As a child, I delighted in the adventures of Winnie the Pooh. As a teenager, I found wisdom in the Tao of Pooh. At present, I have a postcard of Pooh and Piglet on my wall.
I never warmed to Disney’s version. Garish Technicolor could never compete with E.H. Shepherd’s delicate, lovingly-drawn watercolours and Pooh with an American accent is just not cricket. Pooh is, and always will be, a quintessentially English bear. So it came as a complete surprise to me to learn that Winnie the Pooh now lives in New York. The story goes something like this:
In the 1920s a little boy named Christopher Robin, son of A.A. Milne, received a teddy bear from Harrods. Originally called Edward (the long version of Teddy); he evolved into Winnie the Pooh and a legend was born. Other toys followed – Tigger, Kanga, Roo, Piglet and Eeyore. Owl and Rabbit never really existed, they were made up for the stories. For many years, they lived and played happily in Ashdown Forest, Sussex (the real Hundred Acre Wood) but there are mixed reports as to what happened next. Some say Pooh and his friends were given to the U.S. publisher, E.P. Dutton, but there are also claims that they were just lent to him to help publicize the books Stateside, with the understanding that they would return home after a couple of years. They never did. They are currently on display in the children’s section of the Stephen Schwarzman Library on 42nd Street in midtown Manhattan.
The whole gang is here, except for Roo, who was lost in an orchard a very long time ago, never to be seen again. There’s also a rather curious outsider, an otter by the name of Lottie, who is a blow-in from a modern sequel and looks right out of place. The original cast of characters all show obvious signs of having been well played with (not only by Christopher Robin but also by the family dog, apparently) and Piglet is absolutely tiny – less than 4 inches tall. Their playing days are behind them, though. Age has taken its toll and they are apparently very fragile, so they sit in a glass case in a little room in the children’s library. The walls are decorated with murals, and I was happy to see they eschewed Disney and went instead with a lovely homage to E.P. Shepherd.
Will Pooh and his friends remain here? In 1998 British politicians made an attempt to bring Pooh home, as they detected sadness, but Rudolf Giuliani, the then Mayor of New York, said he’d had a conversation with Pooh who was quite happy where he was. The White House even stepped in to express dismay at the idea of losing this little bear. For the moment, it seems they are staying put in their little glass case in the middle of a big city, far far away from Hundred Acre Wood.