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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The World of Pooh

What makes for a good read?

I've asked myself that time and again, looking into my own experience, into my own satisfactions and dissatisfactions. Some things I find very enjoyable to read, many things not. What's the difference?

Slowly, gradually, through my life I have groped my way toward a sense of my own literary values, my own true preferences and beliefs. Looking back on it, it's as though certain works of literature have been signposts or stepping-stones on this journey. The first of these, for me, was The World of Pooh, which I got at about age five and which I still have. Milne perfectly captured the sense of the young child's imaginative world, when his plush-toys have distinctive personalities and his yard is a whole country with mythically charged locales. His portrayal of Christopher Robin as the wiser, more mature leader and companion of his lovable but relatively simple-minded animal friends was brilliant, another keen portrayal of the child's world from the child's point of view.

The World of Pooh was the first book that stirred in me the feelings I would now call epic. The episodic adventures of Pooh and Christopher Robin were relatively detached from each other, exactly as my memory of childhood is--I can't now place the order of events in my own life before the time I went to school at age six, when my personal history took on, so to speak, a directional arrow. My own adventures stand as islands in an archipelago of memory, and Pooh's adventures are the same, as are those of the Grail heroes. And although Pooh and Christopher Robin and Piglet were the main characters, there was a sense of a company of heroes, a cadre of characters all involved in this closed world of magic and adventure together--again like the knights of the Round Table.

The color map on the front endsheets of the book conjured up feelings of wonder and excitement; I used to pore over it, getting a thrill from the place-names such as the 100 Aker Wood or Where the Woozle Wasnt: places where adventures happened. It was like my own wild yard in Upper Lonsdale, or perhaps nearby Carisbrooke Park, a steep, grassy half-block with many distinct zones where I played with friends.

I never tired of having this book read to me. It seemed magic to have all these adventures and feelings brought together in one place, in a book that could be read again and again. Each locale, each episode, had its own special place in the whole; each was significant and each invited your attention and created a sense of a whole made of magic parts.

If I try to identify the feelings the book aroused in me, if I tried to name the enjoyable stirring somewhere around my heart, I would say that the book evoked a sense of wonder and significance. As I think about it now, it seems there is a kind of magic that arises from episodes that are stories in their own right, that have a directional flow from beginning to end, but which are themselves scattered without a strong sense of direction between them. The little episodes reflect each other without causing each other. So there is a sense of a magic world whose borders are unclear, which edges off into the rest of the world in a misty way: a mandala where everything is precious and everything relates to everything else.

There: the first book in Paul's literary education.


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