This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for December 17, 2020, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.
When I was born in 1934, the 1934 edition of children’s poems, entitled The Christopher Robin Verses: ‘When We Were Very Young’ and ‘Now We are Six,’ was published by E. P. Dutton and Co., Inc., in New York. Of course, the original version was published in London in 1924. It was written by English author, A. A. Milne and illustrated by English artist, E. H. Shepard, who together in 1926 came out with the first collection of Winnie the Pooh stories.
So, you can see how long Winnie the Pooh has been around, and was probably read by your grandparents, and even your great grandparents. However, those of us older folks were not brought up on the Disney versions of Pooh, as Milne called the silly old bear. Disney’s versions began in 1961 when the company leased some, not all, film rights from the Milne Estate, and then in 2001 bought Winnie the Pooh outright. We read the original Winnie the Pooh stories and enjoyed the original Pooh illustrations.
Before I began the first grade at Dime Box Rural School in 1940, I was already an avid reader, with three doting aunts and my maternal grandmother supplying me regularly with wonderfully illustrated children’s books. At Rural School, the first four grades were in a separate two-room building, apart from the rest of the school, with first and second grades in one room and third and fourth in the other room (one teacher per room).
On the far end of the third and fourth grade room was found one of the great delights of my life, — a wall of books! This was our “library,” and any of us could check out any of those splendid books, from the children’s version of Gulliver’s Travels to Winnie the Pooh. And that is where I first met and came to love that silly old bear.
I’m not sure how you would classify E. H. Shepard in modern terms, though in the 1920’s, he was called a “book illustrator” (which could include a variety of types). Unlike the Disney version of the Pooh characters, they weren’t exactly cartoon characters (though maybe in rudimentary stages). One of my first attempts at drawing was trying to sketch Pooh, Eeyore, and Piglet. It wasn’t until the fifth or sixth grade that I wanted to be a cartoonist and began trying to draw true cartoon characters like Dick Tracy, Nancy and Sluggo, Alley Oop and many others that appeared in the Sunday edition of the daily newspaper.
While I don’t remember how adults felt about Winnie the Pooh back in my childhood, today, everyone, adults and children alike, seem to love Pooh. Perhaps it’s because he is an ADHD bear with an eating disorder, lol. Or maybe we simply identify with him and his friends.
Meghan Melvin, the curator at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts was well aware that people of all ages loved Pooh when she began the Pooh exhibit at the Museum. She also thought most of the younger generation knew and loved Pooh through the Disney versions, which didn’t exist before 1961. So she likes to show young and old alike the charm of the original Pooh stories created by Milne and illustrations by Shepard.
The Pooh characters are charming in both versions, though as an aspiring cartoonist, I’m sure I would have preferred the Disney version, However, I was 49 years old when the first Disney Pooh arrived on the scene, and by then I was no longer interested in being a cartoonist.
Since I am an old man in 2020, I suppose you could call it nostalgia, or a yearning for the good old days, but I love to read and view the original stories and drawings of Pooh. Perhaps in the same way I enjoy the reruns of the old Shirley Temple movies which I first saw as a kid at the Dime Box Tent Show. There’s a certain endearing, innocent joy about little Shirley tap dancing and Pooh doing what Pooh does.
Ray Spitzenberger is a retired WCJC teacher, and retired LCMS pastor, and author of two books, Open Prairies and It Must Be the Noodles.