As I continue this subset of animated friendships in literature for my series, New Year; New Types of Friends, I present another example that fits the bill of a book, cartoon, and even a recent movie. Winnie the Pooh and his friend Christoper Robin teach us several things about love,life, and friendship that apply to even into adulthood, especially that friendships stick together like honey. As Pooh often says, “A day without a friend is like a pot without a single drop of honey left inside.”
The Value of Children’s Stories
Growing up, many of us have learned valuable lessons from classic children’s books. The stories of Christopher Robin and his imaginary friends: Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger, Owl, Rabbit, Kanga, and Roo teach us how to be kind and cherish the people we meet along our journey. Although only a child, Christopher Robin is much wiser and more mature than any of his imaginary friends. His virtues earn him the status of Pooh’s best friend. But the imagination of the characters in the book could be a cover for other issues later known about the author.
According to several theories of psychology, a child’s anxieties, fears, goals, and perceptions of the world get revealed through conversations with their imaginary friends. According to Pyschtoons (a website created to bring awareness to the underlying psychology behind prominent cartoon characters), there is a psychological phenomenon in which young boys tend to have more male imaginary friends. This might explain why all but one of the characters in the Winnie the Pooh series are male. But the crossover between the lives of imaginary friends and the real world also provides opportunities for many life lessons.
About the Book
English author A. A. Milne and English illustrator E. H. Shepard, published the Winnie the Pooh children’s book in 1926 as a collection of short stories about some anthropomorphic (i.e. having human characteristics) animal friends. It is the first of two story collections by Milne about Pooh, the second being The House at Pooh Corner in 1928. Milne and Shepard previously collaborated for an English humor magazine and in 1924 created When We Were Very Young a poetry collection. Shepard modeled a teddy bear after his son’s toy. He encouraged Milne to write about his son Christopher Robin Milne‘s toys, which became the inspiration for the characters in the franchise
Well-received at release, Winnie the Pooh sold 150,000 copies before the end of its first year. Its has been translated into over fifty languages. Its stories and characters have been adapted in other media, most notably by Disney beginning with Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966) and the 2018 live-action/animated fantasy comedy-drama titled Christopher Robin.
Critical analysis of the book has held that it represents a rural Arcadia or a Utopia that separates readers from real-world issues or problems. There is also criticism about the lack of positive female characters, since the only female character, Kanga, is depicted as a bad mother.
About the Movie
The 2018 live-action/CGI movie, Christopher Robin stars Ewan McGregor as a grown Christopher Robin. I features Hayley Atwell as his wife Evelyn, and the voices of Jim Cummings (reprising his roles as Winnie the Pooh and Tigger) and Brad Garrett (reprising his role as Eeyore).
The story follows a grown Christopher Robin who has lost his sense of imagination until he is reunited with Pooh, who escorts him back to the Hundred Acre Woods to rediscover his joy. After returning from World War II, Christopher is now a family man living in London, married to Evelyn, and father of a daughter. He is an efficiency manager for a luggage company and a work-a-holic with a taskmaster as a thankless boss. When told he must work rather than go on holiday to the country with his family, Christopher receives a surprise visit from his old childhood pal, the lovable bear. Pooh embarks on a journey to find Tigger, Eeyore, Owl, Piglet, Rabbit, Kanga, and Roo. Once reunited, the gang travel to the big city to help Christopher rediscover his joy.
Do Imaginary Friends Mask Childhood Struggles?
Like my post about Calvin and Hobbes, some believe there is a psychological and social phenomenon in which friendships or other interpersonal relationships occur in the imagination rather than an external physical reality. An article titled, Why Kids Invent Imaginary Friends, indicate imaginary friends are a symptom of developing social intelligence in a kid. But one study suggested that relationships with invisible beings fulfill a child’s need for friendship which is more common among firstborn or only children. The research suggests girls are more likely to conjure imaginary friends than boys. But kids who have imaginary friends grow up to be more creative adults than those who do not.
So did A.A. Milne create these stories to cope with a lack of friends or his struggle growing up in an older adolescent world?
A post titled, A Dive into Winnie the Pooh and its Hidden Meanings suggests Milne’s real life was not so calm. Pediatrician and Ph.D. Sarah Shea’s journal titled Pathology in the Hundred Acre Wood: a neurodevelopmental perspective on A.A. Milne indicates that the author suffered post-traumatic stress. Milne was a war veteran who participated in and survived two world wars. Coming back, he left the city for a calm life on the outskirts where he wrote his famous books. However, he had a turbulent relationship with his only son, Christopher. The same post and another propose that each of the characters in these stories displayed symptoms of different mental disorders:
- Winnie the Pooh (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Impulsive Eating Disorder, especially honey!)
- Piglet (Generalized Anxiety)
- Tigger (Recurring Pattern of Risk-Taking Behavior)
- Rabbit (Narcissism)
- Eeyore (Persistent Depressive Disorder)
- Owl (Dyslexia)
- Roo (Autism)
- Kanga (Social Anxiety)
Helping Friends with Their Struggles
Shea’s journal also quotes Ph.D. Valentine Stoycheva, who analyzed Milen’s books as “a creative way of talking about his struggles and those of many other individuals affected by trauma.” She says the Winnie the Pooh books tackle life and friendship in a way that is reassuring to every child. She suggests they teach children about love, forgiveness, patience, trust, and acceptance (which are some of the characteristics I listed in my post Traits of a GB Relationship):
- Friendship is about acceptance. Pooh cherished his friendships and accepted each in his own special way.
- Friendship provides compassion and encouragement. Each of Pooh’s group of friends had challenges but found ways to help each other. They helped Piglet overcome fears, the encouraged Tigger but helped keep his excessive exuberance in check.
- Friendship is cheering Eeyore up despite his sad pronouncements with positive feedback and support. They all were honest & provide timely advice.
- Friendship enjoyed adventures out in the woods while offering timely, sincere warnings to stay out of danger’s way.
- Friendship is about staying close through ups and downs. We all go through fun and tough times in our own Hundred Acre Woods.
- Friendship appreciates each other’s point of view; even when you disagree. Pooh and his friends had disagreements but found ways to appreciate each other’s different views of the world.
- Friendship trusts. Pooh knew that whenever he found himself in the woods, eating honey, bumbling around, seeking new thrills and adventures, he could trust his pals.
- Friendship is about a shared history together. If we don’t spend time with our friends, we limit the opportunity to create new memories, to get to know each other better and to develop a shared goal or common history that makes the friendship grow stronger.
- Friendship is about adventure and enjoying the good and crazy parts of life.
- Friendship is about loving our friends and those who take care of us; our parents, extended family, caregivers, teachers, and others. Christopher Robin introduced Pooh to the imaginary world of the Hundred Acre Woods and offered Pooh good advice and love.
Today, fewer kids (especially adolescent boys and young adult males) read fewer books and engage more in online gaming. Some believe video games and social media are key elements to friendships and help build community. My contention (and that of others) is that these does just the opposite. It creates more isolation and loneliness.
Many believe young people need to spend more time with adults just ahead of them on the journey of life. This experience is where the real learning about life’s lessons begins. For young males, it comes through spending time with other men of differing opinions and diversity. It comes through spending time with godly men. Everyone needs friendships that stick together.
Like Winnie the Pooh sticks with Christopher Robin, your GodBuddy sticks with you through all of life’s challenges. Even when your friend is stuck in an imaginary life, an addiction, or frequently escapes into video gaming, sometimes you will need to help them see its effects. Provide them with a dose of reality. But always, always stick together with your friends through thick and thin. Becuase a day without friends is like a day without honey!
My next few posts continues with another example of an animated friendship.