The Setting Of The
While many of the poems in When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six
are based strictly on fantasy, others draw on real places and people who lived in London and Sussex -- notably,
of course, on Alan and Christopher Milne (with honorable mention going to Olive Rand and Anne Darlington). Likewise,
however true to its own rules, the world described in Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner
draws on a very real rural countryside: that near Cotchford Farm in Sussex. It is this countryside which is the
focus of this brief page.
This map (taken from The Enchanted Places by Christopher Milne) shows the region near Cotchford Farm. A small stream runs past it,
a tributary of the River Medway. On the other side of the stream from Cotchford is (or was) a chicken farm (or
so Christopher Milne wrote, p. 57; in the illustrations to the poem "Us Two" in NWAS, however, it looks more like a turkey farm). This is (or was) Posingford Farm (see map).
Further upstream was and remains a bridge leading into Posingford Wood, the bridge that inspired the "Poohsticks
Bridge" of The House at Pooh Corner.
On the other side of the bridge, the "Charcoal Burner" immortalized so charmingly in Now We Are Six lived, worked and told his tales.
In "The Charcoal Burner", we are told that "He lives in the Forest, / Alone in the Forest..."
Actually, this is a slight inaccuracy (for the sake of the poetry, or simply due to colloquial usage), because
"the Forest" properly speaking is Ashdown Forest, just to the south of and directly bordering Posingford
Wood. ("Anyone who has read the stories knows the Forest and doesn't need me to describe it," wrote Christopher
in TEP, p. 61. "Pooh's Forest and
Ashdown Forest are identical.") Within the Forest is Gill's Lap -- also called Galleon's Lap, where Christopher
Robin and Pooh go at the end of The House at Pooh Corner.
(According to Thwaite, p. 528, there is some confusion today about the actual names and to what features of the
area they belong.) This is also the area labeled "nice for picknicks" on the famous map of the Forest
Near another stream, still within the Forest, the "North Pole" was "discovered". "As you
make your way down to it," wrote Christopher, "and continue up on the other side you will be following
the route Pooh took...when he went 'down open slopes of gorse and heather, over rocky beds of streams, up steep
banks of sandstone into the heather again; and so at last, tired and hungry, to the Hundred Acre Wood' -- only,
of course, as your map will have told you, it is really the Five Hundred Acre Wood". This is "a real
forest with giant beech trees, all dark and mysterious" (TEP, p. 62).
Owl's House, though squarely within the Hundred Acre Wood in the Pooh Books, was actually a tree situated in a
cluster of trees growing somewhat north of the main body of the Five Hundred Acre Wood. Again, though in Winnie-the-Pooh Owl's House is called "The Chestnuts"
("an old-world residence of great charm"), it was in reality "a huge and ancient beech tree, one
of a group of about half a dozen" which were regrettably cut down during World War II (TEP, p. 63). E.H. Shepard rendered the tree itself faithfully, as his illustration matches Christopher's
description of the tree precisely. North of Owl's House, and about due east of Cotchford, one finds the Six Pine
Trees that figure so prominently in the stories.
In the stories and the accompanying fictional map, of course, the relative placement of these features of the landscape
are changed, and others are added which Christopher doesn't point out on his own real-world map.
So then -- are "the Forest" and "the Hundred Acre Wood" simply two
different names for the same place or region in the Pooh Books?
Not at all! We have already cited Pooh's
journey to the Hundred Acre Wood as described by Christopher Milne -- a journey that was based on a journey one
would take in real life from Ashdown Forest to the Five Hundred Acre Wood. That journey is described in Chapter
IV of Winnie-the-Pooh. (All references
to Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner are taken from The World of Pooh, E. P. Dutton, 1957.) In "a thistly
corner of the forest" (Alan was not then capitalizing "the Forest" consistently), Pooh encounters
Eeyore, who has lost his tail. Pooh sets out from there to find it.
It was a fine spring morning in the forest as he [Pooh] started out....Through copse
and spinney marched Bear; down open slopes of gorse and heather, over rocky beds of streams, up steep banks of
sandstone into the heather again; and so at last, tired and hungry, to the Hundred Acre Wood. For it was in the
Hundred Acre Wood that Owl lived" (Winnie-the-Pooh, p. 48).
Again, after "Piglet's flood" in Chapter IX, we read this:
One day when the sun had come back over the Forest...on such a day as this Christopher
Robin whistled in a special way he had, and Owl came flying out of the Hundred Acre Wood to see what was wanted
(op. cit., p. 136).
We know from several references that "Christopher Robin lived at the very top
of the Forest" (p. 129). As we see on the map above (taken from Winnie-the-Pooh and colorized), he also lived at its east end, whereas Owl lived south and east of its center.
Only the cluster of trees in which Owl lived is titled "100 Aker Wood" on the map. Again, Owl flew out of the Hundred Acre Wood to get to Christopher Robin's
house, which was all the same at the very top of the Forest.
