One of my favorite things about being a mom is sharing good books with my kids. Right now, we’re re-reading A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner. Milne is a delightful writer, funny and lovely at the same time.
He also writes some insanely long sentences, especially considering that preschoolers are the primary audience for this book.
In Chapter 5, “Rabbit’s Busy Day,” Rabbit is on his way to visit Owl. He crosses the stream and comes to the place where his friends-and-relations live. And then there is this sentence:
There seemed to be even more of them about than usual this morning, and having nodded to a hedgehog or two, with whom he was too busy to shake hands, and having said, “Good morning, good morning,” importantly to some of the others, and “Ah, there you are,” kindly, to the smaller ones, he waved a paw at them over his shoulder, and was gone; leaving such a air of excitement and I-don’t-know-what behind him, that several members of the Beetle family, including Henry Rush, made their way at once to the Hundred Acre Wood and began climbing trees, in the hope of getting to the top before it happened, whatever it was, so that they might see it properly.
Did you read that?
Or did you just see a big block of text and skip it? Don’t. Please. Go back and read it. It’s worth every word. Go on. I’ll wait.
Aside from the fact that this is a 120-word sentence, which is impressive enough, it’s punctuated so perfectly that even my four-year-old had no trouble following its meaning as it trots briskly along with Rabbit, and then the beetles, through the Hundred Acre Wood.
I have tried to write sentences as long as this. Whenever I write fiction, I try to include at least one really long sentence. But my long sentences almost never survive the revision process, because they are not well-crafted enough. Milne, on the other hand, has dozens of really long sentences peppered throughout this book, and they work.
This sentence, for instance, works because it reinforces the meaning that it conveys: Rabbit is on an important errand, too busy to stop, and the sentence follows suit, gathering steam as it goes. Like Rabbit, it is too busy to stop. The sentence only reaches its resting place when it gets to the top of the trees with the beetles, where it, like they, wait for “it” to happen.
The best writing marries both form and content. This sentence does exactly that. I do hope you’ll go back and read it.