The Tao of Pooh – Benjamin Hoff

Penguin, 1982
I found the Tao of Poo at our library’s used book corner for 50 cents.
I’ve been interested in Benjamin Hoff’s thesis since reading the Pooh books in ’99–that the ineffable Pooh-bear embodies Taoist principles. Pooh just “is”, and hence lives life peacefully unlike negative Eeyore, busybody Rabbit, or overly intellectual Owl.
This would have made a good little book, or a comic. But Hoff pushes the similarities to their limits, and finding them wanting fills the book with stories from Lao Tzu and other philosophers and his own diatribes against modern society. Pooh gets a bit diminished throughout, and by including large chunks of Milne’s text, it plainly shows up Hoff’s own writing as plain. He’s not that good, either, at mimicking Milne’s voice, so his conversations with Pooh ring a bit false. Probably better than the Disney atrocity, but still not quite there.
However, the first chapter helped me understand the difference between Buddhism, Confusianism, and Taoism. In it, Hoff relates the story of the Vinegar Tasters, a scroll painting. One man tastes the vinegar and has a bitter look on his face, another has a sour look, and the third has a smile. The first man, Hoff says, represents Buddhism, who sees life as suffering and bitter. The second represents Confucius, who sees life as sour, not like it was in the old days, and sees that living life according to the old ways will help it return. The third man, the Taoist, sees the vinegar as vinegar and appreciates that it tastes just as it does. He sees life as trying to understand and appreciate the essence of all things.
Well, that’s my version of Hoff’s version, written from memory, but nothing else that follows in the Tao of Pooh had quite that effect. By the third chapter I began to feel dissent from his lecturing. Of course we can’t all be like Pooh–he lives in the 100 Acre Wood, and is not subject to the forces of capitalism. He always has a steady supply of honey, pays no rent, and…well, you see how it doesn’t exactly fit. If I kept turning up at people’s homes looking for “a little smackerel of something,” then I’d be called a freeloader.
Chapters are loosely based around a character from the books and how they stand for fallible human traits and in opposition to Pooh. Hoff especially has it in for Rabbit, but then Rabbit is the meanest character in the Pooh stories, always trying to evict newcomers to the forest.
Anyway, a quick read and not a totally enjoyable one. I don’t feel much of a Taoist afterwards, but I do feel an urge to go back to the Pooh books.

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