Since January 18 was A. A. Milne’s birthday, this is the perfect opportunity to enjoy Winnie the Pooh and friends. Alexander Alan Milne, creator of the loveable Pooh bear, took inspiration from his young son, Christopher Robin Milne. Christopher Robin had received a stuffed bear on his first birthday. He called the bear Edward. Winnie was the name of a bear Christopher Robin had seen at the London Zoo. Winnie the Pooh made his first appearance in the story “The Wrong Sort of Bees,” printed in the “London Evening News” on Christmas Eve, 1925. Another bear, resembling Pooh, appeared in the poem “Teddy Bear,” included in A. A. Milne’s book of poems, “When We Were Very Young.”
We’ve become accustomed to seeing Winnie the Pooh on video, television, motion pictures, and in all kinds of merchandise from bedding to lamps to snack food. Pooh is in fact one of the most successful franchises in Disney history. In reality, Milne published just two titles concerning Pooh and his friends. “Winnie the Pooh” (1926), introduced readers to Pooh and a variety of characters, including Christopher Robin, Eeyore, Piglet, Kanga and Roo, Rabbit, and Owl. Milne introduced Tigger in the sequel, “The House at Pooh Corner,” published in 1928. Both titles were illustrated by E. H. Shepard.
Disney Pooh began with “Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree,” in 1966, followed by “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day,” in 1968 and “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too,” in 1974. In 1977 these three shorts were released as a feature film, “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.” A fourth featurette, “Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eyeore,” was released in 1983. In all there have been dozens of motion pictures and television series featuring Pooh and friends, most of which have been released on video. In addition there are video games, and dozens, if not hundreds, of stories that have continued the adventures of Pooh and company in the Hundred Acre Wood.
Everything you need to know about the Disney Pooh can be found in “Winnie the Pooh: the Essential Guide,” by Beth Landis Hester. This colorful book, packed with beautiful stills and watercolor art, provides definitions and descriptions of everything from the Hundred Acre Wood to a list of Piglet’s talents.
The original model for Pooh was Christopher Robin’s stuffed bear. Other characters in the Pooh stories, including Eeyore, Kanga, and Tigger were also inspired by stuffed animals owned by Christopher Robin. Since 1987 these, along with Pooh, have been on display at the New York Public Library.
One would think that a young boy would be flattered to be immortalized in illustration and print, but the real Christopher Robin grew to hate the Pooh stories. He resented what he considered his father’s exploitation of his childhood. In 2005, Disney replaced Christopher Robin as Pooh’s friend with Darby, a six-year-old, tomboyish girl, in the television series “My Friends Tigger and Pooh.”
For more about A. A. Milne, read “A. A. Milne: the Man Behind Winnie the Pooh,” by Ann Thwaite. In addition to the Pooh stories, Milne authored over a dozen books, both fiction and nonfiction, and dozens of plays and screenplays, but it is the loveable, often bumbling bear, Winnie the Pooh that has made Milne’s name endure.
For the more philosophical of mind, John Tyerman Williams demonstrates that all Western philosophy can be found in the works of A. A. Milne in “Pooh and the Philosophers.” The author shows how Pooh explains and elucidates the most profound ideas of the greatest Western thinkers from Plato to Sartre.
Have some fun today. Celebrate A. A. Milne and Winnie the Pooh by reading some of the adventures of Pooh and his friends. But don’t read them alone. Like all great literature, the Pooh stories are meant to be shared, especially with children. Many Pooh titles, both original and Disney, are available in a variety of formats at Manhattan Public Library.