Right after baby was born I received as a gift from some wonderful people I
know through work the Pooh Library, a four-volume set of the original Winnie the Pooh books. It’s a really lovely set of books, a nursery essential as far as I am concerned. And while the books are wildly inappropriate for baby at this stage of his short life–he’s 11 months old–I’ve been reading the books to him at night before bed anyway.
I remember loving the Pooh books as a child. Who couldn’t love the books’ cuddly main character whose life direction was always decided by his stomach? But reading them as an adult is a completely different experience. Everything I love about the books now is nothing I loved about them then.
The biggest thing is how I feel about the characters. As a child, my absolute favorite character was Eeyore. He not only found the softest part of my heart but buried himself deep into it. I mean, I think it was normal to feel bad for him. But I had a real love for him; I thought of him as so sweet and so unappreciated. I always felt like Christopher Robin unjustly paid too little attention to this lovely, little creature that just wanted to love and be loved.
But now I read the books and I can’t stand Eeyore. I dread any chapter that begins with “In which…” and ends with “Eeyore.” As an adult, I find him absolutely exhausting. He’s no longer an affable character with a confidence problem; instead, he’s irritatingly self centered and ungrateful. I mean, what kind of animal complains that no one comes to visit Pooh and Piglet when they are visiting him?
But it’s not just a thing with Eeyore. I look at Rabbit, Tigger, and Owl differently, too. As a kid, Rabbit was too bossy for me; he almost came across as crabby rather than take charge. Today, I appreciate his ability to organize, as well as his need and desire to keep everyone together as one big family in the Hundred Acre Wood. But even more than that, I never fully appreciated how intelligent Rabbit was. Christ, he could spell better than Owl! (Incidentally, I never realized how ignorant Owl really was. Maybe it was because I couldn’t spell either.)
And Tigger… in my child’s head, Tigger had tons of personality and was likeable even if his bouncing was annoying. But in re-reading the books, he really doesn’t have much personality at all. Sure, he’s bouncy. But outside that, he doesn’t say much to make me feel really one way or another about him.
Even Pooh, I feel differently about. There isn’t much not to love about Pooh, but as a kid, he was never my favorite. I think he wasn’t serious enough for the serious head I had on my shoulders as a child. Too much stuffing, too little brain, as far as I was concerned. But I like him so much more now. I better recognize his self-effacing nature and appreciate that what very little brain he has is indeed a good bit of brain, as he’s much more imaginative than I ever gave him credit for being when I was younger.
About the only thing that hasn’t changed is my feelings for Piglet; I still don’t care for him at all. Too much of a scardy cat, even if he is pretty smart.
But for as much as I’ve focused on character development, I can’t really say enough about A.A. Milne’s writing. What fabulous writing! Likely it was too sophisticated for my own simple child’s brain, but how lucky I am that I can appreciate it now. Every line is saturated with a tanin-like sense of humor, tasteful, dry, and more potent the more you let it roll around on your tongue. And yet there is the subtle, no where near sticky, sweetness that is so incredibly endearing.
But more interesting is that the writing also has a dark streak running through it that surfaces from time to time to remind us as readers that all good things will come to an end. I’ll try to blame it on the hormones, but it’s admittedly getting kind of late to still be using that excuse; but all the same, I found myself getting to the end of The House at Pooh Corner and being very sad. Like so sad, I had a few tears roll down my cheeks as I powered through a few catches in my throat to finish the last few lines:
Then, suddenly again, Christopher Robin, who was still looking at the world, with his chin in his hands, called out “Pooh!”
“Yes?” said Pooh.
“Yes, Christopher Robin?”
“I’m not going to do do Nothing any more.”
“Well, not so much. They don’t let you.”
Pooh waited for him to go on, but he was silent again.
“Yes, Christopher Robin?” said Pooh helpfully.
“Pooh, when I’m–you know–when I’m not doing Nothing, will you come up here sometimes?”
“Will you be here too?”
“Yes, Pooh, I will be, really. I promise I will be, Pooh.”
“That’s good,” said Pooh.
“Pooh, promise you won’t forget about me, ever. Not even when I’m a hundred.”
Pooh thought for a little.
“How old shall I be then?”
“I promise,” he said.
Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put a hand and felt for Pooh’s paw.
“Pooh,” said Christopher Robin earnestly, “if I–if I’m not quite–” he stopped and tried again–“Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won’t you?”
“Oh, nothing.” He laughed and jumped to his feet. “Come on!”
“Where?” said Pooh.
“Anywhere,” said Christopher Robin.
Even re-typing that little segment brings tears to my eyes. It’s such a sad and subtle and sweet goodbye that I, as an adult, just find it heartbreaking in a way that I couldn’t recognize as a child. Maybe it’s just that these characters have been too Disney-fied, so their depth of character and the richness of the story have been bleached out for mass media. But I’ve had a really hard time these past few days since I finished the book forgetting about book’s wonderful turns of phrase and extremely profound ending.
So, all this to say that I can’t wait until baby is more of a boy and we read the books again (and again). I wonder what mysteries and enlightenment they will hold those next times around.