Last week the creator of one of the most loved children’s book characters, Paddington Bear, died.
Like many who grew up with Paddington, I have a deep affection for this innocent, chaos-creating character, and was sad to hear that Michael Bond had passed away aged 91.
Yet with every death of a celebrated life comes collective reflection on what that person has brought to our lives. In Paddington’s case, we find not just some marmalade sandwiches but a very moral legacy that is as relevant today as when Bond first created him in 1962.
Bond witnessed the flow of refugees from 1940s Germany and saw British children evacuated to the countryside. His deep empathy for their plight inspired the stories that affirm values we might recognise as Christian: compassion, kindness, and hospitality to the outsider.
Those who exercised these values were the middle-class, comfortably-off Brown family. Most notably it was a woman (Mrs Brown), the children (Jonathan & Judy) and a German refugee (Mr Gruber) who were the first to extend such hospitality. The practical, money-minded man of the house, Mr Brown, was a voice of resistance until, of course, Paddington won his heart too.
No wonder Bond added his (and Paddington’s) name to a campaign against detention of child asylum-seekers in 2009.
We also find in this small, innocent bear a message of the power of vulnerability, courage, and politeness – for Paddington always had impeccable manners – as well as the importance of embracing risk and its accompanying messiness.
Sound familiar? As a parent living in a risk-averse culture, I relate to this, but so too as a follower of Christ – the one who calls us to step out of our comfort zones for the sake of his kingdom.
There is much to be admired in authors who can convey moral messages with such humour and as light a touch as Michael Bond, a man who was as polite and gentlemanly as his imaginary bear.
Michael Morpurgo was right to say Paddington is the Winnie-the-Pooh of our generation, a bear who continues to speak to us even today. I can’t help wondering if he would be giving some of our decision-makers – and maybe even some of us – a very ‘hard stare’!
Siobhan writes, tutors and blogs at everyoneelseisnormal.com and attends Forest Town Church, St Albans.