The life and works of A.A. Milne. A true cause to celebrate.

Posted: January 21, 2016 in Humour, Popular Culture et al
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18 January is Pooh Day, celebrating the birthday of A.A. Milne in 1882.

Pooh

There is no doubt in my mind that Milne tapped into a deep understanding of the human condition with his Pooh stories.

Milne was a noted writer, primarily as a playwright, before the huge success of Pooh overshadowed all his previous work. He served in both World Wars, joining the British Army in World War I, where he was injured on the battle of the Somme, and was a captain of the British Home Guard in World War II. Milne did not speak out much on the subject of religion, although he used religious terms to explain his decision, while remaining a pacifist, to join the Home Guard: “In fighting Hitler”, he wrote, “we are truly fighting the Devil, the Anti-Christ … Hitler was a crusader against God.”

When he was growing up, one of his teachers was H. G. Wells, who in 1889-90 taught at the school owned by Milne’s father, where Milne was educated. What effect that great genius had on the young Milne is not known, but one can speculate that he played his role in fuelling both his imagination and his affection for writing.

After the first war, he wrote a denunciation of war titled Peace with Honour (1934), which he retracted somewhat with 1940’s War with Honour. During World War II, Milne was one of the most prominent critics of fellow English writer P. G. Wodehouse, who was captured at his country home in France by the Nazis and imprisoned for a year. Wodehouse made radio broadcasts about his internment, which were broadcast from Berlin. Although the light-hearted broadcasts made fun of the Germans, Milne accused Wodehouse of committing an act of near treason by cooperating with his country’s enemy. After the war Wodehouse was investigated and some believe he was lucky not to be hanged. Wodehouse got some revenge on his former friend (e.g., in The Mating Season) by creating fatuous parodies of the Christopher Robin poems in some of his later stories, and claiming that Milne “was probably jealous of all other writers. But I loved his stuff.”

A.A.Milne with his son Christopher Robin Milne and Pooh Bear - photograph: Howard Coster

A.A.Milne with his son Christopher Robin Milne and Pooh Bear – photograph: Howard Coster

As discussed, Milne is most famous for his two Pooh books about a boy named Christopher Robin (named after after his son, Christopher Robin Milne), and various characters inspired by his son’s stuffed animals, most notably the bear named Winnie-the-Pooh.

It’s not generally known that Christopher Milne’s stuffed bear, originally named “Edward”, was renamed “Winnie-the-Pooh” after a Canadian black bear named Winnie (after Winnipeg), which was used as a military mascot in World War I, and left to London Zoo during the war.

“The pooh” comes from a swan called “Pooh”.

E. H. Shepard illustrated the original Pooh books, using his own son’s teddy, Growler (“a magnificent bear”), as the model.

The rest of Christopher Robin Milne’s toys, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo and Tigger, were also incorporated into A. A. Milne’s stories, while two more characters – Rabbit and Owl – were created from Milne’s imagination.

The original toys

The original toys

Christopher Robin Milne’s own toys are now under glass in New York where 750,000 people visit them every year.

The fictional Hundred Acre Wood of the Pooh stories derives from Five Hundred Acre Wood in Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, South East England, where the Pooh stories were set. Milne lived on the northern edge of the forest at Cotchford Farm, and took his son walking there. E. H. Shepard drew on the landscapes of Ashdown Forest as inspiration for many of the illustrations he provided for the Pooh books. The adult Christopher Robin commented: “Pooh’s Forest and Ashdown Forest are identical”. Popular tourist locations at Ashdown Forest include Galleon’s Lap, The Enchanted Place, the Heffalump Trap and Lone Pine, Eeyore’s Sad and Gloomy Place, and the wooden Pooh Bridge where Pooh and Piglet invented “Poohsticks”.

