Monday, June 24, 2019
'The Complete Adventures of Winnie the Pooh' by A.A. Milne
I'd been thinking about re-reading these childhood classics for ages, and discovered a lovely hardback second hand copy, like brand new. It contains both 'Winnie the Pooh' and 'The House at Pooh Corner.' Returning to these little yarns, after however many years, is better than before. I seem to grow more, rather than less fond of the dear little gang from the Hundred Acre Wood. Perhaps it's partly because as adults, we've had more time to recognise spiritual counterparts of each character in ourselves, and our friends, relatives and acquaintances. We can respond to them as archetypes and weave them into our own philosophy.
On the surface, the characters are stuffed toys who belonged to a real little boy named Christopher Robin, whose father spun a magical world out of raw material from his son's playroom. My own dad did something similar with the toys in my bedroom when I was a kid, and I love the idea of the same thing happening in the Milne family way back in the 1920's. Stories help the world spin round, and what a lot of wisdom we can glean from reading about these guys, especially in dealing with different personalities types we all come across.
I'll start off with the characters I call the 'Brains Triumvirate'. Their influence is hard to resist, but not necessarily as positive as they think.
He's the pompous, academically focused guy who looks at the world down his beak and thinks he's above conversing about such things as little cakes with pink sugar icing. He's perfected a wise and thoughtful manner to match his reputation. And he'll always choose the complex and unclear way of getting his message across. Why say, 'It's been raining,' when you can say, 'The atmospheric conditions have been very unfavourable lately'? He's hardly ever spot-on with his accuracy, but it doesn't matter, since those around him believe he's always right whatever he says. He just has that sort of impressive vibe. But we can admire, without having to take on board every hoot he makes. There is such a thing as delusions of grandeur.
We all know that super busy-body who's forever trying to control and shape his own world, plus those of others. His whole life is made up of important things to do, and he always thinks others need to be changed and improved rather than accepted and left alone. He's the consummate fault-finder, but A. A. Milne has come up with some hilarious tales of Rabbit's plans backfiring, just so young readers can sense that the status quo was fine before he meddled. We can take the interference of organisers like Rabbit with a grain of salt, rather than being instantly swayed by their every gripe. But that includes accepting their choleric, crusader's energy too, since they have a right to stay true to themselves, same as we do. Just be especially aware of personal boundaries once control freaks start jumping in to fix our lives.
Our gloomy old friend is as cute as a button, but drives me up the wall more than any of the others. Sure he needs compassion, as he can't help having what looks a lot like clinical depression. Yet his many speeches show that his attitude is based on stinking thinking. He's such a self-pitying, sarcastic martyr, who thinks the world revolves around him, and resents it when others don't keep him in the centre of their radars. He's an expert guilt-tripper, with the potential to really cast a pall over a bright day. 'People come and go in this forest and say, "It's only Eeyore," so it doesn't count.' I love it when Rabbit tells him in effect, 'Instead of grumbling that we don't come to you, why don't you pop across to visit us?' Yeah, you tell him, Bunny-boy! Sometimes Rabbit nails it. (Eeyore is also on my list of Famous Comic Grouches.)
Now there are other friends, with their own styles, to accept and appreciate, but not necessarily take on board.
We all have that hyper-active, in-your-face friend who's so wired up, an afternoon with him exhausts us. Whether or not conditions such as ADHD are involved in their inability to sit still, it's truly insensitive on the part of anyone who tries to make them settle down. It takes all sorts of people to make a world, and these guys aren't designed to be sedentary, reflective people. Tiggers shouldn't be medicated, nagged or forced to change in any way, even when the Rabbits of the world try to deflate their energy, and the Eeyore's complain about being 'bounced'. Let's accept them in their exuberant glory without getting too caught up in their bluffing and bluster. They'll get the message that they're too much for some people soon enough, without us adding to it.
