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Reliving Fond Memories
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"So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing"
The House At Pooh Corner
Bear Country became Critter Country became Pooh Corner. Just in time for the Easter break the Disney Company unveiled its first new Disneyland attraction in several years. It is assured for success because it is based on the most famous bear in the world. He and his pals in the Hundred Acre Wood have enchanted children and adults for 78 years with their simplicity and warmth.
I want to take this opportunity to introduce the man who made this all possible. No, its not Michael Eisner, nor even Walt Disney. The man was a successful English writer. He breathed life into his sons stuffed animals, setting them free in the Ashdown Forest near their country cottage. His books were pure genius, the distillation of childhood. He mined the collective unconscious of humanity, creating works that are easily one of the most famous childrens stories in all of English literature.
His name was Alan Alexander Milne, a well-known writer and successful playwright. He had written over 24 plays, performed all over the world. Trained at Cambridge, he started his career writing for Punch, a magazine wit and humor. He eventually wrote up several verses about childhood that were assembled into a book, called "When We Were Young". The book was a huge hit, selling out several editions.
In 1920 Milnes wife Daphne gave birth to a son. They named him Christopher Robin, nicknaming him Billy Moon (Moon was how the infant tried to pronounce his surname). As he grew older, Christopher Robin liked to play in the woods surrounding the cottage of their summer residence.
Milne began formulating a series of stories based on Christopher Robin's stuffed animals, which would be a companion volume to When We Were Very Young. Christopher Robin had already named the bear Winnie the pooh. There was a pig called Piglet, A donkey called Eeyore and a tiger called Tigger. Milne's mind created the characters of Owl and Rabbit, but he needed more to round out the group. Daphne Milne and Christopher Robin went to a department store in London and picked out a couple more. So Kanga and Roo entered into the scene.
The origins of the name Winnie the pooh has always been of interest. Winnie was the name of an American black bear living in the London Zoo at that time and Christopher Robin knew him well. (At the Zoo is a statue of a bear cub celebrating the link). As far as the meaning of "pooh", the definition predates a time when it meant the opposite of what it does today. It was also the name of a Swan living at a lake. "Pooh" meant "Beautiful" or "Wonderful". So when Christopher Robin was asked to name his new bear, which was his favorite toy, he answered "Winnie the pooh" and the name stayed.
When the first book of Pooh stories hit the bookstores in 1925, the reaction was instantaneous. The Pooh stories hit that collective nerve in humanity, the same as Star Wars and Indiana Jones would 60 years later. The books were everywhere: On the coffee tables in fashionable salons, as well as children's nurseries.
Milne followed it with three more books, each one as successful as the one before it. He stopped writing them for two reasons: He didn't wish to be known as the writer of children's stories, and he was concerned for his son in the glare of publicity.
The real Christopher Robin was a painfully shy child. As he grew older, he had a hard time with the constant publicity and questions. He became Christopher Robin the character, not a flesh and blood boy. It took him many years to come to terms with his father's creation. I assume Alice Liddell (the real Alice in Wonderland) must have had a similar problem.
AA Milne passed on in 1956. His widow sold the rights of his books to Walt Disney in 1961. Winnie Pooh found a whole new life as a Disney character.
Many of the purists don't think highly of the animated version, and assume Pooh's creator would also. However, Milne once wrote to Kenneth Grahame, the author of "The Wind In The Willows"; "I expect you have heard that Disney is interested in it (TWITW)? It's just the thing for him, of course, and he would do it beautifully." Milne was a great friend of Grahame's, even creating a popular play out of TWITW. He might not have minded Disney's take on his own creation.
The years go by and Pooh's popularity remains undiminished. Each new generation discovers the vivid characters. Now an attraction is opening that children will enjoy.
Whenever I see Pooh, I think of woods and streams, a boy and a bear-of-very-little-brain playing poohsticks off the bridge. As Disney cashes in on the cultural Tsunami of Pooh, I tend to think of the simpler things that makes these stories so enduring. I think of a man writing stories for his son. Popped birthday balloons. The security of real friends during rainstorms and blustery days of life. The naturalness of curiosity and joy and the timelessness of youth.
-- David Mink
Reliving Fond Memories is normally posted the third Wednesday of each month.
The opinions expressed by our David Mink, and all of our columnists, do not necessarily represent the feelings of LaughingPlace.com or any of its employees or advertisers. All speculation and rumors about the future plans of the Walt Disney Company are just that - speculation and rumors - and should be treated as such.
-- Posted April 16, 2003