Editor’s Corner Review-Essay:
Christopher Robin: Adventure Into the Heart
Christopher Robin. A 2018 film by Walt Disney Studios. Produced by Brigham Taylor and Kristin Burr. Directed by Marc Foster. Screenplay by Alex Ross Perry et al. Starring Ewan McGregor as Christopher Robin, Hayley Atwell as his wife Evelyn Robin, Bronte Carmichael as their daughter Madeline; featuring the voices of Jim Cummings as Pooh (and Tigger), and Brad Garrett as Eeyore.
Christopher Robin in a Trap
Except for a flock of birds in a London street scene, and a telling dead fox-fur stole around the neck of a passerby, this movie contains no real animals. However, as a talking-stuffed-animal story, a fantasy, it is rich with animal symbolism, representing powerful forces for life or death deep in the human mind and impacting the rest of the world. And, despite the presence of the familiar toy animals from the classic A.A. Milne books, it is primarily a story for adults.
The story begins with Christopher Robin, about nine years old, at the farewell party given by his animal friends in the Hundred Acre Wood just before he is to leave for boarding school. A brief classroom scene suggests that his life is rather harshly regimented there, his imagination trampled on, as the teacher catches him drawing pictures of his stuffed animals, and slams her ruler loudly against his desk in symbolic violence. As an adult he meets and marries a woman named Evelyn, who may be an architect, judging from her wartime job. She is visibly pregnant when Christopher has to leave to fight in WW II. We see brief battle scenes, one of them with an explosion and bodies flying; he is injured (physically and, as we shall learn, psychologically), but survives to return to Evelyn and three-year-old daughter Madeline.
But their joy in reunion and the end of the war, and their hope for a good life together, are ground down by the bleak realities of Britain’s glacially slow postwar economic recovery. Christopher gets a responsible job in a luggage company named Winslow’s, but because few people can afford to travel, sales are sluggish. His manipulative supervisor, Giles Winslow Jr., pressures him to find a way over the weekend to reduce the costs of producing the luggage, or let go many employees. He is to report at a Monday meeting. But Christopher is a decent person who wants to honor Winslow Sr.’s promise that all employees will have their jobs back after the war. He doesn’t want to fire them, especially during a recession. He has to break his promise to Evelyn and Madeline, the latter now about ten or twelve, to spend the weekend with them at their country cottage (Christopher’s childhood home). They go by themselves while he sits in his empty London house, unhappily poring over his papers. It is a fine ironic touch that our hero is trying to figure out how to sell more luggage while he himself is going nowhere.
This forced mini-betrayal of his family’s trust is, sadly, part of a long-standing pattern. The marriage is evidently going dark due to his neglect. Christopher’s parenting activities, equally unpromising, take the form of reading Madeline a dense article on history as a bedtime story (it’s his duty to prepare her for the Real World), when what she wants to hear is the imaginative Treasure Island. And he leaves her without a goodnight kiss. He urges her to work hard, and work hard she does. Against her will, she will soon be going off to boarding school (to prepare her for for the Real World). But Madeline, still a child herself, finds a ray of light, a hint that there is more to her father than she can see. She comes across some of his childhood drawings of Pooh and his other stuffed animals; she is pleased, and praises his skill.
The story can be seen as a light version of the Adventure of the Hero, featuring several stages of his journey as presented by Joseph Campbell in his well-known book The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Critics have complained that Campbell’s book is too eclectic, cherry-picking details from wherever he chooses, rather than focusing on material studied by scholars of myth and folktale. But if his scenario is not followed too rigidly, its main elements do help to increase insight into what is going on in fantasy novels and films such as this.
To begin with, this story is set in a oppressive world. which has choked Christopher’s and others’ springs of creativity, joy, and love. He is suffering, as are his family and his fellow employees, but he sees no way out. He still wants to express love, as shown by his promise to spend the weekend with his family, but his ability to exercise it is drying up. He has almost forgotten what fun and joy are.
