Return to Some Hundred Acre Wood

“Happy may be all very well, Eeyore,
but it doesn’t butter any parsnips.”
~ Rabbit

Some Christopher Robin has been playing in my wood.

Everyone should have their own hundred-acre wood like Christopher Robin and his imaginary friends. It would be wonderful to own the woods, but that’s a bit much for all of us to own. At least, you should have a hundred-acre wood that you can easily visit and walk and really get to know.

I have such a wood. It’s a 15-minute walk from my front door.  It is actually 157.19 acres. There’s a reservoir on one side that can pass for a lake, a road alongside the edge of a cliff, and a small mountainside park.

It was an acreage gifted to the New Jersey county of Essex (which does sound English) with the stipulation being that it be preserved in its natural state. All that’s changed is a small parking area and some trails that were actually part of a minimal design by the Olmsted Brothers.

I like to walk to the Quarry Point scenic lookout. Spring and fall are good times to watch migratory hawks there. On today’s winter walk, it was quite empty of people. No bears or other creatures except in the imagination.

Ashdown Forest, Milne and Shepherd (illustrator) memorial, Gill’s Lap

I was browsing at a bookstore during the week and I came across Return to the Hundred Acre Wood in the Pooh section.  I didn’t recognize that title as part of the Pooh books. That’s because it was written by David Benedictus as the first official post-Milne Pooh book written with the full backing of A. A. Milne’s estate.

Pooh, Tigger, Piglet and Eeyore (and one new character, Lottie the Otter) return to Christopher Robin’s wood.

It has nice illustrations by Mark Burgess who also worked on new versions of another famous bear named Paddington.

It has been more than 80 years since Christopher Robin said goodbye to Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood and now he returns from boarding school.

It is similar to the originals but not the same thing. It has ten stories, like the originals, but I don’t think I like this older Christopher. Would A.A. Milne have wanted them to ever grow any older?

A.A. Milne was born in 1882. He graduated from Cambridge, became Assistant Editor at Punch, a classic British humor magazine, got married, enlisted when World War I began, started writing and had his first play produced in London in 1917 and was considered a witty and fashionable London playwright.

In 1920, his son, Christopher Robin Milne was born and when Christopher was three, while they were on holiday Milne began work on a collection of verses for children which was published as When We Were Very Young in 1924. The characters were based on his son’s stuffed animals (except for Owl and Rabbit) and the bear was called Edward.

The Occult Bookstore

This image is of Ray’s Occult Books, the rundown fictional NYC bookstore opened by Ghostbuster Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd). In the time between Ghostbusters I and II,.

Ray had problems dealing with life then. The city of New York had a restraining order on them for the property damage incurred while they saved the city from Gozer in the first Ghostbusters film. Those were hard years following the collapse of the Ghostbusters. He opened a store that specialized in bizarre, strange, and hard-to-find books. Ray tells someone that his books cover alchemy, astrology, apparitions, Bundu Magic Men, demon intercession, U.F.O. Abductions, psychic surgery, stigmata, modern miracles, pixie sightings, golden geese, geists, and ghosts. Peter Venkman was a frequent customer. We know that in 1989, Peter ordered a book a copy of Magical Paths to Fortune and Power.

Discovering this little piece of movie trivia, I immediately remembered an occult bookstore I had gone to with my friends Karen and Bob. Ray’s store exteriors were filmed at 33 St. Mark’s Place, but the store was supposed to be in the cooler part of Greenwich Village. The store I went to was also in the Village back in the 1970s but I don’t remember the location. We always called it “the occult bookstore” and I’m not sure what was its official name – if it had one.

It was as odd as Ray’s and equally odd were the staffers and customers. You could get into some interesting conversations there with people.

I bought a copy of The Tibetan Book of the Dead there and some incense on one visit. The book is for the living to prepare yourself or others who are dying for liberation and the passage between worlds in the bardo.

I’ve thought about that store and that book, especially when Bob passed from this world and I wondered if he was somewhere in that intermediary place between life and death and the next step.

I know Ghostbusters is played for laughs but I have been haunted my whole life by the idea of ghosts (only once by a ghost) and wondering if there is an afterlife.


Ray’s store shows up in Ghostbusters II, and the third film, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and in the comic book series and board and video games.

All Quiet on the Western Front

This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession,
and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure
to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell
of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells,
were destroyed by the war.

I read the novel  All Quiet on the Western Front in 1966. I was 13, in junior high school, and probably still believed that being a soldier was pretty cool. My dad had been in the Navy in WWII and I had taken to wearing his old Navy denim jacket and an Army field jacket that a family friend had given me.

Although the Vietnam war was heating up and starting to be part of the nightly news, I wasn’t all that aware of the politics, and Army/Navy surplus clothing was popular with teenagers including the “hippie” that were starting to show up in town and at the high school.

I chose the book from a stack the teacher offered of classics for book reports. I thought from the cover that it would be a war novel with some action.

