Warm and Fuzzy, Emotionally Speaking
Pooh is the epitome of comfort. He's literature's version of a grilled cheese sandwich stuffed with mashed potatoes, crusted in chocolate chip cookies and crumbled over a slice of apple pie (try it sometime, put you right to sleep.) You just want to give him a big squeeze because, well, he's soft and fuzzy.
But also, he's emotionally cozy. What do we mean? In short, he's both a loyal and dependable friend for each of the characters in the book, and a conduit for a stress-free worldview that influences us, the readers. Let's start with how his character works as part of the ensemble cast in the Pooh stories.
How Do We Love Thee... Platonically
Milne tells us how important Pooh is right away, and not just by making him the title character. In the Introduction, he writes: "Pooh is the favourite, of course, there's no denying it." (Winnie-the-Pooh.Introduction.3), and so we are automatically primed to love everything about him. Time and again, Pooh proves to be a thoughtful friend, a helpful bear, an adventurous companion, and a cute little fella.
Who wouldn't want a friend like Pooh Bear? To begin with, he's up for anything, which is what makes him a great companion for Christopher Robin. Like when he spots CR donning his big boots before the expedition: "Pooh knew that an Adventure was going to happen, and he brushed the honey off his nose with the back of his paw, and spruced himself up as well as he could, so as to look Ready for Anything" (Winnie-the-Pooh.8.6).
As wonderful as this is, Pooh remains a kind of side-kick to the young boy. That image of CR dragging Pooh "bump, bump, bump" (Winnie-the-Pooh.1.1.) down the stairs resonates through all the tales, in which Christopher Robin leads and Pooh accompanies him. The stories are so engaging that it can be a jarring change from the Pooh of the stories, who seems as real as can be, to that image of him as just a stuffed toy.
But there's much more to Pooh than being an eager toy, and to see this side of him we can look at his relationships with the other animals in the Forest, among whom he emerges as quite the leader. He's a wonderfully empathetic and caring friend to all them.
When Eeyore loses his tail, for example, Pooh announces grandly, "I, Winnie-the-Pooh, will find your tail for you." (Winnie-the-Pooh.4.20). Tigger finds his place in the Forest because Pooh vouches for him: "Pooh explained to Eeyore that Tigger was a great friend of Christopher Robin's, who had come to stay in the Forest" (House.2.74). And when Piglet gives his house up for Owl, Pooh immediately comes to the rescue and opens his own doors to his friend.
In the end, Pooh ends up being a hero in many of the tales. After all, in spite of some clumsiness he is the one who thought of rescuing Piglet in a boat. He did fetch the pole to pull Roo out of the river. And when he, Piglet and Owl are stuck inside of Owl's fallen house, who do they look to for a plan? Let's go to the tape: "'What are we going to do, Pooh? Can you think of anything?' asked Piglet" (House.8.82). That's right—Pooh Bear in da house!
The Perfect Imperfections
Let's be honest, Pooh is not without his faults. He can be simple at times. Like... all times. But Milne uses his ingenuity as a way to communicate broader moral and philosophical ideas (check out "Theme: Life, Consciousness, and Existence" for more on that.) And maybe he's a little vain? Christopher Robin tells our narrator that the bear likes stories about himself, "Because he's that sort of bear" (Winnie-the-Pooh.1.12-14).
Pooh is guilty of a little bit of pride, even when he's in the midst of some of his silliest moments. Let's take a moment to see what he thinks when he accidentally eats Eeyore's birthday present.
So he sat down and took the top off of his jar of honey. "Lucky I brought this with me," he thought. "Many a bear going out on a warm day like this would never have thought of bringing a little something with him." And he began to eat.(Winnie-the-Pooh.6.62)
Or how about when Christopher Robin decides to throw a party for him? "He began to wonder if all the other animals would know that it was a special Pooh Party, and if Christopher Robin had told them about The Floating Bearand The Brain of Pooh, and all the wonderful ships he had invented and sailed on, and he began to think how awful it would be if everybody had forgotten about it, and nobody quite knew what the party was for" (Winnie-the-Pooh.10.13).
And how about his whole thing with Honey (See "Symbols") He goes to visit his friend Rabbit, and stuffs himself to the point of getting stuck in the door?! Pretty selfish if you think about it...
...But then again, he got stuck. In the door. Now that we do think about it, it's just plain funny. And when he gets anxious about the other animals recognizing his accomplishments? Well, that's just too darned cute to be cynical about for long. You see, Pooh's few faults are an essential part of his innocence. It's genuine, pure, always optimistic, and always well-intentioned. For that, Pooh's shortcomings are just as charming as his strengths. In this way, Pooh is a great example of one of Milne's overarching themes—you are who you are, and that's all right with him.
For the Kids
Taking a step back to think of Pooh in the context of young children—this is Children's Literature after all—we should think about why his fumbling bumbling charm is so powerful both for Christopher Robin as a character in the book, and for the child readers who have loved him for decades. We're guessing it has something to do with the fact that young children usually want to feel empowered. If Pooh weren't so naïve, he'd be a little less predictable and comforting for Christopher Robin, who gets to be the advisor, caretaker, and guide to all the animals in the Forest. Check out our analysis of CR for more on this.
And when we think about the kids reading this book, we realize that by being able to see one step ahead of the protagonist and his often silly thoughts and plans, children are always in the driver's seat when they read this book, even they're being read to. So Pooh's simple-mindedness is both a source of humor for the readers, but also a source of confidence.
When you were younger, did you ever have a toy that you loved so much that you practically (or literally) broke it because you carried it with you everywhere? I had a teddy bear, given to me on the day I was born, named “Huggy Bear,” and she was the best. I was a girl of many stuffed animals throughout the years, but Huggy took the cake.
I played with her from the time of her being white and fluffy to being gray and totally fuzzless (and then some). She still has a special spot on my shelf.
I’m not the first to have a bond that strong with a favorite toy, nor will I be the last. One of the world’s most famous childhood characters, Winnie the Pooh, is based on creator A. A. Milne’s son’s favorite stuffed bear (and other animals who would become the other characters). Milne was so charmed by his son’s love for story-telling and world-making that he created a series based on it. It’s been charming the rest of us for almost 100 years now through books, movies, television shows, and more.
I had several Pooh character outfits. Here’s me rocking out at Disney World to a band with my dad while wearing a Tigger shirt!
Now, there are many wonderful articles out there about some of the history of the series, including the tragic dislike that both Milne and his son (Christopher Robin – surprise!) had for the series by the end of their days, as well as some of the best quotes from it that gave us plentiful life lessons, so I’ll keep this brief. The biggest life lesson I learned while adventuring through the Hundred Acre Wood is that everybody has a place there.
“Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them.”
Everybody, from the anxious Piglet, to the overactive Tigger, to the perpetually cloudy Eeyore, to the outsider figure Christopher Robin, to the characters that only show up occasionally, has a place in the Hundred Acre Wood because of the effort that Pooh Bear puts into making his friends feel loved and at home, wherever their adventures take them. There’s space for every type and quirk because of the immense effort that’s taken to love people just as they are – to go to their homes, invite them along on the journey, and make common bonds among them all, even though their personalities could not be more different.
That kind of living and uniting love is a lesson that’s stuck with me long past the days of carrying around my raggedy and beloved teddy bear. What’s one of yours?
Emmie Arnold is a follower of Jesus, survivor and thriver, graduate student of divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary, blogger at Illness to Wellness, musician, photographer, traveler, goofball, and optimist.