Words: Andrea Zanin
Illustration: Fleur Beech

Almost a century ago Christopher Robin Milne paid a visit to the London Zoo. Inspired by an incarcerated Canadian black bear called Winnie, the little boy appropriated the name for his own favourite teddy, adding ‘the Pooh’ in tribute to a swan called “Pooh” (assumedly an odorous creature) that he met on a family holiday. In 1926 Christopher Robin was rendered into words by his father A.A. Milne, who made a star out of his son’s favourite teddy in Winnie-the-Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner (1928) and in a poem about the bear in the children’s verse book When We Were Very Young (1924), and many more in Now We Are Six (1927). Then our favourite world-dominating Disney superpower bought the rights to Milne’s story in the 1960s, de-hyphenating the bear and beguiling dear Winnie into the minds of the masses with cartoon and commodity. So the story goes…

Kids have been lovin’ on Pooh for almost 90 years. Disney magic aside, it’s a no-brainer; Milne’s anthropomorphic bear re-enacts the reality lived by every child who relies on (in the profound words of one Emily Brown) a ‘cuddly’ to get them through the day – of course they love Pooh. It’s easy to imagine Christopher Robin and his bear – a filthy, snot-infused, saliva-soaked sack of germs – making a mission of Ashdown Forest (aka the Hundred Acre Wood), playing ‘poohsticks’, rescuing Piglet (another member of Mr Christopher’s soft toy posse), discovering the North Pole, writing poems, eating honey and adventuring the way small children and their favourite teddies do.

Like every other cuddly occupying space on this great green earth, the undeniable grossness that comes along with hours of intense cuddling and kissing, bestowed with the purest of love, is the very thing that empowers Winnie the Pooh with the supernatural skills required to keep the young mind of his owner happy and healthy in a world full of crazy. Nestled in the arms of a child, a pathogen perforated pretend pet is capable of extreme alchemy – gentle in sagacity and profound in perspective, a favourite teddy judges not; healing all hurts, cajoling sleep with singular sympathy and calming even the most violent emotional eruption. Psychologists have proven that children intuitively believe their ‘attachment objects’ to possess a unique essence or life force and although children know that their cuddlies are not alive, they believe in them as if they are. Not only that; there is a quality inherent in the essence of a favourite teddy that cannot be reproduced. A duplicate teddy without the dried spittle from two weeks ago’s flu, the mud from that splash-erific puddle in the back garden and yesterday’s super tasty Bolognese sauce, simply put, is devoid of personality – thus minus superpower stature and consequently not fit for purpose.

Pooh personifies the point that sometimes a child’s imagination is a far stronger healing force than plasters and even parents

The greying dreadlocks of a once-gleaming coat of fur, the missing eye, the torn ear and the poignant stink of a favourite teddy are what make it magic. It is Winnie the Pooh’s unassuming imperfections that procreate adoration. The bear is slow-witted (repeatedly referred to as “a bear of very little brain”), only occasionally acknowledged as having a clever idea, naive and hella greedy – in other words, flawed like the rest of us. But he’s also optimistic, occasionally brave, often philosophical and super social, with a cosmopolitan group of friends and the ability to unite group dynamic (want to hire him?). Pooh’s idiosyncrasies inform his character, his charm and his heroism.

Pooh personifies the point that sometimes a child’s imagination is a far stronger healing force than plasters and even parents, which can be a tough pill for mums and dads to swallow; that they aren’t really needed (at least, not all the time). And children, the mini sadists that they are, take great pleasure in rubbing it in – innocently pleading for Pooh and the gang… just one more time, please mum, please!… with apparent disregard for the stories’ subliminal assertion of independence, indoctrinating parents into letting go.  Then just when the stuffed fluff stuff threatens to destroy all parenting ego, Egmont Publishing goes and announces plans to release a Winnie-the-Pooh anthology to mark the 90th anniversary (in 2016) of the A.A. Milne’s original story – just in case the kids need some more material to work with. The anthology, currently untitled, is to be written by four authors, who will be announced closer to publication, and illustrated by Mark Burgess. Perfect. More Pooh. More reminders that favourite teddies are in, mum and dad are out. Luckily A.A. Milne offered an antidote, saying “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”  Parenting in a nutshell. Sometimes it sucks. Perhaps mums and dads also need a cuddly?

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