There was certainly an anti-war movement in the country at the time, but I was at the fringe. That was something high school and college students were doing. We were still kids. All Quiet on the Western Front must have been my first anti-war novel and then I watched the 1930 film version.

At the age of 18, the author, Erich Maria Remarque, was drafted into the German army to fight in World War I. He was wounded five times. In 1929, the novel he had been working on for 10 years was published. The book was an immediate international success. It was banned in Germany, and in 1938, Remarque’s German citizenship was revoked.

All Quiet on the Western Front is the story of Paul Bäumer, the narrator, a young man of nineteen who fights in the German army on the French front in World War I. Unlike Remarque, Paul and several of his friends from school joined the army voluntarily after listening to the stirring patriotic speeches by one of their teachers.

The speeches turn out to be false as they go through their basic training with a petty, cruel Corporal. The patriotism gets beaten out of them by the time they get to the front.

Paul’s squad gets bombed in a French town close to the front. One of his friends dies and another is severely wounded. Paul, who is also wounded, is granted leave and at home finds out his mother is dying of cancer. He realizes that the older men in town, like his teacher, have no sense of the horrors of modern warfare. He tells his friend’s mother that when he was killed he did not suffer. That’s a lie.

As the book closes, he is writing a letter to a friend, the only other survivor of their class, though he is now an amputee. I don’t know if there need to be spoiler alerts for a book and film that are so old, but the conclusion of the novel (and film) really hit me hard as a kid. I’ll leave that unmentioned.

Like Paul and his friends, I started to think about concepts like nationalism, patriotism, the draft, and Vietnam. I started to pay attention to the anti-war movement rhetoric. I didn’t see war as glorious or honorable as I had as a kid playing army with my friends in the neighborhood. I shifted my fear from the atomic bombs they had warned us about in elementary school to the war that I might be required to enter in a few years.

AllQuiet400a-shp
frame from the 1930 film

“Comrade, I did not want to kill you. . . . But you were only an idea to me before, an abstraction that lived in my mind and called forth its appropriate response. . . . I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony—Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?”

Paul says those words to the dead body of a French soldier whom he has just killed. It is when he first realizes that for any differences of birth or uniform, the enemy is fundamentally no different from him.

The 1930 film version of All Quiet on the Western Front is considered a classic. It won the Oscar for best picture. It is directed by Lewis Milestone. I saw it when I was a teen and later in a film course in college on a big screen.

I originally saw the film version in the “Film Society,” an after-school club that a teacher ran in my high school. That year, the idea of being drafted and going to Vietnam was very real. With all the anti-war sentiment amongst my classmates, the opening sequence of a teacher urging his students to volunteer while troops marched outside their classroom actually got some laughs from our audience. Who would volunteer to go to war?

The film probably seems somewhat dated to modern audiences used to graphic battle footage, but the effect of the camera in the trenches and how the young soldiers quickly lose their ideas of glory on the battlefield still had an impact on me. World War I seems like ancient history to a young audience today – as does WWII, Korea and even Vietnam.

Without a draft, I don’t know that high school and college students give the same thought to war. I was in the last class to be in the draft lottery which we watched on TV in my Rutgers freshman dormitory. That lottery (which always makes me think of the Shirley Jackson short story that we had read in a high school English class) must seem absurd to kids today. We sat in our dorm and watched someone pull balls out – just like the nightly state money lotteries of today – with birthdays and a corresponding number that determined where you were in the draft line. I lucked out with a high number. What could you say to the kid sitting next to you with #10?

In the film, Lew Ayres was the unknown actor who played Paul. I only learned in researching this article that Ayres became a pacifist and conscientious objector during World War II. He did serve in battle as a medic, but taking that position hurt his career in a time of great patriotism between the two world wars when you would have expected a young man to feel that loyalty to his homeland that the German professor pushed at his students.

Now, as American troops have left Afghanistan, war means Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. You see warfare and its effects on the nightly news. South Vietnam fell after U.S. troops left. Today, people go there on vacation. What did we accomplish?

Erich Maria Remarque was born in Osnabrück, Germany in 1898 and became a citizen of the United States in 1947 and was married to American film star Paulette Goddard. He died in 1970.

I watched the latest film version of the novel. It is a 2022 German film (in English). It’s very good but it is much more graphic than earlier versions. It follows the idea that to be anti-war it needs to show us the horrors and futility of war.

Bury My Heart

As the year 1890 was ending, a massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota occurred. It happened despite a treaty signed two decades before in which the United States government guaranteed local tribes rights to their sacred land around the Black Hills. In the 1870s, gold was discovered in the Black Hills, so the whites wanted the land again and the treaty was broken.

I was assigned to read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee for a college history course and the book revealed to me my ignorance of American Indian history. What a sad and terrible history it is.

