This issue has been treated in literature – notably, as far as my limited knowledge goes, by Kenneth Grahame and by A.A. Milne. Grahame, who was the author of “The Wind in the Willows,”also wrote “The Golden Age” and its sequel, “Dream Days,” which consist of a collection of stories told from the viewpoint of a family of Victorian children. The best known of these stories is “The Reluctant Dragon,” but the whole body of work is remarkable for its portrayal of a world in which adults — the children refer to them as “Olympians” — have forgotten the experience of being young. This subject also concerned Sir James Matthew Barrie (“Peter Pan”) and P.L. Travers (“Mary Poppins”).
The connexion was not entirely broken now–one link remained between us and them. The Noah’s Ark, with its cargo of sad-faced emigrants, might be hull down on the horizon, but two of its passengers had missed the boat and would henceforth be always near us; and, as we played above them, an elephant would understand, and a beetle would hear, and crawl again in spirit along a familiar floor. Henceforth the spotty horse would scour along far-distant plains and know the homesickness of alien stables; but Potiphar, though never again would he paw the arena when bull-fights were on the bill, was spared maltreatment by town-bred strangers, quite capable of mistaking him for a cow.
Jerry and Esmeralda might shed their limbs and their stuffing, by slow or swift degrees, in uttermost parts and unguessed corners of the globe; but Rosa’s book was finally closed, and no worse fate awaited her than natural dissolution almost within touch and hail of familiar faces and objects that had been friendly to her since first she opened her eyes on a world where she had never been treated as a stranger.
“Yes?” said Pooh.
“Yes, Christopher Robin?”
“I’m not going to do Nothing any more.”
“Well, not so much. They won’t let you.”
Pooh waited for him to go on, but he was silent again.
“Yes, Christopher Robin?” said Pooh helpfully.
“Pooh, when I’m–you know–when I’m not doing Nothing, will you come up here sometimes?”
“Will you be here too?”
“Yes, Pooh, I will be, really. I promise I will be, Pooh.”
“That’s good,” said Pooh.
“Pooh, promise you won’t forget about me, ever. Not even when I’m a hundred.”
Pooh thought for a little.
“How old shall I be then?”
“I promise,” he said.
Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put out a hand and felt for Pooh’s paw.
“Pooh,” said Christopher Robin earnestly, “if I–if I’m not quite—-” he stopped and tried again—”Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won’t you?”
“Oh, nothing.” He laughed and jumped to his feet. “Come on!”
“Where?” said Pooh.
“Anywhere,” said Christopher Robin.
I have hung onto some shreds of my childhood, and I wish I had kept more. Fortunately, I wasn’t reared by Olympians. On one occasion many years ago, when I was delivering a homily to a class of children who were about to receive First Eucharist, I brought along an admittedly silent friend for moral support. At the end of my sermon I told the kids, “Some day grownups are going to tell you that you are too old for toys, and that you’ll be getting clothes and other boring things for gifts from then on. When they tell you that, you tell them that when the deacon was 50 years old, his mother gave him this Howdy Doody doll.
As we turned to go, the man in the moon, tangled in elm-boughs, caught my eye for a moment, and I thought that never had he looked so friendly. He was going to see after them, it was evident; for he was always there, more or less, and it was no trouble to him at all, and he would tell them how things were still going, up here, and throw in a story or two of his own whenever they seemed a trifle dull. It made the going away rather easier, to know one had left somebody behind on the spot; a good fellow, too, cheery, comforting, with a fund of anecdote; a man in whom one had every confidence. – Kenneth Grahame, “Dream Days.”
April 29, 2009
The death of character actor Peter Dennis calls to mind the seemingly inexhaustible appeal of A.A. Milne’s “Winnie-the-Pooh” books. Although, I often wonder how many people know Milne’s characters – which have been thoroughly exploited – without knowing them in their original context. Peter Dennis used to tour with a one-man show that consisted of him reading from the Pooh books and other works by Milne. He maintained – and the large crowds he drew seemed to confirm – that Milne’s stories weren’t just for children. That’s certainly true. Superimposed on the tales themselves is a kind of harmonic of humor and philosophy that only adults are likely to perceive. The same is true of Kenneth Graham’s “The Wind in the Willows.” It is so much true of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice” books that there probably is more for adults in their pages than there is for children.
Or, at least, there would be more for adults if adults are still reading these books. It’s prophetic that in the last scene of the second Pooh book, Christopher Robin tells Pooh that they can’t continue their previous relationship because “they won’t let you” – the “they” being humorless grownups. There is a similar passage in another of Graham’s books, “Dream Days,” in which a family of children go out in the dead of night and bury in the yard some toys that the adults – the narrator calls them Olympians – have packed away because the children, in the view of grownups, have outgrown them. “As we turned to go,” the narrator says, “the man in the moon, tangled in elm-boughs, caught my eye for a moment, and I thought that never had he looked so friendly. He was going to see after them, it was evident; for he was always there, more or less, and so it was no trouble to him at all, and he would tell them how things were still going, up here, and throw in a story or two of his own whenever they seemed a trifle dull. It made the going away rather easier, to know one had left somebody behind on the spot; a goodfellow, too, cheery, comforting, with a fund of anecdote; a man in whom one had every confidence.”