Comedy and Human Nature in Winnie-the-Pooh

The Winnie-the-Pooh ride at Disneyland is conveniently located next to Splash Mountain.  This means, if you travel there with a child who is old enough to ride everything and a child who is only old enough to wreak havoc, you can split up and have everybody be happy.  Well, everybody except the parent who has to ride Winnie-the-Pooh five times in a row.  That would be me.  I could go on, but I already regaled you with tales of our adventures at the happiest place on earth here.

My point is that children love Winnie-the-Pooh, and the reason probably has a lot to do with Pooh’s origins.  The book by A. A. Milne and number 40 on the BBC book list is a collection of tales Milne created for his son Christopher Robin.  The stories center around Christopher Robin’s toys, with Edward Bear, nicknamed Winnie-the-Pooh.  This poor bear and his strange nickname have, I’m sure, endured many insults since its inception in what year 1926, but nevertheless, the bear remains popular.

Part of this may be the comedy of the stories.  Their silliness and strange situations are appealing enough to make children and grownups laugh alike.  For example, when Pooh gets stuck in Rabbit’s front door, I couldn’t help but chuckle.  Christopher Robin and Rabbit, despite their best efforts, cannot remove Pooh from the hole, so they resort to a fasting diet.  Pooh must not eat for a week but is promised Sustaining Books to pass the time.  Of this time, Milne writes, “So for a week Christopher Robin read that sort of book at the North end of Pooh, and Rabbit hung his washing on the South end . . .” (31).

The comedy continues with misunderstood and mispronounced words.  These are the sorts of words that children frequently misuse or say, and Milne takes advantage of that shortcoming in Pooh.  Owl, known for his wisdom, says, “customary procedure” and Pooh repeats, “Crustimoney Proseedcake.”  Then Owl says, “First, Issue a Reward” and Pooh repeatedly asks him if he needs a tissue and explains that he doesn’t know what Owl said with all of that sneezing.  This play on words and sounds is appealing.

A more subtle form of comedy is Pooh’s overall personality.  He seems to represent the worst of human nature while being so innocent and clueless that we can’t help but love him.  His gluttony over honey is certainly something we can all relate to.  (I find myself irresistibly drawn to chocolate and ice cream.)  Pooh goes so far as to eat the honey he planned to give Eeyore for his birthday.  Have you ever done that?  Bought a birthday present for someone, and then kept it?

The real hero of each story is Christopher Robin.  What child doesn’t like a story in which the children are the heroes?  This is a common theme in children’s literature.  Some of my favorites are the Harry Potter series, The Series of Unfortunate Events, and The Hunger Games.  Because Milne told these stories to his son, I am sure it came naturally for him to cast Christopher Robin as the only resident of the 100-acre woods capable of keeping it all together.  The animals are like children, who depend on Christopher Robin to care for them.  Kanga trusts him, for when baby Roo goes missing, “she felt quite sure that Christopher Robin would never let any harm happen to Roo” (103).

Christopher Robin becomes a patient and loving parent to these forest animals, and his constant refrain to Pooh, even in the most extenuating circumstances, is “Silly old bear!”  This, of course, is said with kindness.  It is the sort of thing you say to your children when they do something really stupid but so cute and funny that you can’t help but feel nostalgic.  At the end of one chapter, Christopher Robin goes a little further, telling Pooh, “How I do love you!” (71). He is patient, loving, and kind toward his bumbling bear.

I think Eeyore’s birthday is my favorite chapter.  Of course Eeyore is grumpy and thinks that everybody has forgotten his special day.  And to be honest, they have, but they make up for it.  The chapter reminds me of a favorite episode of I Love Lucy, in which Lucy becomes like Eeyore, thinking that Ricky, Fred, and Ethel have forgotten her birthday.  She wanders the streets and takes up with the Friends of the Friendless.  However, in the end, she joins her friends at Ricky’s nightclub, where she discovers a surprise party.  At that party, Ricky sings the words to the famous opening theme song, and that is why I love the episode so much.

I love Lucy, and she loves me

We’re as happy as two can be

Sometimes we quarrel, but then

How we love to make it up again

Lucy kisses like no one can

She’s my Mrs. and I’m her man

Our lives are like heaven, you see

‘Cause I love Lucy, yes, I love Lucy

And Lucy loves me!

Okay, so their lives did not turn out to be like heaven, but the show sure makes me think that they did.

Back to Pooh.  I identify most with Piglet because of his trouble with being small.  I, too, am small.  I always have been.  I was always the shortest person in my school class growing up, and I still have to climb onto the kitchen counter occasionally to reach things.  I am petite, and so is Piglet.  He encapsulates the trouble I have felt with being a small person.  He says, “It is hard to be brave … When you’re only a Very Small Animal” (94).  That is the truth.  But in Rabbit’s practicality, he responds, “It is because you are a very small animal that you will be Useful in the adventure before us” (94).  What a great lesson.  Everybody can be useful, big or small.

Before creating the stories, Milne asked what sort of stories Edward Bear liked.  Christopher Robin replied, “About himself.  Because he’s that sort of Bear” (4).  So the stories began.  And I suppose that we all like stories about ourselves, because we, too, are Winnie the Pooh.  He is human nature, flaws, blemishes, beauty, goodness, and everything in between.

Still smiling after the fourth ride on Winnie-the-Pooh and too busy looking at the ride’s attractions rather than the camera