People have wondered why there weren’t more Pooh stories, given their huge success. But the success of his children’s books was to become a source of considerable annoyance to Milne, whose self-avowed aim was to write whatever he pleased and who had, until then, found a ready audience for each change of direction: he had freed pre-war Punch from its ponderous facetiousness; he had made a considerable reputation as a playwright (like his idol J. M. Barrie) on both sides of the Atlantic; he had produced a witty piece of detective writing in The Red House Mystery (although this was severely criticised by Raymond Chandler for the implausibility of its plot). But once Milne had, in his own words, “said goodbye to all that in 70,000 words” (the approximate length of his four principal children’s books), he had no intention of producing any re-workings of Pooh lacking in originality, especially given that one of the sources of inspiration, his son, was growing older.

The Wine the Pooh phenomenon shows little signs of slowing. The rights to A. A. Milne’s Pooh books were left to four beneficiaries: his family, the Royal Literary Fund, Westminster School and the Garrick Club. After Milne’s death in 1956, his widow sold her rights to the Pooh characters to Stephen Slesinger, whose widow sold the rights after Slesinger’s death to the Walt Disney Company, which has made many Pooh cartoon movies, a Disney Channel television show, as well as Pooh-related merchandise.

In 2001, the other beneficiaries sold their interest in the estate to the Disney Corporation for $350m. Previously Disney had been paying twice-yearly royalties to these beneficiaries. The estate of E. H. Shepard also received a sum in the deal.

The copyright on Pooh expires in 2026. In 2008, a collection of original illustrations featuring Winnie-the-Pooh and his animal friends sold for more than £1.2 million at auction in Sotheby’s, London. Forbes magazine ranked Winnie the Pooh the most valuable fictional character in 2002; Winnie the Pooh merchandising products alone had annual sales of more than $5.9 billion. In 2005, Winnie the Pooh generated $6 billion, a figure surpassed by only Mickey Mouse.

The wisdom of Pooh – its sheer, adorable humaneness – is easy to discern when one browses through some of the more famous aphorisms that are scattered throughout the books. Here are our favourites. Which are yours?

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
“Pooh!” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”
― House at Pooh Corner

“If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together, there is something you must always remember. You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
― Christopher Robin to Pooh

“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”
― Winnie the Pooh

“Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them.”
― Winnie the Pooh

“Sometimes,’ said Pooh, ‘the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”
― Winnie the Pooh

“Promise me you’ll never forget me because if I thought you would, I’d never leave.”
― Winnie the Pooh

“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”
― Winnie the Pooh

“I’m not lost for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.”
― Winnie the Pooh

The last couple are possibly our personal favourites. This:

“One of the advantages of being disorganised is that one is always having surprising discoveries.”
― Winnie The Pooh

And this:

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh.
“What do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully.
“It’s the same thing,” he said.”
― Winnie The Pooh

Milne also clearly understood that not everyone could share his relentlessly sunny view of the world. Or perhaps, that he needed to ventilate hiseeyore1 own doubts and fears occasionally.

In this wise, I have always enjoyed Eeyore’s character more than any other in the books. His relentlessly curmudgeonly pessimism is so refreshing, tinged, as it is, with a stoic determination. If you every find us down in the dumps, Dear Reader, perhaps you might kindly remind us of this wonderful passage.

“It’s snowing still,” said Eeyore gloomily.
“So it is.”
And freezing.”
“Is it?”
“Yes,” said Eeyore.
“However,” he said, brightening up a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.”

Until the next earthquake, then, people, we celebrate A.A. Milne.

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Comments
  1. underwriiter505 says:

    I have always enjoyed The Red House Mystery very much. I can see where Chandler is coming from, but I don’t think he grasped that it’s actually a different genre. Not at all implausible (possibly improbable, but not implausible) for a cozy. Highly implausible (indeed, impossible) for a mean streets.

    Eeyore has been cited by some proponents of the Briggs-Meyers system of personality classification as a primo example of the INTJ type, and I heartily agree. I am normally an INTS, but when my potassium gets low, I slip into Eeyore. It’s a signal to me to go get a banana or some orange juice. Or I should say it used to be – I have worked much harder for many years now at keeping my potassium level up to snuff.

    Like

  2. myzania says:

    Reblogged this on myzania and commented:
    Late birthday wishes to A. A. Milne…
    My 201st blog post – a reblog from Yolly about the man who wrote (among other things) about the goings-on of the inhabitants in One Hundred Acre Wood.

    Like

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