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The Time Christopher Robin Shot Winnie-the-Pooh with a Gun, and Other Censored Stories

The Time Christopher Robin Shot Winnie-the-Pooh with a Gun and Other Censored Stories Dolan Halbrook

Dolan Halbrook

Brantly Millegan - published on 02/06/14

Guns, cannibalism, and ubiquitous death: they don’t write children’s stories like they used to - and that’s a bad thing.

With Winnie-the-Pooh dangling high in the air from a balloon after a failed attempt to obtain some honey, Christopher Robin lifts his gun, takes aim, and fires.

Ow!” said Pooh.

“Did I miss?” [Christopher Robin] asked.

“You didn’t exactly
miss,” said Pooh, “but you missed the

“I’m so sorry,” [he] said, and [he] fired again, and this time [he] hit the balloon.

Though he was apparently left unscathed by the gunshot, the ordeal left Pooh with other problems: “[H]is arms were so stiff from holding on to the string of the balloon all that time that they stayed up straight in the air for more than a week, and whenever a fly came and settled on his nose he had to blow it off.” Why is this detail relevant? The narrator explains, “And I think – but I am not sure – that that is why he was always called Pooh.”

Ah yes, the heart-warming story of how the beloved bear got his name.

Not how you remember Winnie-the-Pooh? A more recent version published by Disney has bees pop the balloon and excises the gun and problem with his arms.

It’d be easy to point to Disney’s always smiling, flower throwing, magical rainbow gazing monstrosity and chalk it up to another big corporation destroying a classic, but after having read hundreds of children’s books over the last few years to my small children, it’s clear Disney is just a prominent player in a much wider trend to sanitize, censor, and to all-around-make-bland-and-boring our culture’s rich treasury of children’s stories.

And Death Was No More

The first time I read my young son the classic story The Three Little Pigs, it was from a scanned copy of a 1904 book courtesy of the Library of Congress’ fantastic website, (yes, the federal government is capable of making useful websites). It tells the story as I remembered it: The Wolf blows down the homes of the first two Pigs and eats them. He’s unable to blow down the brick house of the third Pig, and tries to enter the house through the chimney. The text is clear on what the third Pig does next:

“When the little Pig saw what he was about, he hung on a pot full of water, and made up a blazing fire, and, just as the Wolf was coming down, took off the cover of the pot, and in fell the Wolf. And the little Pig put on the cover again in an instant, boiled him up, and ate him for supper, and lived happily ever after.”

Opposite the text is a full-page, color illustration of the Wolf falling into the large pot surrounded by huge flames, and the third Pig smiling, ready with the lid.

My son loved the story and has frequently requested it since. But when I read him the same story from a recently published collection of children’s stories, there were some significant differences. First, upon having their homes blown down by the Wolf, the first two Pigs escape to the home of the third Pig, rather than get eaten by the Wolf. Second, the death of the Wolf in the boiling pot is left somewhat vague, and there is no mention of the Pigs eating him.

Other examples can be given: A newer version of The Gingerbread Man we picked up from the library has the Gingerbread Man escaping the Fox (rather than being eaten by him) and instead getting caught by a young boy who made a gingerbread house for the Gingerbread Man to live in. A recently published children’s story collection had a version of The Little Red Riding-Hood in which the grandmother hides in a closet from the Wolf, Little Red Riding-Hood is merely “seized” by the Wolf once she arrives, and the woodcutter who comes to their rescue only chases the Wolf away.

The common thread to all of these new versions? The removal of death.

All Is Not Well

Publishers of not very long ago didn’t have the same concerns. Take Hilaire Belloc’s very popular collection of poems, Cautionary Tales for Children, published in 1907. The titles alone of some of the stories in the collection wouldn’t pass muster today: “Jim, Who ran away from his Nurse, and was eaten by a Lion,” “Matilda, Who told Lies, and was Burned to Death,” and “Rebecca, Who slammed Doors for Fun and Perished Miserably” – to say nothing of the hilarious but very un-P.C. “Lord Lundy, Who was too Freely Moved to Tears, and thereby ruined his Political Career.” And yes, the stories are just as they sound.

Or what about a classic like Hansel and Gretel? The two children are lured by a cannibalistic witch in the woods to her house where they are given unlimited sweets to eat (every child’s dream!), but the witch is only trying to fatten them up in preparation for eating them. The ending of the 19th century Brothers Grimm version pulls no punches:

“Gretel gave [the witch] a push that drove her far into [the oven], and shut the iron door, and fastened the bolt. Oh! then she began to howl quite horribly, but Gretel ran away and the godless witch was miserably burnt to death.”

Even Disney in its earlier years used to produce content with more texture. If you don’t recognize the name Night on Bald Mountain, you will certainly remember the terrifying giant demon that haunted you in your dreams for weeks after watching the section of Fantasia that featured that song.

I offer that these original stories are far superior to their censored newer versions for three reasons.

First, the originals are far more interesting. They certainly keep your attention! A large part of that is because of the next point.

Second, the originals show a much wider range of human experience. Yes, the stories are fantasical, but they deal with real world themes like life and death (including animals eating other animals), justice, and a fight between good and evil.

Lastly, the originals teach important lessons. Good and evil exist. The good guys come out on top. The bad guys are portrayed as bad guys, and they suffer the consequences – often severe and final.

We shouldn’t horrify children, and we shouldn’t expose them to things that could have a corrupting influence on them. But neither should we present to them a one-dimensional world in which all is well, for all is not well in the world.

But don’t worry, the good guys win.

Brantly Milleganis an Assistant Editor for Aleteia. He is also Co-Founder and Co-Editor of Second Nature, Co-Director of the International Institute for the Study of Technology and Christianity, and is working on a M.A. in Theology at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity. He lives with his wife and children in South St. Paul, MN. His personal website is

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