“When you are a bear of very little brain, and you think of things, you find sometimes that a thing which seemed very thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.” – Winnie the Pooh.
Written by A.A Milne, the stories of Winnie the Pooh centre around a honey-loving bear named Pooh and his adventures with his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood. His group of friends consist of Tigger, a lively and energetic tiger, Piglet, an anxious pig, Eeyore, a melancholy donkey, Owl, an intelligent bird, Rabbit, a practical minded rabbit, Kanga, a caring kangaroo and her baby Roo, and lastly Christopher Robin, the young boy who plays with them all in the woods. Each one is uniquely individual, with their own distinct and endearing personalities, readers often find themselves relating to and forming a strong fondness over specific characters. But why is this?
It has been speculated that there are meanings to be explored beneath the surface of The Hundred Acre wood, that in fact each character is symbolic of specific disorders, of which their personalities and mannerisms reflect. These reports stem from an article written by the Canadian Medical association, which specifically ‘diagnosed’ each of the characters. They labelled Milne’s work as ‘stories of Seriously Troubled Individuals’ stating that there is a ‘Dark Underside to this world’. They begin by discussing Pooh Bear himself, claiming his obsession with honey and constant desire for food points to the possibility of an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), people have then additionally built on this observation and associated Pooh Bear with Binge eating disorders. It can be observed that Pooh does indeed go to great lengths to acquire his honey, including disguising himself as a rain cloud and attaching himself to a balloon to reach a beehive up a tree. There is also an occasion when Pooh visits Rabbit and eats so much honey that he gets stuck in the door, unable to move and must wait until he becomes ‘thin again’ until he can be pulled out. As for tiny Piglet, he has been associated with generalised anxiety disorder, one such case supporting this is when Pooh sees tracks in the snow, (which are his own), and Piglet gets scared, believing the tracks to be from a ‘woozle’ and scurries away home. Eeyore is associated with depression, there are particularly heart-breaking moments such as when Eeyore looks into the stream at his reflection and calls himself ‘pathetic’, before walking further down the stream and again saying ‘No better from this side. But nobody minds. Nobody cares. Pathetic, that’s what it is.’ Next, Owl has dyslexia, Tigger is described as ‘socially intrusive’ and is diagnosed with impulsivity and hyperactivity, and Christopher Robin, who spends his time talking to animals and creating stories is commonly associated with schizophrenia. There is certainly sufficient evidence within Milne’s work to support these links, yet it does have to be noted that many of these disorders weren’t recognised until after Milne’s death in 1956, for example the term ‘learning disability’ was not recognised until 1963. In light of this, perhaps Milne did not directly link each of his characters to a specific disorder, but rather it can be argued his aim was to raise awareness of people’s difficulties in general and provide an accepting space for young children to recognise themselves in the characters they read about and see that it was beautiful.
The stories of Winnie the Pooh teach some valuable and wholesome lessons, whether directly associated with specific disorders or not, each character serves to symbolise the beauty of uniqueness and acceptance.
““How do you spell ‘love’?” – asked Piglet
“You don’t spell it…you feel it.” – replied Pooh”. – A.A Milne, Winnie the Pooh.