Monday, August 19, 2013

Pooh Bear and the Ecology of Childhood

Adults may feel exiled from the intensity and sweetness of childhood places. But perhaps there are surprising ways home.

From a piece in Aeon Magazine...

I recently sat with pencil sharpened and notebook at the ready, like an anthropologist in exotic terrain, to watch Disney’s The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977), a feature-length collection of the earlier animated shorts. What happened, I wondered, when England’s most famous fictional bear migrated across the Atlantic and settled into an American landscape? Like Pooh, I had grown up in the British Isles and in my ripe maturity emigrated to the US. Like Pooh, I had spent much of my time out of doors. Over the back wall of our family home in southern County Dublin were mile after mile of farm fields, interspersed with shrubby hedgerow. Not quite as bucolic as Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood, perhaps, but there, until the summer dusk drove us home, was where we largely spent our childhood vacations. Like the transplanted Pooh, the terrain in which I now dwell in the New World is hospitable enough in many ways, and yet it is also uncanny. It is not quite home. The suspicion I am investigating here is that, from an environmental perspective, there is more to this bear of ‘very little brain’ than meets the eye.

When Pooh arrived in the US, he de-hyphenated his name — perhaps a result of some tweaking at Ellis Island. Christopher Robin admirably retained his English accent, and Owl’s accent was plummy, though at times I think he hammed it up for his US audience. But Pooh, Piglet, Rabbit, Tigger, Kanga and Roo’s accents became appropriately American. The process of assimilation had begun. As often happens in cases of faunal introductions, the aliens must interact with new critters. The Gopher — a small burrowing rodent endemic to North America, enterprising and mercantile — worked out a quote for removing the wedged Pooh from Rabbit’s door. Gopher costed his hourly rate, at overtime, with 10 per cent added, and assessed how much explosive might be needed for the job. No, we are not in England anymore!

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