It all started when A.A. Milne ruined his son's childhood by writing the first Winnie-the-Pooh book eight decades ago. "He needed me to escape being 50," Christopher Robin bitterly recalled. "My father had got to where he was by climbing upon my infant shoulders." But he made lots of other childhoods happier. Selling 150,000 copies upon first publication, Pooh never palls for the public. The classic editions with Ernest H. Shepard's illustrations sell briskly in his 80th-anniversary season—the coolest editions are probably the boxed Pooh Library four-small-volume set (Dutton Juvenile, $44) and the now-five-year- old 75th Anniversary Edition of The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh (Dutton, $40).
Pooh has become a lifetime experience. Thanks largely to the totalitarian efforts of Disney, which bought the marketing rights for a pittance, assigned an executive formerly responsible for Heinz Ketchup to the account, and reportedly owes up to a quarter of its revenue to Pooh (its second-most-popular character, in both the Shepard and the Disney versions, both of which Disney owns), citizens enter the Hundred Acre Wood long before they can walk. The newborn consumer gurgles in her Peek A Pooh four-piece crib bedding set ($149.99), gnawing a Pooh Teether Blanket ($7.99) until it's time for the Pooh Babies Lullaby Soother ($19.99), a mom's remote-control-operated device emitting twinkly rainbow lights, songs, and nature sounds. Long before encountering the Pooh Potty Trainer Ring ($11.99)—which no doubt embitters Disney execs because they don't own rights to the poo going through it—the kid learns to relate by means of the Pooh Rock n Giggle Pal ($14.99), which "will giggle and wobble around as baby bats at it. Baby can also tickle Pooh's belly to activate giggle sounds and a melody. If Baby Pooh falls completely over he will say 'uh oh.'"
Soon baby will be needing to fulfill the corporate imperative expressed in the DVD Growing Up With Winnie-the-Pooh—Friends Forever ($19.99), watching it on a Pooh 10-inch LCD TV ($399) or the more conventional Pooh 13-inch TV ($109) and DVD player ($79), with Pooh peering over the top at the screen. Educationally concerned parents can inculcate values and math skills with the interactive "Little Touch Book" that is rather Orwellianly named Pooh Loves You ($14.99) or the still more Ashcroftian 12-inch stuffed animal called Pooh Knows Your Name ($39.99), which downloads the kid's personal information and has an internal clock that knows when to say, "Good morning, [child's name]," and not, "Good night, [child's name]." If the child wants a toy that neurotically refuses to get to know her and teaches important lessons about adult psychology, consider the Peek Play Eeyore ($24.99), which flaps its battery- operated ears over its I-can't-bear-to-look-at-life eyes.
As soon as the child is mature enough to grasp the need for branding, get her the plush, jumbo 80th Anniversary Pooh from Toys R Us, Imaginarium, or Amazon.com ($29.99, or $6.99 when bought with $50 worth of other toy/video stuff). Know that branding is not a one-dimensional concept to the kid of today. She doesn't just want a Barbie, she wants a Barbie Loves Winnie-the-Pooh ($15.99). This Barbie wears Pooh-themed clothes with Pooh accessories, just like her owner. Ours is an era of sampling and mental mashups: Kids don't want an old-fashioned game like Candy Land, they want a Pooh Candy Land Edition 100 Acre Wood Picnic Game ($11.99).
And pets are nice, but what's a pet without a Winnie-the-Pooh's Eeyore Pet Costume ($8.99)? Guaranteed to cause authentic canine clinical depression!
When the kid grows up and goes to school, it's not at all time to leave Pooh behind. Instead, have her wax classical by studying Winnie Ille Pu (Penguin, $13), the original story in Latin, which spent five months on the New York Times best-seller list. Learn the wisdom of the East via Benjamin Hoff's The Tao of Pooh (Penguin, $13) and The Te of Piglet ($14). But steer clear of John Tyerman Williams' Pooh and the Philosophers: In Which It Is Shown That All of Western Philosophy Is Merely a Preamble to Winnie-the-Pooh (Dutton, $15.99), which shows that all publishing phenomena inspire uninspired imitators. Since our era's deepest philosophy is nihilistic satire, far better to feed your head with Frederick Crews' twin literary classics The Pooh Perplex ($14, University of Chicago Press) and Postmodern Pooh (North Point Press, $15). These books are hunny for highbrows.
Since I just turned 50, I'm eager to see what Pooh-iana the AARP is surely about to dream up for the next phase of my journey through life's darkening 100-acre wood. Pooh Cruises? Tigger's Easy Chair for Cranky Old Misanthropes? Eeyore's Extended-Care Facility? All I know is, I'm a modern American. I need the silly old bear every minute. As Jack Kerouac wisely reminded us, "In America . . . don't you know that God is Pooh Bear?"
Merchandise can be purchased at Amazon.com, Disney.com, Toys R Us, and other stores.