Meanwhile, back in the Hundred Acre Wood, the abandoned animals are in distress that reflects Christopher’s. Pooh wakes up one morning to learn that his friends in the Wood have all disappeared in a fog, an apt symbol for Christopher’s own lost condition and forgetfulness of them. Several of the other animals, trapped by anxiety; are hiding out in ta tree near he ruin of Owl’s tree-house. They fear its fall is the work of their bogeys, the Heffalumps, huge elephantine creatures that represent the forces of violence against the weak and vulnerable. The Woozles, insidious, weaselly, life-sucking creatures, may also be involved. (If we take these imaginary enemies as symbols of something real and not simply childish fantasy creatures, it’s clear that the defenseless and vulnerable would include ordinary people, especially children, and, obviously, real animals as well.)
Pooh goes through the dark tunnel in the base of a tree in search of Christopher Robin--who, as all stuffed animals know, can solve any problem. He emerges in a parklike-area besides the Robin family’s London row-house, and climbs onto one of two back-to-back benches. Just then Christopher, coming home from work, slips around the side of his row house to escape from an over-friendly neighbor always pressuring him into a game of gin rummy He flops down on the second bench, murmuring anxiously “What to do, what to do?” At this point he encounters Campbell’s first stage, as Pooh’s head rises up behind him, the being from another dimension presenting a Call to Adventure. Pooh echoes Christopher with “What to do indeed?” Thoroughly alarmed, our poor hero thinks he’s gone cracked, but Pooh doesn’t see any cracks. “A few wrinkles, maybe.” Pooh is right.
At this point the irksome gin-rummy neighbor reappears, about to spot Christopher conversing with a large talking teddy bear. Christopher panics, scoops up Pooh under his coat, and runs indoors, muttering something about a sick cat, no, a very ferocious cat. But soon the Bear of Very Little Brain has caused so much mayhem in the form of broken dishes and a trail of honey on the rug in this supposed place of refuge, that Christopher decides he’s got to take the Bear of Very Little Brain back to the Hundred Acre Wood. This is not to help Pooh find his friends, but just to get rid of him; Christopher has decided to Refuse the Call. Later, however, he will change his mind, so in fact he is already Crossing the Threshold. His journey carrying the conspicuous teddy bear through London streets and the train station, full of misadventures as Pooh greets astonished passers-by, begs for a balloon from a seller, gets carried off by a child in a stroller and snatched back by Christopher, is highly amusing. To viewers, that is--Christopher’s Adventure requires that he become a child again, and own the bear who represents Love. But for a grown man with an Very Important Job, it is all very mortifying, a Road of Trials. He even has to go on his hands and knees through the magical tunnel in the tree into the Wood, and gets stuck in the process, but at least no other humans (except viewers) see it.
Once in the misty Wood, the two go looking for the lost animals, but the fog thickens and they soon get lost themselves; Pooh, who is carrying the compass, hasn’t been looking at it. Anxious to get back to solving his problem, Christopher blows up at him, and Pooh, dismayed to see his old friend and expected savior seemingly turning into a scary Heffalump before his eyes, goes off alone. Of course Christopher has not become a monster, but he has let his “inner Heffalump” take over, a dangerous course of action for all concerned. The next thing that happens, appropriately, is that he falls into the pit that he and the stuffed animals long ago dug to catch Heffalumps.
In the Heffalump Pit
What happens in the Heffalump Pit is Christopher’s Initiation, his death-and-rebirth, the central and most archetypal episode in the story. It is the story of Jonah, of Longfellow’s Hiawatha, of Collodi’s Pinocchio, of Cameron’s Rose in Titanic. Rain falls, the pit fills up with water, and as our hero symbolically drowns, a Heffalump with its long trunk snatches at him, while Pooh caringly calls out and tries to rescue him. Afterwards we see him floating on the surface, seemingly dead. But he opens his eyes to a sunlit morning and climbs out of the pit.
