Title: THE POOH PERPLEX Author: Frederick C. Crews Publisher: Robin Clark Ltd, Namara Group, London (1984) ISBN: 0 86072 026 8 Price: £2.95 (paperback) 150 pages
“Today I want to tell you guys about a terrific book that you all ought to read for the exam, if you haven’t already. It’s very, very big in the English tradition, and has lots of key things in it. It’s called Winnie-the-Pooh and it’s written by Al Milne, an English ‘chap’… ” (Murphy.A.Sweat)
Well actually, The Pooh Perplex is written by an American ‘guy’ called Crews. And if you don’t already know it, and you feel literature is being analysed to death these days, then there’s a treat in store for you.
The Pooh Perplex was first published in 1964 when Pooh was still a “a Bear with No Brain at All”, and before he became a Buddhist or a Taoist. It was, perhaps, the first book to suggest that there was more to Pooh than initially met the eye (although, let’s face it, Pooh was never thin). And now, in the wake of Pooh’s newfound status as a guru, or a sort of holy fool, Crews’ book has been reprinted, so it should not be too hard to find.
I was reminded of The Pooh Perplex by a reviewer’s quotation from Roddy Doyle’s new book about battered wives. Paula, Doyle’s heroine, apparently “loves” reading Winnie-the-Pooh to Jack, her youngest: “I think it’s fuckin’ hilarious. The world it’s all set in, it’s wonderful. Christopher Robin’s always giving parties. It’s well for him, the little prick, he doesn’t have to pay for them”. This is just the point Crews (alias, Martin Tempralis) makes in his essay, ‘A Bourgeois Writer’s Proletarian Fable’.
The Pooh books are, of course, fine examples of “the bourgeois capitalist elements in English Literature”. As Tempralis points out, “It is hardly fortuitous that all the chief actors are property owners with no apparent necessity to work; that they are supplied as if by miracle with endless supplies of honey, condensed milk, balloons, popguns, and extract of malt;… ”. Clearly, Pooh is an arch sycophant (Sir Pooh de Bear), Rabbit a “capitalist manager”, and Owl a “pedantic plutocrat, and they lord it over the workers (see the ‘Piglet-as-miner’ illustrations), and homeless, underprivileged Eyore (“the most bounced upon member of society”).
Then again, Crews (alias, Freudian analyst, Karl Auschauung, M.D.) exposes the Pooh books as A.A.Milne’s “obsessive defence” against the “advanced animal phobia” evidenced in “these lines written at age six : Round about/And Round about/And Round about I go;/ I think I am a Traveller escaping from a Bear”. And another essayist examines the symbolic meaning of Pooh’s pursuit of forbidden food, his *fall* from a certain tree, and the role that Eyore plays as a saviour figure.
The Pooh Perplex: A Student Casebook, is presented as a group of analytical essays for use in Freshman English and it comes with notes and exercises. (eg. “Who was James Joyce? Do you agree with the wish [made by Professor Thumb] that he had never been born, or do you subscribe rather to a live-and-let-live philosophy?”).Chapters include:
‘O Felix Culpa! The Sacramental Meaning of WTP’, by C.J.L.Culpepper D.Litt.Oxon.; ‘A la recherche du Pooh perdue’, by Woodbine Meadowlark; ‘Another Book to Cross Off Your List’, by Simon Lacerous; ‘A Complete Analysis of WTP’, by Dins C.Penwiper.
Each essay is a small gem which caricatures the methods, obsessions and style of a particular kind of critic. And all of them are written by Frederick Crews, the same man who is still deeply embroiled in the often acrimonious debate about current trends in Literary Criticism. The same man who recently declared that what critics “discover in a standard work is usually a defect of consciousness that they had posited from the outset – most often some form of compliance with [a political ideology], racism, sexism, homo-phobia, or environmental rapacity”. The Pooh Perplex demonstrates this view with considerable skill and a lot of humour. And if, occasionally, the joke becomes tiresome, this is mostly because of the exaggerated stylistic faults of some of Crews’ “essayists”.
Overall, the book is easy to read, fun, and a salutary lesson in the dangers of taking any single world-view to extremes. It also shows that Crews’ present cry for truly liberal criticism, “even within the theory-saturated academy”, expresses one of his long-held concerns.
© Ann Skea 2000. For permission to quote any part of this document contact Dr Ann Skea at firstname.lastname@example.org