|Eeyore, by Ernest Shephard, from my mother's copy of The House at Pooh Corner, 1945|
What's wonderful about the Christopher Robin stories is their gentle recognition that we're all victims, existentially speaking. The universe is a ludicrous thing, and we're thrown into it without ever being asked. Some respond with giddy eagerness (Tigger), some with curious horror (Piglet), and some with melancholy (Eeyore) - but anyone watching simply has to laugh.
This is one of the triumphs of kids' books in general: a bonding in incomprehensibility. Sitting laughing at Pooh's honeylust, Mr Small's powerlessness, Sam-I-Am's culinary mania, or Ferdinand's delicate nose, we take a moment to respond to life's absurdity - and we do it together.
In other words, laughter reveals that we already have a world in common, and feel similarly about it. And if we don't (yet) feel it, we can suggest it: humour is an opportunity to teach kids how to respond to life. Each spontaneous guffaw and giggle is a recognition of ''a world that is endlessly incomprehensible, always baffling'', writes philosopher Ted Cohen in Jokes, ''a world that is beyond us and yet our world''.I've just been told (see below) that Ted Cohen, whom I quote in the piece, died on 14th March. You can read more about his life and work here. Vale.