The Pacifism of Pooh: A. A. Milne and the Symbolism of Winnie-the-Pooh

Emily Calcraft | 11 December 2023

World War One | British History | Pacifism | Interwar History

Pooh listening to Christopher Robin, Winnie-the-Pooh (1926). Illustration by E. H. Shepard. 

Winnie-the-Pooh is one of the most recognisable animated and fictional characters of the twentieth century. His friendly nature and appetite for honey made him one of Disney’s notable characters after they acquired the licensing rights in1961. The stories were originally written by A.A. Milne and illustrated by E.H. Shepard, with the first book being published in 1926. The human protagonist of the tales, Christopher Robin, was named after Milne’s son and the inhabitants of the one-hundred-acre woods were inspired by his various stuffed animals.


Literary scholars have remarked that Winnie-the-Pooh took place in an isolated world free from major issues. Connolly has described this setting as ‘largely Edenic’ and evidence of nostalgia for a ‘rural and innocent world’ before the First World War.[i] Meanwhile, Townsend has described Milne’s work as being ‘totally without hidden significance’.[ii] But could Milne’s active role as a pacifist inform us about the symbolism of Winnie-the-Pooh?


Milne fought during the First World War before catching ‘trench fever’ and being sent back to England where he was recruited into Military Intelligence to write propaganda.[iii] Following the war, Milne became active within pacifist and Christian intellectual circles. In 1934 he wrote Peace With Honour in which he called out the romantic emplotments that surrounded war and its commemoration. He stated that ‘neither in its origins nor in its conduct is war heroic’.[iv] Milne asserted that ‘splendidly heroic deeds are done in war, but not by those responsible for its conduct, and not exclusively and inevitably by the dead’.[v] As Ceadel has noted, Milne was also active in denouncing the militarist conditioning of young men that led to the glorification of warfare.[vi]


In Winnie-the-Pooh Milne’s belief in peace and pacifism is evident. Milne imagines a world un-bridled by violence and militarism, and instead, filled with friendship and nature. The one-hundred-acre woods is certainly an Edenic setting, isolated and unadulterated by modernity.


Pacifists were particularly active in connecting peace to nature and an imagined past unspoilt by war. W.S. Shears in This England (1936) spoke of rural areas as ‘a land of legend and custom, far removed from cynical industrialism, and likely to be forever a place of peace, of sport and natural life’.[vii] Pacifists idealised rural areas and placed urban environments as the opposite of peace. In the one-hundred-acre woods Christopher Robin can play freely and align himself closely with nature.


Milne’s support for internationalism and international harmony is also evident within the tales. Kanga and Roo, as the national symbol of Australia, embody the ‘outsider’ within the one-hundred-acre woods. Whilst the inhabitants are initially cautious of them, Kanga and Roo are ultimately welcomed and integrated into the society. Although, it is worth considering that Milne chose to use an animal from the British empire and, thus, invoked an imperial hegemony.


The character of Christopher Robin rejects many expectations of British manhood, especially in his refusal to participate in ‘blood sports’ and hunting. Tichelar has argued that, irrespective of class, hunting was defined as an important element of British manhood.[viii] However, for pacifists blood sports was a marker of an out-dated, militaristic and violent manhood. In Winnie-the-Pooh there are hunts conducted but only in an exploratory sense, i.e., they do not intend to kill the animal, nor do they use any violent means. Moreover, the animals that they track - Heffalumps and Woozles- are entirely fictitious. Milne presents a caricature of hunting as a pointless activity, as Pooh and Piglet are terrible at it and consistently get their tracks mixed up. 


Weapons are involved in just one story within the Winnie-the-Pooh tales, in which Pooh is holding onto a balloon and floating away after an unsuccessful honey-acquiring mission. Pooh implores Christopher Robin to ‘shoot the balloon with your gun’ to which he replies ‘but if I do that it will spoil the balloon’.[ix] Pooh states ‘if you don’t I shall have to let go and that will spoil me’ and so Christopher Robin is forced to use his gun to save his friend.[x] Christopher Robin accidentally shoots Pooh but later asks his father ‘I didn’t hurt him when I shot him did I?’[xi]


In this tale Milne outlines a moral dilemma surrounding the use of guns, in which Christopher Robin is presented as careful and considered in his use of weaponry. The care that Christopher Robin shows towards Pooh and the balloon demonstrates his advocacy of friendship over violence. Shooting is not presented as a fun activity or pastime but something that is only applicable in dire situations and, even then, requires serious consideration.


It could be argued that Milne was merely writing about his son and not trailblazing new standards of pacifistic masculinity. But the fact that the plural pronoun ‘you’ is applied throughout the book to address the audience implies that the reader is also involved.  

Milne later renounced absolute pacifism and joined the British Home Guard during the Second World War. He did so because he argued that it constituted special circumstances as ‘in fighting Hitler we are truly fighting the Devil’.[xii] Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that Milne’s advocacy for non-violence and internationalism influenced the writing of Winnie-the-Pooh.

Emily Calcraft recently graduated with an MA in Historical Research from the University of Sheffield. Her research concentrates on the inter-war peace movement and its attempt to disassociate masculinity from militarism. Her latest work explored pacifist’s use sport and physical activity to foster community, internationalism, and re-frame physical education. The project was supervised by Professor Julie Gottlieb. If you are interested in this project, you can contact her on ‘X’ (formerly Twitter) @emily_gcalcraft

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[i] Paula T. Connolly, Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner (New York, 1995).

[ii] John Rowe Townsend, Written for Children: An Outline of English-Language Children’s Literature (New York, 1996), pp.125-126.

[iii] Ann Thwaite, A.A. Milne: His Life (London, 1990), pp.172-185.

[iv] ‘Peace with Honour- A.A. Milne’, Accessed at [23/10/2023].

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Martin Ceadel, Pacifism in Britain 1914-1945: The Defining of a Faith (Oxford, 1980), pp.156-160.

[vii] W.S. Shears, This England (London, 1936), p.310.

[viii] M. Tichelar, ‘Royalty and Opposition to Blood Sports in Twentieth-Century Britain: From Imperial Spoils to Wildlife Conservation?’, History (London) 103 (2018), pp. 588.

[ix] A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh (London, 1926), p.16.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] A.A. Milne, War with Honour (London, 1940), pp.16-17.

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