The fog is gone, and now Christopher begins to find the lost animals starting with Eeyore, including Pooh and, most importantly, himself. He is beginning to have fun, and to laugh at himself. To reassure the frightened animals, he pretends to fight and defeat the Heffalump (with Eeyore’s help!); he can hug Pooh without embarrassment. But his problems are by no means all resolved. After having inadvertently fallen asleep alongside his old friends, when he wakes up Monday morning he is frantic to get back to London in time to change his clothes and make the 11:00 meeting at Winslow’s. He grabs his briefcase and runs for the train, making unconvincing excuses to Evelyn and Madeline, who see him trying to rush by the house.
A Child Shall Lead Them
But unbeknownst to Christopher, Tigger has taken out all his Very Important Papers to dry his briefcase, and replaced them with mementos of the Wood and his friends recognizable from the books--Poohsticks, leaves, a little bag of acorns--so he won’t forget them again, an action wise in intent but not terribly prudent. When the stuffed animals tell Madeline about this desperate situation and their intention to go to London and rescue Christopher from being eaten alive by the Winslow Woozles, she very capably swings into action. It’s true she is partly motivated by the hope that if she returns his papers he won’t send her away to boarding school, but she doesn’t just wait helplessly. In contrast to Christopher, the adult who has to act the child, Madeline the child operates like an adult. After writing a note to her mother, she pedals to the train station with Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, and the papers. In London she hires a taxi to go to Winslow’s, but when that trip miscarries in humorous confusion (thanks to the driver’s fear of the talking animals), she spots a Winslow’s truck and piles her charges into the back.
Reading the note and fearful that her little daughter will be lost in the huge maze of London, Evelyn drives to the city, goes to Winslow’s and calls a trapped and defeated Christopher out of his meeting with her bad news. They drive about the city anxiously looking for Madeline (and picking up three of the stuffed animals in the process), but they needn’t have worried. She arrives with Pooh at Winslow’s all right, but unfortunately trips on the first step, sending all the precious papers flying up in the breeze. She can retrieve only one. Just then her parents return and spot her. As Evelyn looks on with satisfaction, Christopher runs joyfully over to her, hugs her tightly, tells her how much he cares about her, and, no, he won’t send her away to to boarding school if she doesn’t want to go.
She gives him the one remaining paper, containing a pyramid-shaped graph. Christopher turns the graph upside down, and inspiration strikes: the solution is not in tough action by the few on top, but in empowering those on the bottom. Rushing back to the meeting with Madeline and Evelyn in tow, he announces his plan. It’s to reduce the price of the luggage and give all employees paid time off; they’ll need to buy the luggage to go on holiday. Giles Jr. scorns the idea and its creator, but his father, who of course has the last word, embraces it. (Since Winslow’s is a huge firm with thousands of employees, this Henry-Ford-like scheme could in fact work.) An emboldened Christopher declares that Junior is a Woozle, an accusation borne out when Junior’s claim to having worked on the problem too over the weekend is belied by a golf ball that rolls out of his pocket. Christopher tells the meeting that he is off to spend his holiday with his beloved family.
In what is apparently the last scene, the whole Robin family enjoy a picnic dinner with the stuffed animals in the Hundred Acre Wood. They are all children at play again. But there is a surprise final scene, a short sequence during the credits where we see many bathing-suited Winslow employees (plus the gin-rummy neighbor) at the beach, relaxing and then doing a conga line dance, as seasoned songwriter Richard Sherman plays a piano and sings “Busy Doing Nothing.” (The song quotes Pooh: “I’ve often found that doing nothing leads to the very best Something.”) Like Campbell’s Hero, Christopher has Returned from his Adventure Into the Heart, bringing a life-renewing Boon of love and joy to his fellows.
“Would you have me eat my neighbors?”--Anthony Benezet, 1713 - 1784
Vegetarianism/Veganism On the Rise
MFA reports that 4.3% of Germans identify themselves as vegetarian, 7% of Britons call themselves vegan, and nearly 10% of Canadians say they are vegetarian or vegan. The percentage of US-Americans who are veg still hovers at about 3.3%. (However, the great increase in sales of meat and dairy alternatives in the US tells us that very many who still eat some meat are cutting back; furthermore, a substantial percentage of those who say no to both are young, which is promising.
