December 15, 2017

Pooh Too Hummy

On this day in 1928 Dorothy Parker, under her pen name, Constant Reader, reviewed A. A. Milne's The House at Pooh Corner in the New Yorker, with predictable results. 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." The House at Pooh Corner 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."

Parker did not have a special grudge against Milne. She says in her review of Now We Are Six that, "Time was when A. A. Milne was my only hero," but that "when Mr. Milne went quaint, all was over. Now he leads his life, and I Iead mine." At this point, the life Parker lead was so full of personal disaster that any show of sentimentality was bound to draw fire. Constant Reader's review of a book titled Happiness described it as "second only to a rubber duck as the ideal bathtub companion":
    It may be held in the hand without causing muscular fatigue or nerve strain, it may be neatly balanced back of the faucets, and it may be read through before the water has cooled. And if it slips down the drain pipe, all right, it slips down the drain pipe.
Nor was Milne as syrupy as many contemporary children's writers, or as addicted to "hypocorisma" -- this is the technical word for the use of pet names and baby talk. Books like the 'Normous Saturday Fairy Book and Marion St John Webb's The Littlest One cashed in on the habit, the latter featuring a series of verses in the voice of a six-year-old boy, complete with lisp and cute spelling. And Parker was not the only one to scoff: a contemporary Punch cartoon has Nanny saying to her darling, "Look, Dickie, what a dear little bow-wow!" and Dickie replying, "Do you mean the Cairn or the Sealyham?"

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