Jun 22, 2017

Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin

On winter afternoons in fourth or fifth grade, I was stuck in the house listening to my kid brother's Disney record.

He loved that darn thing, and played it over and over and over.  It was a small house, so there was no place to escape from the torture.

It begins with "From all of us to all of you, a very Merry Christmas," a song I've never heard anywhere else.  Then we get some non-Christmas stories:

1. Little Black Sambo, who has a New York accent: "All the tigahs have turned into buttah!"

2. Scrooge McDuck ships his money to the moon for safekeeping.

3. Winnie the Pooh, a fat, stupid bear with a chalkboard-grating voice, braves a natural disaster that floods his home.  Winnie is a girl's name, and "pooh" means feces, and it only goes downhill from there.  

Later I found that the nightmare-inducing hell-voice came from the evil Sterling Holloway (1904-1992), who also voiced the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland and Kaa the Snake (who hypnotizes and tries to eat Mowgli in The Jungle Book).

I've been blessedly spared the Disney movies, but in school I had the original books inflicted on me.  They are the diabolical work of A.A. Milne (1882-1956), who began his degradation and despair in poetry collected in When We Were Very Young (1924).

Little Boy kneels at the foot of the bed,
Droops on the little hands little gold head.
Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares!
Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.

The teacher expected 10 year olds raised on a diet of Lost in Space, Star Trek, and Magnus Robot Fighter to read this?  And like it?  Really?

But the main atrocity, the Pooh Demon, comes from stories originally published in St. Nicholas, Punch, and other magazines before settling down into two books, Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) and The House on Pooh Corner (1928).

 They star Milne's son,  Christopher Robin Milne, and his coterie of toy and real animals:  Rabbit; Owl (very creative names); Kanga and Roo (mother and child kangaroos); Piglet; Eeyore (a donkey), and the titular Winnie  (although Milne's teddy bear was actually named Edward).

The later book introduces Tigger (a tiger spelled wrong).

The short adventures generally involve Christopher Robin's demonic minions misunderstanding things.  For instance, when he writes a note explaining that he'll be back soon, his demonic minions misinterpret "Backson" as a person, conclude that he has been kidnapped, and mount a daring rescue operation.

Or Eeyore the clinically depressed donkey loses his tail in the woods. Owl finds it, thinks it's a doorbell, and takes it home.  Not to worry, he gives it up without a fuss, and Christopher Robin nails it on.

The beings all have separate houses in the 100 Acre Woods, based on the 500 Acre Wood in Ashdown Forest, East Sussex (100 acres is .15 miles, so about a block and a half square).  It's mostly not woods at all, but swampy fields and dreary sandpits, and a river full of boulders and "rox."   Nice.

The gender-bending "Winnie," with his rather obvious lack of sex organs, has raised the ire of the city council of Tuszyn, Poland, which banned him for being transgender or "a hermaphrodite."

Some internet pundits try to make Piglet into a gay character due to his sense of style and interest in flower arranging -- and desire to see Christopher Robin naked.

But I find no gay subtexts in the books.  Although the characters are all male, except for Kanga, and there is no hetero-romance, no one lives together.  They are isolated individuals, not domestic partners like Toad and Rat in The Wind in the Willows.

And there's no permanence.  Gay subtexts have partners walking off into the sunset together, but the Pooh books are informed by a disturbing transience.  This will all end.  Christopher Robin will learn to spell "rocks," not "rox," write "back soon," not "backson," and become too old for his relationships with imaginary beings.  The end of the second book has him going off to boarding school, leaving forever.

Same-sex bonds belong to childhood.  The cold, hard work of adulthood requires heterosexual marriage and reproduction.

In gay subtext stories, men don't leave!.

Besides...that grating, infuriating voice!

When Lane's mother was sick, he bought her a Winnie-the-Pooh figure, thinking it would cheer her up.  She threw the darn thing across the room.

Rosa and I didn't agree on much, but I have to applaud that act of resistance.

Christopher Robin Milne (1920-1996) was a fey little kid (by parental design: they liked to feminize their boys in those days).  When he left the bear to go to school, he was bullied mercilessly by his classmates, and took up boxing for relief.

  He served in World War II, married his cousin Lesley de Selincourt, and opened a bookshop in Dartmouth.  He wrote several autobiographies, but mostly tried to distance himself from Winnie the Pooh.

Wouldn't you?

The illustrations, by the way, are from actors who have played Christopher Robin during his 31 film and tv appearances, or others who are named Christopher Robin.

1. A model named Christopherobin
2. A costumed Christopher Robin character at Disneyland
3. Frankie Galasso
4. Alex Lawther
5. The real Christopher Robin, his dad, and his demonic hell-beast.
6. Tom Wheatley.

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