KANGA & ROO
Hmm, conflicting feelings here. On one hand, I love how Milne has liberated the noble role of motherhood through his only female character. It really is a big deal, that requires a multi-juggling act of sensitivity, practical wisdom, hard work and eyes at the back of your head. Kanga would never demur, 'I'm just a mum,' and I applaud that. But on the other hand, she's shown to have no outside interests beyond that all-consuming lifestyle. Kanga turns a deaf ear to Owl's academic lecturing and Pooh's artistic poetry reciting alike. She's not remotely interested, just because she has a little kid to raise. Come on A.A. Milne, that's not all motherhood is all about! We do have interests outside of our family roles, and crave mental stimulation beyond nappies and cleaning cloths. But I guess 1926 wasn't the era to show women as multi-faceted individuals, especially in children's books.
Has the question of why she was a single parent occurred to anyone else? Where was Mr Kangaroo? Roo's dad never gets a single mention. Was Kanga widowed, divorced? Did he just leave them, or was it she who decided she'd had enough? No doubt I'm way overthinking this, and the simple answer, of course, is that Christopher Robin only had the mother and joey toys in his playroom.
Now for the heart-warming best buddy duo.
This little chap keeps looking at the size and scope of the big wide world, getting overwhelmed because there is so much out there that might be a threat. 'It's hard to be brave when you're such a very small animal.' Yeah, I hear you, mate. Before we know it, those heffalumps and woozles we invent in our imaginations have taken over every waking moment, making us permanently edgy with terror. At this stage, we are beyond reasoning that they aren't necessarily even real. But one of the best things little Piglet has going for him is a best buddy who unconsciously encourages him to trust that at its core, the world is an interesting, friendly place.
Now, three cheers for our chubby hero! He's a cute and cuddly reminder to acknowledge and embrace our quirky strengths, instead of listening to the many voices that might interpret them as weaknesses instead.
He never lets simple moments of contentment slide past unnoticed. He'll always say yes to both honey and condensed milk, and the only time he's been known to go on a diet is when he needed to lose the weight to get unstuck from Rabbit's front door. Perhaps he's a bit of a glutton with no will-power to boast of, but he knows he has a stocky build anyway and doesn't get tied in knots about it. Besides, as J.K. Rowling has now famously said, there are worse things to be than fat.
Not only does he never waste a moment of genuine contentment, but he'll also perform a bit of Pooh Bear alchemy, and use his simple magic to spin potentially boring and unpleasant moments into even more contentment. Humming, composing poetry, and drifting into amusing reveries is a way of life for him. I used to be paid out by school teachers for daydreaming, so he's one of my favourite role models!
It would be easy for Pooh to let the Brains triumvirate make him feel inferior, and he even calls himself a Bear of Little Brain. Who really needs fanciful daydreams, and wordy creativity, in a world full of facts to be discovered and changes to implement? Isn't moseying along on leisurely strolls a waste of time, when others are busy making an impact in the world? Thankfully, he's taken time to step back and reflect that even though he'll never be a cutting edge, smart type of guy, it suits him more to pursue a simple minded sort of happiness than fill his life with complex, clever misery.
Not that the others are miserable (well, except for Eeyore), but their way different personality styles make them happy in other ways. And Pooh's style, lived largely in his own head, is a valid option. He won't ever get the broad scope of Owl's general knowledge, or Rabbit's particular satisfaction of being able to sit back and see the results of his labour. But what Pooh has is just as special. However inferior it may appear to those who profess to know better, it is a genuinely delightful trait which the likes of Owl and Rabbit miss out on without ever knowing.
So in honour of our hero, I'll encourage us all to hopefully drift into some comfortable dreams when we head off, for he tells us it's when we are humble and unpretentious that friendly hums can get hold of us. Pooh knows the creative life is often surprisingly different to what we think it'll be like, but still most satisfactory. Let's take his example to heart, and not care overly much what others may think of us, as long as we know we're harming nobody and having fun. 'When you're a Bear of very little brain, and you think of things, you find sometimes that a thing which seemed very thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out in the open and has other people looking at it.' Perhaps making peace with this fact is the secret of a satisfying, tranquil life.