A particular bear, in fact. I was introduced to Winnie-the-Pooh at a very young age(and, being a fan of the A.A. Milne books even more than the Disney films, I can’t help writing the name with dashes the way Milne did). I saw the Disney film “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” in the theater when it was released as a feature in 1977. I was six years old. “Now We Are Six”, the title of Milne’s third book reminds us, and when I first saw Pooh and his friends on the big screen, I was.
It was shortly after seeing the film that my mom tracked down the books for me at the library. I devoured them, and Mom and Dad eventually bought me my own hardcover copies of each.
From that point on, Pooh became a fixture in the landscape of my imagination, and his friends from the Hundred-Acre Wood–Piglet, Rabbit, Tigger, Owl, Kanga, Roo, and of course Christopher Robin–right along with him. They never left.
I grew up, to be sure, but my love for the books and films (and at least one animated TV show) about Milne’s beloved bear persisted.
Well, people who know me could tell you that I do my level best to keep in touch with my inner child, and that, as a writer primarily of science-fiction, fantasy and horror stories, my inner child gets to come out and play more often than some people’s might. And all that is true, but that’s not the whole story.
There’s room in the Pooh stories for growth: they’re built that way. They’re readable as stories about animals, for a child. But they’re also stories about friendship, and about the spectre of what happens when one friend leaves another. Particularly, the shadow of Christopher Robin’s growing up hangs over all of his adventures in the Hundred-Acre Wood. Growing up, the Pooh stories tell us–whether on the page or the screen–is inevitable, and unavoidable. Pooh lives with the constant fear that, one day, when he does grow up, Christopher Robin will forget him. It’s the same poignant fate that powers the pathos of the classic children’s song “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Christopher tells him, though, that he will never forget him, even when he’s a hundred.
How old shall I be, then?” Pooh asks Christopher. “Ninety-nine.”
And it’s the power and the promise of the adult not forgetting the child he once was, or the things and people he loved when he was a child that allows “Winnie the Pooh” to have its persistent, persuasive magic. I think it’s a magic that sustains itself whether one is seven, or forty-seven; nine, or ninety-nine.
There are other qualities in the books and the cartoons that give them depth and value, and have led, I believe, to their persistent appeal both to kids and to the adults they grow into. Pooh and his friends have recognizable human qualities, even archetypal ones. Pooh calls himself a Bear of Very Little Brain, yet he’s the one who, with his simple wit and patience, who usually finds the right answer even when the supposedly ‘wise’ Owl cannot. Piglet is a tiny creature and cowardly on the surface, but he’s usually the first to confront any loud noises in the dark of the wood. Tigger, although boisterous and constantly boasting that he’s a loner, needs his friends perhaps more than any of the whole group.
The depth of the characters in both the Pooh movies and the books led to a book called “The Tao of Pooh” by Benjamin Hoff, in 1982, in which Hoff used the Pooh characters and their attendant archetypal qualities to explain the Eastern philosophy of Taoism. A sequel was later written called “The Te of Piglet.”
So ,”The Why of Pooh” is the question I’ve been more frequently asked, and the answer for me is this: like Jeff Bridges’ character of “The Dude” in “The Big Lebowski”, Pooh abides. He persists. He waits, and he transcends his audience, and yet also accompanies them, from the simple and delightful woods of childhood make-believe, into the thicker and darker forests of adulthood. And whether we are nine, or ninety-nine, he waits for us, and he doesn’t forget–and in that persistence, he allows us to keep remembering, too.