“Goodbye Christopher Robin” and the Healing Power of Imagination

“Goodbye Christopher Robin” is a difficult movie for Winnie the Pooh aficionados. In contrast to the peaceable kingdom of the 100 Aker Wood, it portrays dysfunctional family dynamics, post-traumatic stress disorder, wartime violence, and the emotional distance characteristic of early 20th century upper middle class British parent-child relationships. Emotional pain and neglect abound in the book, along with bullying and loneliness. Yet, there are a few bright moments within this well-done film, most particularly its portrayal of the healing power of the imagination. A broken man, suffering from post-traumatic stress due to his experiences in World War I, A.A. Milne finds a sense of wholeness as he moves from fear to fantasy and insecurity to imagination. In many ways, the film suggests that “the Child is the Father to the man,” as Wordsworth notes in his poem, “My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold,”

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is the father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety

While Wordsworth’s intent may have been to connect the spiritual vision of childhood with adult mystical experience, I believe the poem also describes how a child can inspire the imagination of an adult to reclaim the free-flowing healing imagination of her or his own childhood.

In “Goodbye Christopher Robin,” young Christopher Robin Milne’s playful imagination enables his father to face his fears and move forward from the rubble of war to the wonder of the 100 Aker Wood. A child’s fresh vision opens the doors of perception and enables him, with William Blake and Aldous Huxley, to see life as it is – infinite – at least for a moment.

In many ways, the Winnie the Pooh stories are a hymn to imagination as they invite us to experience the living adventures of a band of stuffed animals, experience mystery in a grove of trees, sees bees as both benevolent as well as possessive, and discover the part of ourselves which never grows old but freshly dances with the coming of each new day.

Imagination presents us with the vision of an alternate reality to our current life situation, or the cultural malaise and injustice that surrounds us, as Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann suggests. Imagination liberates us from the heaviness of the past and the prison of painful memories and past traumas. Imagination enables us to see the world again with fresh eyes, and although imagination is not “factual” in the ordinary sense of the word, it invites us to participate in the heights and depths from which life-changing “facts” emerge. When we let our imaginations run wild, uninhibited by adult limitations or past memories, the world becomes a place of creativity, wonder, amazement, and healing.

Traumatized A.A. Milne experiences the healing power of imagination, when he lets Robin’s vision guide him. In discovering a world of friendly, albeit proprietary, bees, A.A. Milne opens the door to discovering bears that ramble and philosophize, small animals that become heroes in stressful times, depressed donkeys that find a family, and the child in each of us lives on into adulthood.
Awakening and cultivating healing imagination is a key element in the good news of Winnie the Pooh and his friends.

The “Gospel According to Winnie the Pooh” is all about the healing power of imagination. It invites us to become members of a peaceable realm, a world without war in which diversity leads to adventure, and today this is a bold act of the imagination, given the polarization, violence, racism, and saber-rattling of our time. Still, factual thinking alone will not save us; we need a vision of possibilities and hopes for the future and alternatives to the world in which we live. There is a woodland realm, where healing abounds and the world is aglow with wonder, and we can experience the “gospel” of the 100 Aker Wood.

(Bruce Epperly is the author of over 40 books, including “The Gospel According to Winnie the Pooh.”)

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