From my brilliant husband, Clay Clarkson
Winnie-the-Pooh died today. Or, rather, his father died today. Not his real father mind you. And not this day, but on this day. Oh dear. I mean, on another day that is the same as this day. A different kind of same day. I mean. Oh bother.
A. A. Milne, the literary father of Winnie-the-Pooh, died 58 years ago on this day, January 31, 1956. He left behind a legacy of childhood innocence that has delighted generations of children, and adults, in many languages and cultures around the world. Thankfully, his literary progeny live on. You might have missed it, but January 18 was Winnie-the-Pooh Day in honor of Milne’s 1882 birthday.
I think it is safe to say that no other literary character in the past century is as deeply ingrained in our collective cultural psyche as the honey-loving bear of little brain. Perhaps it is because Pooh is a children’s storybook creation mined from the Milne family’s real life. Winnie-the-Pooh was the young Christopher Robin Milne’s real stuffed bear, just as his other animal friends—Piglet, Tigger, Eyore, and Kanga—were the boy’s stuffed playmates. And The Hundred Acre Wood was a real place in the Ashdown Forest area of Sussex, England, where the Milne family spent many happy years. Perhaps being made from the real made the pretend Pooh all the more real.
“The hardest part is what to leave behind… It’s time to let go.”
This post is not a history of Pooh, but rather a historical parable of sorts about innocence—its reality, its endurance, its loss. You see, on the same day that A. A. Milne died in England, a future generation was also being birthed there. As Mr. Milne passed quietly out of this world on that January 31, John Lydon came screaming into it. And no matter how innocent the baby boy might have been then, twenty years later that unspoiled infant would become Johnny Rotten, lead singer for the Sex Pistols. His groundbreaking British group would introduce the world to Punk Rock music, a thoroughly un-innocent musical form of screaming and swearing in musical rage against all things good. The Rock and Roll generation that began three days before Milne died, when Elvis Presley released his first hit song “Heartbreak Hotel,” would go on through baby Lydon born three days later to thoroughly reject innocence. And culture has never been quite the same.
Do you see the parable in those details of history? On January 31, 1956, the creator of perhaps the most enduring literary expression of cultural innocence died, and that same day the creator of perhaps the most influential musical expression of cultural un-innocence was born. It was a cosmic convergence of clashing cultures, a sentient snapshot of the inevitable ebbing and flowing of innocence. And here’s some irony to chew on along with it. In 2002, the London BBC ran a TV poll to determine who the British people thought were the “100 Greatest Britons” of all times. A. A. Milne didn’t even make the list. But John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, did. He came in at number 87. Oh stuff and bother.
“I used to believe in forever, but forever is too good to be true.”
It’s no big secret that innocence, especially for children, has taken a beating in the past half century.
Culture tends to appreciate innocence for a time, but soon tires of it, kicks it to the side of the road, and runs off in pursuit of other ever-mutating expressions of un-innocence. Like an addict always in need of a stronger fix, culture rarely lingers long in the presence of purity. But innocence never goes away. It endures. It must endure.
Here’s my point (yes, I have one). Innocence is the natural state of a child’s heart.
Not theological innocence, but rather an ideological innocence that simply acknowledges that the innocent choice is natural, good, and the most desirable. I believe all children, if unspoiled by culture and given the opportunity, will naturally desire and choose the sweeter offerings of cultural fruit—they will choose innocence and be nourished by its pure nectar. However, in the absence of truly innocent choices, a child will tend to choose the least un-innocent of whatever is offered, no matter how far the choices veer from innocence. And in that choosing an appetite for un-innocence can slowly and inevitably be fed and strengthened. Until there is no appetite for innocence. It happens in culture; it happens in children.
For the rest of the story and a great innocent book list, go to: http://forthefamily.org/
Our children were raised on Winnie the Pooh–great read-alouds for children and adults. Also, innocent, tickles the funny bone, and has great language.
What are your favorites for innocent reading aloud as a family? (Sarah will be speaking about this at the next two Mom Heart conferences and more about choosing the right stories for feeding your children’s hearts.)
And did you know this about Winnie the Pooh:
Postscript of Useless but Interesting Historical Details:
If you think of Pooh as just a nice little children’s story that Disney made famous, let me add some perspective. Milne released Winnie-the-Pooh, his first collection of Pooh stories, in 1926, followed by The House at Pooh Corner in 1928. In 1930, media mogul Stephen Slesinger licensed Winnie-the-Pooh, giving birth to the modern licensing industry.
Less than two years later, in the depths of the Great Depression, Pooh was a $50-Million dollar industry ($650-Million in 2014 dollars). Walt Disney, who founded Walt Disney Studio the same year as Milne’s first Pooh book, was still getting his cartoon acts together, and wouldn’t buy the Pooh licenses until 1961, after the death of Slesinger in 1953 and Milne three years later. Because Milne’s books were published after 1923, the first one will not enter the Public Domain until 2026, and the Disney derivative works not for many decades after that. Pooh is here to stay.