As a child, I never took interest in Winnie-the-Pooh. My only exposure to what seemed a hopeless band of anthropomorphic misfits was television. TV convinced me Pooh was merely a chubby ne’er-do-well with no sense or self-discipline, who would accidentally strangle himself if left to his own devices.
His friends were no more interesting. There was some kind of mule with chronic fatigue syndrome, whose pity parties wore thin. There was a pig in a sleeveless jumpsuit, and a boy who looked like he needed to eat some meat and potatoes.
I don’t remember all the characters because I never enjoyed the films. I began avoiding Winnie and his crew. I avoided them without a backward glance for about 40 years.
Then a thoughtful person gave my son a Winnie-the-Pooh storybook. I had never consider Pooh as literature because I’d been turned off by him as television. Having seen what Hollywood did to Tarzan and The Little Mermaid this isn’t surprising.
When my son asked me to read from his Winnie-the-Pooh treasury, I winced. I wanted to make up the story instead of reading it. I wanted to say, “Once upon a time there was this ridiculous bear who only wanted honey, and since he had no sense and he could not control his desires, he got his head stuck in a pot of honey and had to live with his head inside the pot for the rest of his pitiful life. The end. And let that be a lesson to you, young man.”
I did not say this; that would have been lazy parenting, and the boy’s mother was sitting within earshot. I did the honorable thing: I tried persuading the boy he would prefer Green Eggs and Ham. When that failed, I sighed and began reading.
To my surprise, the literary Winnie-the-Pooh is quite well done. This Milne fellow knew how to tell a story with charm. Winnie is not nearly so vacuous as in his films. He makes up witty little songs, and though he possesses less forethought than is to be hoped, he does spend some time on afterthought.
Rabbit’s desire to keep his home free of unwanted visitors is relatable to any middle-aged man. The only thing that would make him more perfect is if he came to the door waving an 80-year-old shotgun he never owned shells for.
I remember Piglet to have been portrayed as cowardly on TV. TV didn’t uncover the real depth of Piglet. Piglet has a keen sense of discretion. He is willing to accompany Pooh in pursuit of a couple of potentially hostile Woozles, but when he and Pooh are outnumbered he reads the writing on the wall. Piglet knows how to count and when to cash out. Now, if only he would cash out of that 1920s bathing suit.
We haven’t met Eeyore yet. No doubt, he will turn out to be a grizzled veteran of the Boer War, suffering from a tail wound and in constant pain from a bullet lodged in his hip. What once seemed like incessant complaining will surely be words of wisdom from a hero of the siege of Kimberley.
Though we got off to a rocky start, I like Pooh now. I like the way his stories are written. There is a unique talent for storytelling in the books. I hope it doesn’t take my boys 40 years to appreciate that.