In Which Mason Clings to His Childhood

My dirty little secret as a pretentious English-major is that most of my favorite books are typically classified as children’s literature. In fact, my favorite book of all time is The Phantom Tollbooth. But this post has nothing to do with The Phantom Tollbooth, so don’t get distracted. This post is about Winnie-the-Pooh.

But seriously. If you haven’t read it, get your life together and find a library.

Through a whole undergraduate career of English literature courses, I’ve made a game of finding out my classmates’ pet theme or motif. Everybody has one. Usually it’s gender or feminist theory; Freudians are the most fun, and Deconstructionists deserve to die. My pet theme is childhood. (And its close cousin: nostalgia.) Childhood and the pain of its erosion impact me in a way that few other themes can.

And that’s what I found in A.A. Milne’s collections of stories, Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner. That Silly Old Bear and his adventures capture the wonder, imagination, and naivety that we so adore in young kids. But Pooh is also notable because he’s very often petty and selfish–the  characteristic of children that so often drives us insane. In the same way, Rabbit annoyingly demands control of the most insignificant things, Eeyore mopes constantly, and so on and so forth. The Hundred Acre Woods is a land where childhood exists eternally in all its most wonderful and frustrating forms.

A game of “Pooh Sticks”

My return to The Hundred Acre Woods brought a realization. Milne’s stories aren’t really children’s stories at all. No, they’re really stories about childhood. A.A. Milne himself was never able to decide whether his stories and poems were meant for children or adults; and in fact he very rarely read his own work to Christopher Robin.

This perspective has particular importance when reading the last chapter of Pooh’s adventures.

Chapter 10 of The House at Pooh Corner, “In which Christopher Robin and Pooh come to an enchanted place, and we leave them there,” is utterly heartbreaking. I’m not too proud to admit that it made me cry.

(Text–you’ll have to scroll down near the bottom to find the chapter; audio is available here)

Milne opens with a beautiful series of observations:

CHRISTOPHER ROBIN was going away. Nobody knew why he was going; nobody knew where he was going; indeed, nobody even knew why he knew that Christopher Robin was going away. But somehow
or other everybody in the Forest felt that it was happening at last.

The chapter ends with Christopher Robin and Pooh Bear sharing a private moment and saying a very confused goodbye. It doesn’t take an English degree to understand that the Hundred Acre Woods is a metaphor for Christopher Robin’s childhood; that the little boy is saying goodbye not to Pooh, but to the enchantment of kid-dom. Adventures are replaced by geography, history, and somebody named Factors.

But that’s just the narrative level. We can picture the author crying as he pens this farewell. In reality, Christopher Robin probably never had a definitive moment of growing up like the book’s final scene. Instead, this can be read as the moment A.A. Milne comes to terms with his son finally growing up. He doesn’t know why he’s grown up, or even why he knows Christopher Robin has grown up. But somehow or other he knows it has happened at last.

What a tragic way to end a magical series. And what a beautiful way to express the particular loss of paradise that growing up demands.

 

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4 Responses to In Which Mason Clings to His Childhood

  1. suzanne says:

    I know I’m just your Grandma but I love your thoughts on Winnie the Pooh..Your heart comes through..You are very special Mason..

  2. Brian Young says:

    Mason, you and I spend so much time joking when we’re together that I don’t think I’ve ever seen this side of you. I do believe you are growing up. Great piece!

  3. beholdingi says:

    How we long to experience again what we could not appreciate until we grew up & out yet are now barred from residing there again! But how beautiful (your inspiring blog theme) are the brief moments we relive our childhoods through the books and lives of children. Even today I had a bless-ed moment when a Preschool teacher mentioned that they were reading the Hungry, Hungry Caterpillar (a tale extolling the beauty of growing up which right now, thanks to you, I’m not happy about such propaganda! 🙂 ). Thank you for reminding us it is okay to grieve at our loss yet still enjoy the memories all around us.

  4. Wink says:

    somehow i never read Winnie. i was strictly an EB White / Roald Dahl / Beverly Cleary man. and Spiderman. who could, i’m pretty sure, kick Pooh’s ass if it came to that. but Pooh would only giggle and bounce and sorta spoil the whole comic-book violence and sound-effects thing. “tee-hee-hee” would undermine Spidey’s confidence in his own superhero-ness. “K-POW!” — now that’s great writing. as is your blog. well done.

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