Have you ever been to Hundred Acre Wood or Neverland? I am sure these places were your favourite haunts at some point of time in your life. We all have abandoned our secret lairs and grown up. If all of a sudden, life comes to a standstill? When the entire world is succumbing under the threat of losing a battle, when every moment we are struggling for our existence against an unknown virus, when it is becoming extremely challenging to retain our mental strength, it is undeniable that we need to reopen that magic box where we have so far locked our childhood.
Literature, especially children’s literature, has a therapeutic effect on our mind. If the heavy burden of prolonged lockdown is trying to knock you down, take a sneak peek to the magical world of Pooh bear who stays in Hundred Acre wood with his wonderful companions like Piglet, Tigger, Owl, Eeyore. Together they constitute a topsy-turvy world, something that stays beyond our much-calculated life. Pooh is a bear with little intelligence, yet he is compassionate. There is an episode where Eeyore is sad. He thinks no one cares for him. No one even remembers his birthday. Hearing this, Pooh plans a surprise birthday party for his/her (there has been a much controversy regarding Pooh’s gender, Well Pooh is Pooh!) friend. There is a deliberate attempt on the part of the writer to show that Pooh’s community is a well- knitted one where they always cherish their unity. The way Pooh and Piglet together overcome their fear of a Heffalump (an imaginary creature that only appears in Pooh’s dream) is hilarious yet worthy to remember. Pooh’s world may not be guided by reason and logic, yet it treasures some kind of sensitivity.
The books concerning life and adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh are remarkable creation by the English author A.A. Milne and the illustrator E. H. Shepard. Quite interestingly, both of them served in World Wars. Milne created this magical world of Pooh Bear for his son Christopher Robin who incidentally happens to be the chief character in Pooh narratives. Robin’s original stuffed toys were the inspiration behind Milne’s creation of Pooh and other characters. Apart from being a father’s gift to his only child, Pooh signifies something more. The four books of Pooh appear between 1924-1928, the interim period between two great Wars. The collaboration of Milne and Shepard, who had witnessed the devastating impact of war, results in a deliberate portrayal of an alternative world where everything, that appears as a threat in our real life including battle with an unforeseen enemy (Like Heffalump) is reduced to mere caricature. This alternative world lacks any structured linguistic pattern. None of the characters can spell “Happy Birthday” properly. On Eeyore’s birthday gift, Owl, after repeated attempts, manages to write “Hipy Papy Btuthdth”. This temporary rejection of reality by Milne and Shepard probably acted as an antidote to their fits of depression. Who knows?
Learning and teaching children’s literature is really challenging where each text demands constant engagement with its context. For example if I were to teach Winnie-the-Pooh, I would like to consider several crucial factors:
- Written in early twenties, what did the Author and the Illustrator want to imply while jointly working on characters like Pooh, Piglet or Tigger?
- Why, in most cases, the child becomes a participant observer in the world of fantasy? We can take the case of Christopher Robin, Wendy in Peter Pan, and Alice in Alice in Wonderland?
- A work of children’s literature is often deceptive. Under the veneer of magic and fantasy, the author always cloaks his critique/satire of his contemporary time.
- There lies another pertinent question. Digital era has obviously structured a child’s perception differently. Victorian or early twentieth century construction of the child used to differ completely from now. Still, why and how these texts have retained their popularity? It is true that Pooh continues to exist in animations, film adaptations, as high priced loveable stuffed toys and more handy key rings. But, the more important reason behind Pooh’s sustenance is the Christopher Robin in each one of us. In our tough times, we really need a Pooh Bear’s shoulder to lean on.
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