The world according to Pooh

For The Record

October 14, 2001|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

Or, how one very simple literary bear -- at 75 -- has become a general expert on getting through life.

Winnie-the-Pooh, that "silly old bear" immortalized by A.A. Milne, turns 75 today. But far from being, in Milne's words, "a Bear of Very Little Brain," Pooh has not only gotten older, he has gotten wiser.

The past four decades have seen the publication of such books as The Tao of Pooh, Pooh and the Philosophers: In Which It Is Shown That All of Western Philosophy Is Merely a Preamble to Winnie-the-Pooh, Winnie-the-Pooh on Problem Solving and Postmodern Pooh. Milne's ur-ursine text has been critiqued by literary scholars of all persuasions, and the distinguished bear has been hailed as a management consultant, an exercise guru and even a cook.

And so, in honor of Pooh's birthday, here are excerpts from just a few volumes that attest to the sagacity of Milne's noble bear.

* Pooh and the Philosophers (Dutton Books, 1995), by John Tyerman Williams (also the author of Pooh and the Millennium: In Which the Bear of Very Little Brain Explores the Ancient Mysteries at the Turn of the Century and Pooh and the Psychologists: In Which It Is Proven That Pooh Bear Is a Brilliant Psychotherapist):

"At the beginning of the Pooh story, we learn that 'Winnie-the-Pooh lived in a forest all by himself ... ' This clearly bears out Nietzsche's maxim: 'To live alone one must be an animal or a god -- says Aristotle. There is yet a third case: one must be both -- a philosopher.' "

* The Tao of Pooh (Dutton, 1982), by Benjamin Hoff (who went on to write The Te of Piglet):

" 'One of the most important principles of Taoism was named after you.'

" 'Really?' Pooh asked, looking more hopeful.

" 'Of course -- P'u, the Un-carved Block.'

"'I'd forgotten,' said Pooh ...

No matter how he may seem to others, especially to those fooled by appearances, Pooh, the Uncarved Block, is able to accomplish what he does because he is simpleminded. As any old Taoist walking out of the woods can tell you, simpleminded does not necessarily mean stupid. It's rather significant that the Taoist ideal is that of the still, calm, reflecting 'mirror-mind' of the Uncarved Block."

* Winnie-the-Pooh on Problem Solving (Dutton, 1995), by Roger E. Allen and Stephen D. Allen (a sequel to Winnie-the-Pooh on Management):

" 'I think,' said Pooh, 'that if you don't pick the right problem, it's the wrong problem which means that you still have to solve the right problem after you've solved the wrong problem, if you do. Right?' "

* Postmodern Pooh (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001), by Frederick Crews (a sequel to the author's 1963 spoof of literary criticism, The Pooh Perplex). First, a look at Piglet, from an essay titled, "The Fissured Subtext," by Marxist scholar Carla Gulag:

"By caking himself in dirt, Piglet is reasserting his class identity and thus preserving himself from social castration by the whitening, starching, homogenizing influence of that sylvan soccer mom, Kanga. The soil compacted in his bulletproof vest is nothing less than his brown badge of courage in the industrial army that will eventually beat its plowshares into victorious revolutionary swords."

And, another view of Kanga, the sole female member of Pooh's coterie. From the essay, "Just Lack a Woman," by feminist scholar Sisera Catheter:

"Kanga is indeed Woman, but Woman as she has been abjected by centuries of forced acculturation to the sick gynophobic demands of the patriarchy. And in that light she can be seen by us, if not by Milne, as a virtual poster girl for the struggle against male oppression."

* The Pooh Cook Book (Dutton, 1969), by Virginia H. Ellison:

"Honey Sauce I:

1 cup honey

1/2 cup cream

Heat but do not boil the honey in a double boiler or heavy-bottomed saucepan. Remove from heat and slowly stir in the cream. Blend thoroughly. Use on cereals, pancakes, waffles, French toast, ice cream, cake, apple pie, tarts, or other desserts."

* Finally, after consuming that concoction, you would be wise to consult Pooh's Workout Book (Dutton, 1984), by Ethan Mordden:

"The Expert's Corner: Advice from Noted Athletes on Silly Dancing ... Pooh: A solid, unvaried up-and-down bounding works well. Aim the head upward and keep the arms rigid. The effect is that of a dense mound of India rubber dancing upon the earth."

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