the opposite:

‘“A little Consideration, a little Thought for Others, makes all the difference.” Spoken by Eeyore, quite sarcastically, in WTP; p. 51.’

16.  A day without a friend is like a pot without a single drop of honey left inside.

You can’t get more accurate about the sources of bogus Pooh than “Disney Words on Twitter”, which claims this one.

On October 10th, 1928, the journalist and Dorothy Parker The House at Pooh Corner for The New Yorker magazine. As Today in Literature puts it, the book

proved to be one pot of honey too many, especially when Pooh revealed that he added the "tiddely pom" to his Outdoor Song "to make it more hummy": "And it is that word 'hummy,' my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader fwowed up."

And while you can’t find the quote anywhere in Milne’s books, you can find it attributed to him at “Quotes and Readings for a Honey-Themed Wedding.”

17.  ’’Love is taking a few steps backward, maybe even more... to give way to the happiness of the person you love.’’

Becka Robinson posted of this- at

“[R]eading Winnie the Pooh quotes as an adult made me realize that he has a depth I never noticed before. He is quite the little philosopher. And he shares some of the most beautifully hopeful and simplistic perspectives on life that I’ve ever heard.”

18.  ’’A day spent with you is my favourite day. So today is my new favourite day.’’

In “19 Incredibly Wise Truths We Learned From Winnie The Pooh,”, July 24, 2014, Mark Pygas attributes this to (see #17, above).

19. ’’No one can be sad when they have a balloon!’’

This is the Idiot’s Guide to Pooh version.

Actual source: 'Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon.' Winnie-the-Pooh, p. 59.

20.  ’’How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.’’
This topic is about Winnie-the-Pooh
Issues with Quotes > Winnie-the-Pooh

Mar 29, 2015 02:29AM
V.J. Fadely | 5 comments The quote "How lucky I am to have something which makes saying goodbye so hard" is attributed to A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh, on this site and many others. However, I don't believe this quote is in any of the Pooh books. Can you confirm? Thanks.

Banjomike | 5503 commentsJane wrote: "The quote "How lucky I am to have something which makes saying goodbye so hard" is attributed to A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh, on this site and many others. However, I don't believe this quote is in any of the Pooh books. Can you confirm? Thanks. "

I've removed the Winnie the Pooh attribution because the quote isn't from any of the Pooh books but could still be an A.A. Milne quote. More research is required...

Here’s one last helpful hint.

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