But first, a little about myself.
My parents read the original Winnie-the-Pooh stories to me before I was old enough to really understand them. I liked the sound of my Dad's voice, and it worked well as a story before bed. Occasionally the adults in the room would burst out laughing, and I liked to laugh, so I joined in whether I understood or not.
Later on I realized how wonderfully hilarious the stories were. Those who know only the Disney adaptations might be surprised at this. They might be surprised at a lot of things.
First, there are the characters. We all know most of them, the silly-old-bear himself, cowardly Piglet, irrepressible Tigger, motherly Kanga and her Roo, talkative Owl, know-it-all Rabbit, the gloomy Eeyore (there was no Gopher in the stories). They all live in a forest landscape, part of which is the Hundred-Acre Wood. All pretty simple.
Nu-uh. Not so simple. Strange events, interesting interactions and rampant irony make these stories complex and entertaining. The search for what Tiggers like to eat. The discovery of the North Pole by none other than Pooh-Bear himself. Rabbit's quest to get rid of Kanga and Roo as undesirable foreigners. The flood that threatens Piglet's home. The day Owl's tree falls. Piglet and Pooh in search of the dreaded Heffalump.
And then there's Eeyore, the most neglected of them all, in or out of Milne's world. For years, he has been portrayed merely as a depressed character. However, as with any depressed person, there's a lot more to this stuffed donkey. He has little patience for any of the other characters, especially Rabbit, and makes little secret of the fact, with a biting irony that is often ignored or misunderstood by the people around him. This makes Eeyore one of the funniest characters in the books.
All this caustic wit is tempered with a good deal of honest compassion and understanding, mostly from Christopher Robin and Pooh, but from the others as well. So what do we have? Not a flat, simple world with simple characters, but a rich environment full of flawed people, who sometimes transcend their natures to perform acts of inspiring heroism. Every sentimental moment is earned, every lesson deftly presented, and never at the expense of the story. There are also plenty of in-jokes for the adults along the way.
A children's book should appeal to both child and adult. Reading time should not be an empty bedtime ritual, but a bonding moment, when young and old can laugh or cry together at the same things. The world of children should not be separate from the world of their parents. Children's books that reinforce this separation are a pestilence, a cynical grab for a parent's wallet at the expense of a child's development.
It's impossible to nail down these stories' appeal with a simple "they're fun," or "kids love them." They are, and they do, but there are depths beyond that. We all have a Rabbit, and an Eeyore, and maybe, if we're lucky, a Winnie-the-Pooh in our lives. In writing down the stories he told his son, Milne achieved the merging of the fantastic and the real. This is what the best fantasy is supposed to accomplish.
In conclusion, if you have fond memories of Winnie-the-Pooh, and have not read the original books, you should definitely try them. You're in for a treat.