Tuesday, 8 March 2011

An Old Favourite

My girlfriend gave me these wonderfully used volumes of A.A. Milne’s children’s stories and verses as a Christmas gift this year. The World of Christopher Robin is a collection of verses including When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six, published between 1924 and 1926. These collections are not as well known as The House at Pooh-Corner, but The World of Christopher Robin does contain Milne’s famous word play and E.H. Shephard’s simple and whimsical illustrations. As a special addition to this collected volume, Shepard included some full page colour illustrations. Here is my favourite, if only for those friendly South Americans to the far left:

Milne’s most well known works are those stories that centre on Winnie-the-Pooh and the Hundred Acre Wood. The characters from these stories have come to be cultural commodities over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries; and Winnie-the-Pooh is a cultural icon recognized by children even before encountering Milne’s books. Shepard’s illustrations are perhaps most closely associated with this iconic status, although phrases like, “Tut, tut, it looks like rain,” have entered the popular vernacular to some extent. Here are some of Shepard’s delicate illustrations from my collection:

A.A. Milne continued to write essays and drama after the publication of his children’s books, but these works were completely--and frustratingly for Milne--overshadowed by the Pooh books. Shepard went on to illustrate Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows; and like Milne, he was frustrated by his work for children's books which he felt eclipsed his work as a political cartoonist.

After more than three-quarters of a century, the Pooh industry doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Much of the credit for the Pooh industry belongs to Disney: the company purchased the rights from Milne’s estate in the 60s, dropped the hyphens from the bear’s name, and created one of their most popular franchises. British street artist, Banksy, whose work often focuses on manipulating iconic images, produced this image of that silly old bear:

Banksy's "Winnie the Pooh (Money Trap)"
“Winnie the Pooh (Money Trap)”--which combines the commercial superpowers of Winnie the Pooh and Banksy--sold for the equivalent of over 50,000 US dollars at a Sotheby’s auction in June 2010. The great thing about this work, I think, is that it calls attention to the very commercial power it is also capitalizing on. But I’d prefer to remember Pooh like this:

Shepard taken from drawn.ca; Banksy from banksy-prints.com.

1 comment:

  1. Oh I love the picture of Christopher Robin. When we made that kite I imagined we were in Winnie the pooh. haha.