Tuesday, 3 March 2009

‘In Which Christopher Robin and Pooh Come to an Enchanted Place, and We Leave Them There’


I've just had another non-birthday (29th) so am feeling extra grumpy! I don’t think I’ll ever forgive Disney for what it has done to Winnie The Pooh. The Pooh stories were those that I read and re-read when I was a child whilst poring over those wonderful black and white drawings. Some years ago, not having read them since childhood, I set out to buy copies of ‘Winnie The Pooh’ and ‘The House At Pooh Corner’. My only requirements were that they contained the original uncut stories, as written by A A Milne and the original E H Shepard drawings (NOT the colourised versions)...oh, and the must-have map of the 100 acre wood on the inside cover. It took me some time but eventually I found them and have now read them again after decades of neglect.

It is always interesting to read childhood books with the eyes and mind of an (almost)adult as the stories take on a different hue in the harsher light of experience and this was no different. Many classic children’s books have been written by highly original minds (some may say, bonkers e.g. Lewis Carroll, Kenneth Grahame – does anybody understand ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’?) and Milne falls squarely in this group, weaving off-beat humour with an undercurrent of gentle anarchy. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the crashing wave of realisation that awaited me in Chapter 10 of ‘The House At Pooh Corner’. This is the final story in the book and is entitled:
‘In Which Christopher Robin and Pooh Come to an Enchanted Place, and We Leave Them There’

As a child, the import of this story had gone way over my head, but on reading it again the obvious inference that Christopher Robin must give up his playtime with his favourite toys to be packed off to Boarding School leaped off the page at me with the force of a sledge-hammer. This was bad enough but it was CR’s final conversation with Pooh that really got to me:
‘I’m not going to do Nothing anymore.’
‘Never again?’
‘Well, not so much. They don’t let you.’
And it was the ‘They don’t let you’ that really set an icy grip around my heart. It just feels so menacing and secret-police-ish and is utterly heart-breaking. That small phrase stands for everyone who has been wrenched out of childhood and forced to confront the real world before they are ready. Some of us are never ready.

We’re still doing it today, prematurely stripping our children’s innocence by inappropriate education, propaganda, commercialisation of minors and intrusion into private lives by the state. This story was published in 1928 but the sentiment applies as much today as it did then, if not more so.

You don’t find the dark underbelly of childhood in Disneyland and this is why the Disneyisation of the Pooh books has ruined them – they have removed the idiosyncrasies of Milne’s brilliant writing and blanded them out like so much pap. Buy the originals and accept no substitute.

10 comments:

Alan said...

At least you managed to get hold of the books before they are banned due a high lead content.

I'm not sure if the following link will work but try it:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2009/feb/20/kalder-childrens-books-lead-panic

At least the ban is only in America (for the time being)

musicobsessive said...

Uh-oh! *scurries off to check* Phew! Mine are 1993 copies so they're fit to eat if the urge takes me. Better warn my sister as hers are from the 1960s. Who'd have thought it? You can't trust anything these days.

TR1-Guy said...

Ah, we Americans are screwing up the world again with our fear of lead. Don't they know lead is the only thing that protects Superman from Kryptonite, so it HAS to be okay!!

Anyway, I love your pointing these books out to me... I never knew they exsisted as, well, an American, Disney is like to God and all that they do is good and correct. Ugh...

Your comments also remind me of Jethro Tull's "Wind Up" lyrics where Anderson sings "When I was young and they packed me off to school
And taught me how not to play the game..." Sounds as if the Pooh stories are echoing the same sentiments.

Nice piece... and even a tad off the music beat! :)

musicobsessive said...

Hi Byron. Yes I think that the whole of the 'Aqualung' has an anti-establishemnt flavour to it - it seems to be part of the British psyche to have a deep distrust of authority be it politics, religion etc.

I like to do a non-music post every now and then for a bit of variety so I'm glad you liked it. Normal service is resumed for my next post!

Alan said...

If you need a music link, how about this piece of trivia:

AA Milne lived (and died) at Cotchford Farm near the Ashdown Forest - the inspiration for 500 Hundred Acre Wood. Cotchfold Farm is also where Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones lived and was found drowned in 1969.

musicobsessive said...

Hi Alan! I knew that (ahem)!!

Just shows that you can prove anything if you try. I was reading a piece recently where several scientists agreed that it is perfectly possible to prove that 2+2=5. Scary.

Jayne said...

I really enjoyed this post (but of course!). Poor Christopher Robin… and poor us, I suppose. I have just sought out my own copy (1975 edition) to see the page you mean, and yes, it is a full stop on childhood, isn’t it. I guess the whole tone of the book is set from the ‘contradiction’ – the introduction where he says ‘goodbye’.

I think what really touches me now is when Christopher Robin is trying to tell Pooh to remember him, even if he might be different (although he cannot say the words ‘grown up’) and understand that it is just what he has to do – become an adult. Gosh, it’s really rather heart-breaking, you are right. I’m sure I didn’t read it that way as a child – in a way it’s a warning.

I love what you say about all the best classic children’s stories to be written by people who were bonkers. There is definitely something true about that. Are all the best songs also written by people who are not quite with it, say?

And I ignore all the softened disneyfication of older children’s characters – they do such a disservice to the original story. Yes Noddy may now have a mobile, Rupert an iPod, and Andy Pandy a laptop but who are these characters? They have nothing to do with the originals; they might as well be brand new, apart from whoever now owns the copyright wants to flog them further for yet more money. Just as well I suppose that all the original authors are dead, but it’s a sad state of affairs.

musicobsessive said...

Thanks Jayne - what a lovely comment! I'm so glad you liked it as I really wasn't sure whether to post it or not. I think I shall try and write a few more off-subject posts just to try out a few ideas. I don't fancy keeping two blogs so they'll have to stay here.

Oh and by the way, you're absolutely right. All the best music is made by deranged people. My collection is absolutely brimming with madmen and wild women. They're the best!

Cilicious said...

Hi Martin
Excellent essay.
You seem like a kindred spirit. I am 54 and still obsessed with music. However, the way I found you was with the help of Google: For years I have been utterly disgusted at what Disney has done to my beloved Christopher Robin. Have you ever read Carl Hiassen's anti-Disney books?

musicobsessive said...

Hi Cilicious - thanks for your comments. I haven't seen the Carl Hiassen books, perhaps I should check them out?