When A. A. Milne had Winnie the Pooh amble onto the literary scene in 1926, the last thing he was thinking was that Pooh would become a Daoist sage like Chuang Tzu. Milne, originally a playwright, found inspiration for the legendary bear from his son Christopher Robin’s stuffed teddy bear, named Winnie the Pooh; however, it should be noted that while Milne breathed life into the bear, it was the artist E.H. Shepard who gave Pooh his iconic form. The combination of Pooh’s form, his distinct personality, and his eclectic circle of friends were nothing short of genius, the stuff, as we say, that legends are made of. Why?
For children, the answer is quite simple: this adorable bunch of animals bumbling through life and trying to solve their problems in creative, unconventional ways evokes laughter, but as we get older, we begin to realize that Pooh’s propensity to charm moves beyond his ability to make us laugh. We realize that there is a profundity to his understanding of the world, a profundity that seems to be rooted in his lack of anxiety about everyday life—despite his initial reaction of “oh bother” to most situations, in reality, nothing actually bothers him.
One reason for Pooh’s perpetual serenity can be found in Milne’s decision to do something novel in his Pooh books: he opted to shy away from many of the familiar words and concepts that saturated (and continue to saturate) children’s literature; for example, the words “school” and “toys” are never mentioned in the books (it was Disney who sent Pooh to school). By not sending the honey-loving bear, who ironically loves to “think, think, think,” to school or even introducing the concept to him, Pooh never experienced any of the potential negative effects that external structures, like school, can have, so he remained free to “think, think, think” as he wanted; additionally, he could express his thoughts while still being a notoriously bad or, as he says, a “wobbly” speller, because spelling rules made no difference to him or anyone else in the Hundred Acre Woods. Being allowed to think and write devoid of spelling rules let Pooh focus all his attention on the meaning of the words, not on how they were spelled, which may explain why he is such a profound thinker— what other children’s character could say, “If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you”? None. But, Pooh’s ability to express his feelings goes well beyond him being allowed to misspell words.
Much of Pooh’s passion for expression stems from his unconditional love for his oddball circle of friends. While we all strive to love unconditionally, and most of us achieve this, especially with our children, there are those moments when our acceptance for the weird or the outrageous becomes a little too much and our love wanes or simply turns to dislike; for Pooh this is never the case. Whether he spends all day searching for Eeyore’s tail or listening to Owl babble on and on about random insignificant facts, he is never dismissive, judgmental, or mean to his friends; this attitude of unfettered acceptance ultimately allows him to love them openly and boundlessly all the time. And perhaps this is why 87 years after Christopher Robin dragged Pooh down the stairs and into our living rooms he remains legendary.
Happy Pooh Day.
Below are some ideas to celebrate National Pooh Day:
- Make honey cookies
- Watch a pooh movie
- Take a walk in the woods
- Read about bears
- Visit the Central Children’s Room of the Donnell Library Center at the New York Public
- Library where Christopher Robin’s original stuffed animals are housed
- Buy honey at a local green market
- Wear a red shirt
- Talk about a favorite Winnie the Pooh quote
- Make a resolution based on a characteristic of Pooh
- Take some time and do one of Pooh’s favorite activities: nothing
By Maria Smilios