“One of the advantages of being disorganized is that one is always having surprising discoveries.”
? A.A. Milne, “Winnie the Pooh”
Something happens when adults tell stories to children other than their own. We’re aware of a restless, judgmental audience who at the same time we don’t need to feed and dress. That is why Winnie the Pooh is a ridiculous role model for children: Parents wouldn’t trust him to babysit and kids would get bored.
I’ve no doubt that those original and unpublished tales that A.A. Milne told at bedtime to his son, Christopher, were gems of narrative grace and action. But once they hit the air, they became precious and false. What adult, surveying the wreckage of a child’s room, resorts to the quote above?
I no longer have any illusions. I know about the Electoral College. I know that I will never be treated fairly by a cable company. I know that reality television isn’t real. But Winnie the Pooh makes my head spin.
Winnie the Pooh is like Radiohead and quinoa to me; I am not sure if anyone actually likes any of those things or if they’ve been hosed and bewildered into submission like a protester at a demonstration in a country where they can still pay for water.
I’m not disputing that WtP is of use to adults; A.A. Milne’s simple observations as channeled through the pantsless bear (who looks like he smells — any human who dresses like that would smell) hit home just as soundly as do the precocious wisdom of doomed and clairvoyant Stephen King children or any hayseed character in an 80s movie who tells big city hotshot Michael J. Fox that there’s more to living than money and cocaine.
Adults like WtP because he connects them to their childhoods and assures them that things aren’t really that complicated.
“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.”
But I have a strong suspicion that no child ever really liked Winnie the Pooh when he was growing up. Why? Because his name has Pooh in it. There’s no getting away from it. He’s not like Jesus Christ, who can go by either name; he’s never just “Winnie.” If anything, sometimes he’s just called “Pooh.”
At the very first meeting with Christopher Robin or Piglet, one of them should have said “Wait — Winnie the Shit? Get out. Get out of here!!”
Pooh stories are torpid, bumpkinlike sketches of the types of people to avoid. As adults, would we take anyone like Pooh seriously?
“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”
Children are like little Chuck Ds, who said “Most of my heroes still don’t appear on no stamp.” They’re smart and canny. They can’t find comfort in a bear whose whole life stands in opposition to his own parent, who at that very moment may be trying to hustle him out the door for school.