--Contributed by Mercy for Animals, from a Dalhousie University study
+-Fifty Hens Rescued from Cockfighting Bust
A raid on a cockfighting cabal in Virginia Beach resulted in the rescue of fifty hens who had been used to breed roosters for the hellish “sport.” The hens found a new home in the chicken-heaven of United Poultry Concerns’ Maryland sanctuary (pictured). See Rescue
--Contributed by UPC and All-Creatures.Org
Baltimore Yearly Meeting Minutes for Animals
After lengthy deliberations, the following minute was approved by the Baltimore Yearly Meeting: "In the interest of peace, and with a deep concern for the living world, Baltimore Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends encourages Friends to discuss how to extend their love and compassion to animals, and to consider their welfare when making food choices."
--Contributed by Margaret Fisher and Thom Bonneville
Pioneer: Anthony Benezet, 1713 - 1784
Anthony Benezet is probably the most important Quaker, vegetarian, and abolitionist that many reader of PT have never heard of. Although as an activist Friend in colonial America he may now be somewhat in the shadow of John Woolman and the recently rediscovered Benjamin Lay ( PT 140) few finer exemplars of Quaker life can be found, and Benezet certainly deserves to be much better known.
Benezet was born Antoine Bénézet in northern France to a comfortably well-off family. But the family was Huguenot, i.e. French Protestant, and were vulnerable to persecution as a result of the Edict of Fontainebleau twenty-some years earlier, which had revoked civil and religious protections for Huguenots. Therefore his parents decided, two years after Anthony's birth, to move to the Netherlands for safety, proceeding only six months later to England where economic prospects appeared to be better. There, in 1727, as a teenager, Anthony may have joined the Society of Friends.
(Although historians are uncertain as to whether Anthony and his family formally joined Friends then or later in Pennsylvania, the Benezets do seem to have been close to Quakers in London. Circumstantial evidence also suggests that Anthony may have met and talked with the world-famous philosopher Voltaire on the latter's visit to England between 1726 and ‘29. The great Enlightenment figure's sympathy for Quakers is well known, and he made a point of meeting Quakers on this visit. He was at the right time and place to encounter the outspoken, highly committed young Benezet and converse in their common French language.)
In 1731, the family emigrated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. That year Anthony married (in Meeting) Joyce Marriott of Burlington, NJ. At the same time, now all of eighteen, he definitely entered into Quaker life. He joined the small handful of Friends promoting abolition of human slavery and resistance to war taxes imposed by the British government on Pennsylvania colony, which was then still then predominantly Quaker. Like Woolman following in the footsteps of the outspoken Benjamin Lay, Benezet strove to persuade slave-holding Quakers that their property in humans was inconsistent with their profession of Christianity. He also argued that the ban on slavery in Britain should be extended to the North American colonies and the West Indies.
Benezet tried a career as a merchant in Philadelphia, but fortunately failing at that business, he moved on to what was clearly his real calling, children’s education. In 1739 he commenced teaching at Germantown school, then in 1742 transferred to the Friends' English School, now William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia (pictured as it is today). Always open-hearted and open-minded, willing to try new ideas, in 1750 he added night classes for black slaves to his workload. (He would probably have preferred to integrate his classes, and avoid duplicate labor, but had he done so white parents might have withdrawn their children, as happened to Bronson Alcott’s school seventy or eighty years later [see PT 7 ]). Then in 1754 Benezet left the Friends' English School to set up his own school, the first public school for girls on the American continent. It enrolled the daughters of many prominent families.
Still enthusiastic over new possibilities, in 1770 he founded another innovative educational project, the Negro School at Philadelphia. By then a sizable free black community resided in the Quaker city, increasing in numbers as Pennsylvania began slavery's gradual abolition in 1780. Benezet, who after Woolman's death in 1772 was the leading Pennsylvanian anti-slavery advocate, founded the first major anti-slavery organization, the Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage, in 1775. The group’s name announced that all slavery was immoral, but it was a cumbersome title, and therefore was later simplified to the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. Benjamin Franklin was to become its president after Benezet's death.
