A.A. MILNE: January 18, 1882 – January 31, 1956
Originally published January 18, 2015.
When my wife and I were dating, one of the first Christmas presents I gave her was a blown-glass Winnie the Pooh Christmas ornament. The ornament was designed on the original E.H. Shepard illustrations, not the more cartoon-y Disney design. Years later, when she was pregnant with our first child, we were shopping for items for our son’s nursery, and I kept picking out Winnie the Pooh items. And nobody ever questioned why. To most of us, Winnie-The-Pooh is a natural choice for a child. It’s a story of innocence, and the happiness that comes from simplicity. It’s a good enough message for a newborn, but I’d read Winnie-The-Pooh at least a half-dozen times in adulthood. I’d chosen Christmas ornaments and decorations long before I had kids. And while I certainly appreciated the messages of simplicity, gratitude, and happiness, it represented something else that I don’t think I understood at the time. At their core, the stories of Winnie-The-Pooh are about telling stories; the medium and the message are the same. More specifically, the stories about creativity and how childhood and innocence affect that creativity. How growing up and losing our innocence also takes with it other benefits, among them our access to uninhibited creativity.
Winnie-The-Pooh had originated as a series of bedtime tales A.A. Milne had created for his son, Christopher Robin. When writing the book of stories, Milne framed the book through that dynamic. In the book, the narrator would begin a story to Christopher Robin, and then Christopher Robin would be magically swept into the story as both listener and character. The stories within Winnie-The-Pooh are all familiar: Pooh eats too much honey and gets stuck, Eeyore loses a tail, Piglet gets caught in a flood. Throughout the stories, Christopher Robin acts as both adult and child, advisor and student. He learns lessons in humility and gentleness, gratitude and simplicity. As the book draws to a close, Pooh has saved Piglet from drowning in a flooding rainstorm by turning Christopher Robin’s umbrella into a boat, on which the two sailed to safety. It was not a creative solution that anyone had expected from a bear with “very little brain”, and so Christopher Robin decided to throw a large party in Pooh’s honor. As Pooh groomed himself for the party, he began to feel pangs of anxiety. He began to wonder if he was worth the fuss. He began to wonder if his friends would remember his actions after awhile. Overcome by anxiety, Pooh created the “Anxious Pooh Song” in which he alternately called for a celebration of his name, but which unfortunately ended with his friends singing “Just tell me, Somebody – WHAT DID HE DO?” When he gets to the party, he is given a gift that makes him extremely happy: a Special Pencil Case, filled with pencils and erasers and rulers. It’s similar to a pencil case that Christopher Robin has in real life. The party ends, and Pooh and Piglet wander home and discuss how every moment of every day has the possibility to be exciting. The story ends with Christopher Robin asking for the next part of the story. The narrator says that more stories were available, “if you wanted it very much.” As Christopher Robin ascends the staircase to take his nightly bath, he asks if Pooh’s pencil case is nicer than his. “It’s just about the same,” answers the narrator.
“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"
"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"
"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. "It's the same thing," he said.”
What can happen to us that might be exciting? That might be worthy of our stories? All of it. If we’re really open to it.
- Winnie-The-Pooh at the New York Public Library
- Portrait of A.A. Milne, Christopher Robin, and the original Pooh doll at the National Portrait Gallery