In the social-media-driven world of today, accuracy is more important than ever. It’s also, it seems, increasingly hard to find. A huge amount of what we read these days, on- or off-line, seems to be either deliberately or accidentally miswritten. And while readers are prepared to ‘call out’ photographic images that have been tinkered or tampered with – in the process now universally known as ‘photoshopping’ – it’s harder to tell when it comes to the written word.
Take this story, for example, which appeared recently on Facebook:
It occurred to Pooh and Piglet that they hadn’t heard from Eeyore for several days, so they put on their hats and coats and trotted across the Hundred Acre Wood to Eeyore’s stick house. Inside the house was Eeyore.
“Hello Eeyore,” said Pooh.
“Hello Pooh. Hello Piglet,” said Eeyore, in a Glum Sounding Voice.
“We just thought we’d check in on you,” said Piglet, “because we hadn’t heard from you, and so we wanted to know if you were okay.”
Eeyore was silent for a moment. “Am I okay?” he asked, eventually. “Well, I don’t know, to be honest. Are any of us really okay? That’s what I ask myself. All I can tell you, Pooh and Piglet, is that right now I feel really rather Sad, and Alone, and Not Much Fun To Be Around At All. Which is why I haven’t bothered you. Because you wouldn’t want to waste your time hanging out with someone who is Sad, and Alone, and Not Much Fun To Be Around At All, would you now.”
Pooh looked at Piglet, and Piglet looked at Pooh, and they both sat down, one on either side of Eeyore in his stick house.
Eeyore looked at them in surprise. “What are you doing?”
“We’re sitting here with you,” said Pooh, “because we are your friends. And true friends don’t care if someone is feeling Sad, or Alone, or Not Much Fun To Be Around At All. True friends are there for you anyway. And so here we are.”
“Oh,” said Eeyore. “Oh.” And the three of them sat there in silence, and while Pooh and Piglet said nothing at all; somehow, almost imperceptibly, Eeyore started to feel a very tiny little bit better.
Because Pooh and Piglet were There. No more; no less.
Author – AA Milne
Illustration – EH Shepard
Does this story look familiar to you? It certainly did to many readers who left grateful comments on the Facebook page in question, thanking whoever posted it for ‘reminding’ them of this episode, how they enjoyed it as children, and how they still read the book to their own families.
And why not? After all, the post tells us that the author is A.A. Milne, and the accompanying illustration implies that the story is indeed from his 1928 book ‘The House at Pooh Corner’. It’s set in Hundred Acre Wood; words like ‘trotted’ and ‘glum’ sound appropriate for Piglet and Eeyore; and the mock-title ‘Not Much Fun To Be Around At All’ is capitalized in the same way as the famous ‘Bear of Very Little Brain’. To cap it all, there’s a Pooh-like simplicity to the story, best summed up in the final line: ‘Because Pooh and Piglet were There.’
But here truth and reality part company.
Would A.A. Milne, writing in 1928, really have used ‘okay’ so freely? Would he have used the expression ‘We thought we’d check in on you’? Or ‘hanging out with someone who is sad’? Or ‘True friends are there for you’? Just a brief examination of the vocabulary of the piece is enough to convince a number of readers that this is in fact an early 21st century parody of A.A. Milne.
Which is not to say it is bad, or wrong. In fact as parody it’s highly successful. Good pastiches like this preserve enough of the original to make us laugh out loud precisely at what is unlikely and unexpected. The first appearance of the above passage was on the Facebook site of its true author, the energetic blogger Kathryn Wallace, whose parodic versions of Winnie the Pooh are the perfect vehicle for articulating the hassled life of a busy mum. Here’s another of hers:
“I just don’t understand, Piglet,” said Pooh.
“What’s that, old pal?”
“Well, why do we have to have Mondays? They’re just so… unnecessary.”
Piglet mused on the question for a moment, his tiny ears wobbling up and down with concentration as he thought.
“Well,” he said, after some consideration. “I suppose, that if we didn’t have Mondays…well, Fridays wouldn’t be so ruddy marvellous, would they?”
“Oh Piglet,” said Pooh. “You really are the Best Pig of Greatest Brain that I have ever met. Now, can we go and celebrate the marvellousness of Fridays with gin and takeaway?”
“Too bloody right we can,” said Piglet. “Too bloody right.”
So, if the parody is not a problem, what is? Well, in the interest of copyright, research, honesty and simple transparency, the problem is in the attribution. When Kathryn’s story was copied (as it has now been hundreds of times) to social media feeds, it somehow picked up the tag ‘Author – AA Milne / Illustration – EH Shepard’. That is the problem.
If the passage is not by A.A. Milne, it should not claim to be. Anything other than the original is just Fake Poohs. Oh, and by the way, the illustration I’ve used above is also a fake. It’s actually a copy of a drawing by E.H. Shepard, as explained in its artist’s blog.