When Eeyore had a birthday (Winnie-the-Pooh,
Chapter VI), Piglet rushed home from Pooh's House to get a balloon and bring it to Eeyore. His path to "Eeyore's
Gloomy Place" would have taken him south of the area labeled "100 Aker Wood" on Christopher Robin's
map. When Piglet fell and broke his balloon, "BANG!!!???***!!!", he thought at first "that the whole
world had blown up; and then he thought that perhaps only the Forest part of it had," and then that perhaps
only he had. When he finally got up
and looked around, he "was still in the Forest!" (p. 80).
What of Piglet's own House? "The Piglet lived in a very grand house in the middle of a beech-tree, and the
beech-tree was in the middle of the forest, and the Piglet lived in the middle of the house" (Winnie-the-Pooh, Chapter III, p. 36). Technically, of
course, Piglet lived in the southwestern part of the Forest -- but, he lived in the Forest, not in the Hundred Acre Wood.
We know from Chapter II of Winnie-the-Pooh
that Rabbit lived at one end of the Forest and Christopher Robin "lived at the other end of the Forest"
(p. 31). Later, in The House at Pooh Corner
(Chapter V), we find that Rabbit, going from his house on the way to Christopher Robin's house -- and thus traveling
within the Forest from one end to the other -- "hurried on
by the edge
of the Hundred Acre Wood". At the same time, "several members of
the Beetle family...made their way to the Hundred Acre Wood and began climbing trees" in hopes of seeing whatever was about to happen (p. 221).
These came to the Hundred Acre Wood from "the place where his friends-and-relations lived", a place Rabbit
had just passed through (ibid.). This
place (according to Christopher Robin's map of the Forest) was north of the Hundred Acre Wood where Owl lived.
Finally, we learn in the very first story of Winnie-the-Pooh that Pooh and Christopher Robin lived in different parts of "the forest [sic]"
(p. 14). In Chapter VIII of The House at Pooh Corner,
Pooh and Piglet visited all their friends' Houses (in order: Pooh's own House, then Kanga's, Rabbit's, Christopher
Robin's, Eeyore's and Owl's). After leaving Pooh Corner (where Eeyore lived), "it seemed hours before [Pooh]
got them into the shelter of the Hundred Acre Wood"
where Owl lived (p. 272). We have already established that Pooh, Piglet, Rabbit and Christopher Robin lived in
different parts of the Forest. So did
Kanga, Roo and Tigger (Chapter IV, p. 203), and so did Eeyore (Chapter VI, p. 246). While Owl likewise lived in
the Forest (Chapter V, p. 223), only Owl's House was specifically located in the
Hundred Acre Wood.
Some might be confused by this reference in Chapter V of Winnie-the-Pooh: "The Sun was still in bed, but there was a lightness in the sky over the Hundred Acre
Wood which seemed to show that it was waking up and would soon be kicking off the clothes" (p. 64). Does this
mean that the whole Forest was also called the Hundred Acre Wood? Again, not
at all! At that moment, Pooh was visiting the Very Deep Pit near the Six
Pine Trees. Dawn was breaking in the east or just slightly south of due east (see Shepard's illustration on the
left) -- and that is precisely where the Hundred Acre Wood was, relative to Pooh's position (see map). Interestingly,
earlier in the same story we read of Pooh and Piglet walking "along the path which edged the Hundred Acre
Wood" before coming to the Six Pine Trees (p. 57). That path would have skirted the northern edge of the Wood,
as they were coming from Christopher Robin's House or somewhere nearby. The map shows that path clearly (see above).
Obviously, then, in the Pooh Books "the Forest" and "the Hundred Acre Wood" are not one and the same place. Rather, the latter is a
place within the former (even if the Five Hundred Acre Wood was not within Ashdown Forest in real life). How then
did the two get confused in almost everyone's minds -- so much so that even the outstanding Web site Christopher Robin's Winnie-the-Pooh Character Guide
gives all the characters in the Forest a proprietary mailing address in the "100 Aker Wood" (deliberately
copying the misspelling found on Christopher Robin's map of the Forest
as given above)?
Here the blame may be laid squarely at the feet of Walt Disney, Inc., which acquired certain rights to the use
of the Pooh Properties. In all of Disney's productions relating to Pooh
(including the theme song to Winnie-the-Pooh and the Honey Tree,
written by the Sherman Brothers), and in the spin-offs licensed to Disney, the
place where Pooh and his friends live is consistently called "the Hundred Acre Wood" --
Forest". This is probably the most subtle of the many differences between "Classic Pooh" (the characters
and settings as Milne and Shepard created them) and "Disney Pooh" -- which is no doubt why it seems to
be the least noticed. (It must be admitted that "the Hundred Acre Wood" is a much more memorable place
name in literary and euphonic terms than is "the Forest" -
yet all of the events in both the Pooh Books and especially in Disney Pooh, even
allowing for "Cartoon Physics", couldn't possibly happen on a mere one
hundred acres of land!)
|Updated June 17, 2016