Anthony and Joyce Benezet both became vegetarian under the influence of Benjamin and Sarah Lay; the exact year is uncertain. Like the Lays, they refused to eat any of the products of slave labor, including that of animal slaves. They rejected the notion that any living being capable of feeling pain should be killed in order to feed another life. Indeed, Anthony would often be seen feeding rats and other small animals in his backyard. When an acquaintance challenged him about this, saying that instead rats and mice should be killed so they would not steal and eat his own food and candles, Benezet argued instead that by feeding them he satisfied their needs so that they would not have to raid the householder's larder. In his schools he also followed compassionate policies, opening students’ minds to learning and winning their good behavior by kindness rather than the more usual punishments.
Benezet's younger friend and physician Benjamin Rush (pictured) wrote that "so great was his sympathy with every thing that was capable of feeling pain that he resolved towards the close of his life, to eat no animal food." (Rush seems to have been wrong in dating Benezet’s decision “toward the close of his life,” since Benezet became veg under the influence of the Lays, and Benjamin Lay died in 1759, whereas Benezet lived twenty-five years longer.) Rush also recalled that "upon coming into his brother's house one day, when the family was dining upon poultry, Anthony was asked by his brother's wife to sit down and dine with them. 'What' (said he,) 'would you have me eat my neighbors?'"
(Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a zealous supporter of Benezet’s educational and abolitionist work, differed on the matter of vegetarianism, calling it a "misapplication of moral feeling" which led to "a disability in his stomach and bowels" that, he opined, ultimately caused his patient's demise. The weight of medical evidence today clearly indicates that it was Rush who was wrong here. Furthermore, it may be noted that although Benezet was reportedly always small and frail, his age at death, seventy-one, was well above the average lifespan for the eighteenth century. But Rush did agree with Benezet in opposing the consumption of alcoholic liquors, the topic of one of Benezet’s books. Their opposition was not motivated by asceticism; colonists in eighteenth-century North America, especially males, were drowning in an ocean of alcohol. (Rush has the distinction of being the first medical doctor to describe alcoholism as a disease.)
Benezet wrote several short books, two of them devastating accounts of the slave trade and a couple of rather idealistic and sometimes vegetarian descriptions of the Africa from which the enslaved were kidnapped, designed to counter the familiar argument that Black people’s lives had been improved by their transportation from their African homeland to the New World. (A similar argument is used regarding animals even today.) These accounts were based on his reading, since the author never personally traveled to the so-called “Dark Continent.” He also wrote a book on the mistreatment of Native Americans. Benezet apparently never wrote anything directly advocating vegetarianism; perhaps, like Joshua Evans ( PT 144 ), he felt that it was a Concern the Spirit had laid on him, but one on which he was not called to public combat, as he was (and Evans was) in regard to human slavery.
But the witness of others to this powerful and admirable life is more than enough. Please get better acquainted with Anthony Benezet.
Bibliographic note: Maurice Jackson, Let This Voice Be Heard: Anthony Benezet, Father of Atlantic Abolitionism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009.
Our thanks to historian Barbara Booth for information about alcohol consumption in colonial America.
Recipe: “Better Than Ranch” Dressing
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds, soaked (soak an hour) & drained
2 cups zucchini, peeled & cubed
1 lemon, juiced
2 large stalks of celery (chopped)
1 teaspoon dried onion flakes
1/8 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 cup water
Blend well at high speed in the blender, then stir in 1 & 1/2 Tablespoon fresh dill (or 1/2 Tablespoon dried dill).
--Tanny. (See Tannyraw ). Used With Permission.
Poetry: Frank G. Swain, 1892 - 1975
Wild Mares Running
Under the breast of a crimson hill,
By a desert pool, at close of day--
I saw the horses, three wild mares
Running, at play.
Three wild mares, their light feet stamping
Arching their shining necks; their eyes glowing
Running across the crimson light,
The dark manes flowing.
Aye . . . to recapture that lovely hour
Fled with the feet of the wild mares going,
Under the veils of the winter dusk,
Beyond all knowing!