Ahead of our Winnie-the-Pooh walk in Ashdown Forest with Henry Eliot, we revisit some of the bear’s idle wisdom
In many ways, Winnie-the-Pooh is a tonic for our busy world.
A kindhearted, fluffy soul, Pooh enjoys the simpler things in life – spending time with friends, eating honey and watching the river go by, “very slowly, being in no hurry to get there”. Sometimes, when he meets Piglet at the Thoughtful Spot to make a plan for the day, they take the radical decision not to do anything at all. Doing nothing, Owl wisely agrees, is the very best thing.
As Benjamin Hoff puts it in The Taoh of Pooh, “While Eeyore frets and Piglet hesitates and Rabbit calculates and Owl pontificates, Pooh just is. And that’s his clue to the secret wisdom of the Taoists.” Even while wedged in a rabbit-hole too small for his overstuffed belly, Pooh takes the time as a gift to contemplate. Through this he teaches us that however stuck we might feel, there is opportunity to be made in moments of stillness.
An excerpt from the second of AA Milne’s Pooh stories exemplifies this stoic state of mind:
“So [Pooh] started to climb out of the hole. He pulled with his front paws, and pushed with his back paws, and in a little while his nose was out in the open again . . . and then his ears . . . and then his front paws . . . and then his shoulders . . . and then —
‘Oh, help!’ said Pooh. ‘I’d better go back.’
‘Oh, bother!’ said Pooh. ‘I shall have to go on.’
‘I can’t do either!” said Pooh. “Oh, help and bother!’
Now, by this time Rabbit wanted to go for a walk too, and finding the front door full, he went out by the back door, and came round to Pooh, and looked at him.
‘Hallo, are you stuck?’ he asked.
‘N-no,” said Pooh carelessly. ‘Just resting and thinking and humming to myself.’”
Pooh’s ‘real name’ is Edward Bear. This generic title reminds us of his civic duty as Christopher Robin’s companion, in all its Protestant formality. But Edward, it turns out, is not one for working. His self-styling as ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’ is far more whimsical and much better aligned with his lackadaisical lifestyle. Like Elton John or Lady Gaga he reinvents his image to free himself from the stuffy expectations of society. Luckily, Christopher loves the little anarchist all the more for it.
In The House at Pooh Corner, AA Milne’s final collection of Pooh stories, Christopher Robin bids farewell to the Hundred Acre Wood and its friendly inhabitants and heads off to boarding school. On his last day, he visits the Enchanted Place with Pooh, one of the best spots in the forest to sit and watch the world go by.
As they set off, Christopher tells Pooh that what he likes doing best is nothing. “This is a nothing sort of thing that we’re doing now,” he explains. “It means just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.” Christopher is worried about going to school, where, in contrast to the Hundred Acre Wood, doing nothing will be frowned upon. After promising never to forget one another, the two friends part ways, leaving Christopher’s carefree childhood behind. It’s a wistful coming-of-age story but also a sobering reminder that idling is all too quickly dismissed in the ‘real world’.
The Walt Disney film Christopher Robin, which was released last year and stars Ewan McGregor and Idler-fan Hayley Atwell, picks up where AA Milne’s story ends. Christopher Robin, now an adult, lives in London with his wife and daughter and works as a quality control manager at a luggage company. Stressed and overworked, he has completely forgotten about Pooh and the joys of doing nothing. “There’s more to life than balloons and honey,” he tells Pooh, who appears beside him on a park bench at a particularly low moment.
Over the course of the film, Christopher Robin returns to the Hundred Acre Wood, reunites with Piglet, Eeyore, Owl and the rest of the gang, and gradually relearns to stop and smell the roses. Though a rather cheesy, Hollywood take on AA Milne’s world, the film makes some excellent points about the value of idleness, especially in terms of boosting creativity. As Pooh points out in the film, “People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day. Doing nothing often leads to the very best of something”.
We couldn’t agree more.
Feeling inspired? Join us for a Winnie-the-Pooh walk round Ashdown Forest with Penguin Classics Creative Editor Henry Eliot. We’ll visit the real life locations of AA Milne’s stories, including Pooh’s Thoughtful Spot and the Enchanted Place, and there’ll be plenty of time to idly watch the river go by.