XI. IN WHICH We Chat About Life Issues Full Of Thistles (Not The Kind Beloved By Eeyore), Applicable to Literary Characters and Real People Both
In my last post, I was discussing the concept of Happy Endings with everyone’s favourite Bear of Very Little Brain (the picture above shows my Very Own Teddy Bear --- and Friend --- standing in for Pooh), and I used the last few lines from The House at Pooh Corner as an example. (With apologies to A.A. Milne --- but then again, haven’t we all had discussions with our favourite literary characters? At various times? What’s that? You haven’t? Well, then, I’m sorry, we can’t talk anymore. You need to Go Away now. The rest can stay.)
However... I also told Pooh the lines preceding that excerpt were decidedly bittersweet. Silly me. Because, of course, Pooh asked why. (You’d think nearly three decades of parenting would have taught me better than to volunteer a statement that begs an explanation.) Reluctantly, I replied that because in those lines, Christopher Robin is coming to some Rather Uncomfortable Realizations... and he’s not sure he wants to face them. Pooh thought this over for a moment before asking me, “And will he?”
And I hesitated. For about the third time in that particular discussion. Because the issue was really one we don’t normally associate with Pooh and Christopher Robin and the 100 Acre Wood and such, although perhaps we should (more on that in a moment). And then I did what people do all the time when confronted with issues they Don’t Really Want To Talk About: I stalled Pooh by saying such a discussion was really better suited to another time.
Pooh was --- as he usually is --- quite agreeable to that, noting it was really time for luncheon, anyway, so he went off in one direction and I went off in the other, feeling fairly relieved. And there I thought the issue rested.
Several people asked me about those lines, until it got to the point where I felt I owed them, if not Pooh as well, some kind of explanation. So here it is.
Let’s start by looking at the excerpt in question, shall we? Here it is:
Then, suddenly again, Christopher Robin, who was still looking at the world, with his chin in his hands, called out, “Pooh!”
“Yes?” said Pooh.
“When I’m --- when --- Pooh!”
“Yes, Christopher Robin?”
“I’m not going to 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?”
Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put out 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.
Wow. Want to write well? Write like that. There’s no less than three, count ‘em, three, Uncomfortable Realizations --- actually rather heart-rending realizations, truth be told --- contained in that brilliant excerpt, all of which deal with unutterably sad realities in most people’s life journeys:
- As we leave childhood behind, the turbulence of the world signifies an end of innocence unique to the state of childhood;
- Most don’t want to see that innocence end even as we acknowledge its inevitability, and would do nearly anything to see it continue;
- Many will make attempts --- with varying degrees of success --- to regain, even temporarily, that innocence and the special feelings associated with it.
Pretty profound truths, Mr. M, and not what most people tend to associate with Pooh --- although, as I said, they should. The Pooh stories often deal with very deep themes. For example, I use Pooh stories when I want to talk with my classes about unconscious evil, or the sophistication/corrupting influence of the outside world. Yes, those issues are there. I don’t know whether or not he did it deliberately, but Milne frequently discusses all kinds of Uncomfortable Realizations in a way that is at once simple enough and complex enough for children and adults to understand on both instinctive and intellectual levels.
The slings and arrows of outrageous fate tend to whack the innocence out of us. The day to day struggles, and irritations, and petty shots, and hurry, and noise... they all can cumulatively cause us to forget to be here, to be present, to remember. Us and our literary characters. If we let them. But we can’t. We mustn’t. Some days that is easier than others. But if we want Milne’s final words to apply to us --- wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing --- we need to remember.
“So, do you see now, Pooh?” I asked.
He pondered for a moment. “I think so,” he replied. “Things can’t stay the same, but that needn’t necessarily be a Bad Thing, as long as one remembers to remember. And add onto without losing things in the process. Is that it?”
“Bear,” I said solemnly, “That is magnificent. No one could have put it better.”
“Not even Owl?”
“Not even Owl.”
“Or Christopher Robin?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Oh. Well, that’s all right, then. If you’re quite, quite sure.”
“Then... what about a little something to revive oneself?”
“I think that would be magnificent, too.”
And it was.