People from the Sioux tribe were forced onto a reservation, with a promise of more food and supplies, which never came. Then in 1889, a native prophet named Wovoka from the Paiute tribe in Nevada had a vision of a ceremony that would renew the earth, return the buffalo, and cause the white men to leave and return the land that belonged to the Indians. This ceremony was called the Ghost Dance. People traveled across the plains to hear Wovoka speak, including emissaries from the Sioux tribe, and they brought back his teachings.

Ghost Dance by Frederic Remington
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Public domain

The Ghost Dance, performed in special brightly colored shirts, spread through the villages on the Sioux reservation, and it scared the white Indian agents. They considered the ceremony a battle cry, dangerous and antagonistic. One of the agents wired Washington to say that he was afraid and wanted to arrest the leaders.

He was given permission to arrest Chief Sitting Bull, who was killed in the attempt. The next on the wanted list was Sitting Bull’s half-brother, Chief Big Foot. Some members of Sitting Bull’s tribe went to warn Big Foot, and when he found out what had happened, he decided to lead them along with the rest of his people to Pine Ridge Reservation for protection.

It was winter, 40 degrees below zero, and he contracted pneumonia on the way. Big Foot and the group were flying a white flag, and he was a peaceful man. He was one of the leaders who had actually renounced the Ghost Dance but the Army didn’t make distinctions. They intercepted Big Foot’s band and ordered them into the camp on the banks of the Wounded Knee Creek. Big Foot went peacefully.

The next morning federal soldiers began confiscating their weapons, and a scuffle broke out between a soldier and an Indian. The federal soldiers opened fire, killing almost 300 men, women, and children, including Big Foot.

Even though it was a very one-sided “battle”, the massacre at Wounded Knee is considered the end of the Indian Wars. That blanket term refers to the fighting between the Native Americans and the federal government which lasted 350 years.

I wrote earlier about one of the men wounded but not killed during the massacre. That was the medicine man, Black Elk. His book Black Elk Speaks was another book I read in college after finishing my assigned reading. Both books were revelatory both in the history and my own spirituality and in forming a philosophy for my own life’s path.

Black Elk said about the massacre:
“I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream.”

From my own high hill of old age, I also see dreams that died there, and in too many other places around the Earth.

The Haunting of Shirley Jackson

Have you ever read any stories or novels by Shirley Jackson? If you know her writing, it’s most likely to be that you read her short story “The Lottery” in a classroom. It is a classic creepy story hidden inside somewhat normal circumstances.

The story begins:
“The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o’clock; in some towns there were so many people that the lottery took two days and had to be started on June 26th, but in this village, where there were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o’clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner.”

If you haven’t read the story,  you should – so  I won’t add a spoiler, but it’s not what you’d expect. This is not a lottery where the winner is rewarded.

That story was originally published in The New Yorker in 1948 and it still has power. Readers were shocked, wrote angry letters, and canceled their subscriptions.

Jackson has other stories and books that readers should try.  Her novel The Haunting of Hill House is a good haunted house book. What I like about her is that she often takes ordinary people in realistic settings and tells a tale of horror and the occult.

In Hill House, there are four characters – an occult scholar, his assistant, a sad young woman with some poltergeist experience, and the future heir of Hill House. It turns out that the house has plans to make one of them its own.

I used to offer Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle as outside reading when I taught middle school. I don’t know who had the book approved for our reading list. It was a strange choice made before my time there. I had a class set of the novel. I never “taught” the novel. It was a book students could choose from a group of four novels. It was fairly easy to seduce some students into reading the novel by implying that we shouldn’t be reading it for school. Thankfully, I never had any issues with parents about it. That might not be true today.

In this novel, the strange – but not haunted – castle is called Blackwood House. The girl who narrates, Merricat, tells a tale that was described on book jackets as “macabre, sinister and humorous.”

Merricat is a character that I found middle school girls really liked. She has created an odd world with her own rules. My students assumed that her use of magic, her buried talismanic objects and ones she attached to trees, along with her rituals, and the talk about poisoned relatives was the truth. Ah, the unreliable narrator.

I think middle schoolers are ripe for a strange family in a strange house that is viewed with distrust and some hostility by neighbors and other villagers.  The neighbors don’t really ever see anything paranormal going on, but the family gets a reputation as a weird family. The reader starts to wonder what is the truth.

Merricat’s little world is invaded by cousin Charles, who seems to want to grab hold of the Blackwood “fortune.” He undoes her spells and digs up her treasures and she gets desperate.

My young teenage students seemed to really connect with being seen as strange or being an outsider. Maybe they didn’t cope or fight like Merricat, but they knew her battle. They found the novel’s conclusion as tragic.

Shirley is a strange writer. I mean that in a good way. But Shirley Jackson also wrote some light, humorous tales about family life. She wrote Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons. She was a mom with four children and not some dark, disturbed woman. She wrote at night after her mothering work was done.

Maybe it was those night hours that took her into that other directions. Maybe it was an escape from those daytime “demons” she was raising.  Maybe she had a rough time in 8th grade.