on 6 March 2003
I am Polish and in the Polish culture Winnie the Pooh and House at Pooh Corner hold a very special place. One of the reasons is probably the wonderful translation of these books into Polish by Tuwimowa, who reinforced the charm of the original. In fact, when another translator attempted a new translation in the eighties, it was so different from what we knew from our childhoods that the book was severely criticized and highly unpopular. In fact I threw away my copy in disgust.
In Poland everybody my generation (I am middle aged) loves Winnie the Pooh and his friends. In my childhood I re-read the books many times. They create an idyllic image of Christopher's perfect childhood. As a child I often whished mine was similar. Then many years later I read The Enchanted Places in translation. This book had a huge impact on me. I realized that Winnie the Pooh is all about appearances and not a really happy childhood.
Chrisopher Milne reveals the truth behind an appearantely idyllic life. One might have thought that Christopher Milne, of all the children in the world, son of a wonderful author of children's literature, must have had a perfect childhood. Christopher's revelations are an eye opener. They tells us about events in Chris' childhood and how his toys served merely as inspiration for the father. In fact they seem to have been selected not because Chris liked them but because they inspired the father's genius. Chris expresses no nostalgia for the days gone by. In fact he seems to be relieved that he is no longer his father's son but a man in his own right. Sometimes it feels as if the great father was a 'parasite' on his son's life, at least with respect to the father's literary career.
This book reveals the painul truth of what it may be like to be a child of a famous parent and what it is like to be confronted with the strange world of adults and their problems. A.A Milne's books show adult perception of childhood and young years, Christopher's book shows the painful reality and naked truth.
I learned a lot from this book, on two levels. First of all as a mother of two daughters I realized that what seems to us idyllic and happy childhood might not necessarily be happy for the child itself. Therefore we, adults, must learn to look at our children's childhood not through our adult eyes but try to see it the way the child does. How often we parents choose the wallpapaer, the toys, friends because we like them, often not asking the children's opinion. This is the Milne syndrome. What is more small children themsleves are not good, well wishing and sweet creatures as adults would like to see them. In fact they have a number of negative features. In fact this is very well expressed when Christopher talks about his father's poems showing that the children's world presented in his father's poems is in fact brutal, cynical, sometimes even ruthless. There is also a second bottom to the book. I am a senior lecturer at University of Gdansk and I run classes on English Language Children's Literature. This autobiography is an excellent supplement to the course. When with my students, we analyse Winnie the Pooh we also talk about Christopher's autobiography. These books put together or rather juxtaposed create the real image of the Milne phenomenon. I believe that everybody who has read Winnie the Pooh as a child should read The Enchanted Places as an adult. Only then we have grown up properly.
If you're a fan of the Winnie the Pooh stories, or ever wanted to know what the 'real' Christopher Robin's life was like, the delightful memoir is a must. It is in part a memoir about Christopher Milne's childhood, and in part a tribute to Christopher's father, Alan (with whom he had a somewhat difficult relationship in later life - I wonder if the section on A.A. Milne helped Christopher to understand his father better, as it's very tender and thoughtful). The book begins with a sketch of Christopher's early childhood - very different to that of most modern children. He was largely cared for by a nanny ('Alice' in A.A. Milne's children's poems), who seems to have been a lovely and thoughtful woman, and only saw his parents a couple of times a day (though he spent more time with his mother in the holidays). There are some good descriptions of the toys, Christopher's favourite pastimes as a child, and his efforts to overcome his deep shyness. The middle of the book describes Cotchford Farm, the Milnes' holiday house in Sussex, by the Ashdown Forest which inspired the Forest in the Pooh stories - and various events and areas of the Forest that inspired the Pooh stories. There's also some great material about the cat, Christopher Milne's favourite animal (the Milnes acquired several). The final section of the book is a character analysis of A.A. Milne, and looks at his relationship with his son - from having spent very little time together when Christopher was small, the two became very close during Christopher's adolescence and time at Stowe School.
Christopher Milne writes beautifully, and the memoir is wonderfully evocative of a happy - if not always carefree - childhood, of the joys of the child's imaginative world, of the stunning Sussex countryside and of England pre-World War II. It's not in the least sentimental, however, and (without ever attacking his parents in the vicious way so common to some memoirists - yes, Lynn Barber, that means you!) Milne does hint gently at some of the darker sides of his childhood and adolescence: he spent little time with his father as a small boy; when they became close, his father made efforts to mould him rather in his own image, and didn't encourage those talents which Christopher had and he did not, such as music; his mother was sweet but not terribly bright, and increasingly faded into the background as Christopher grew older and developed intellectual interests, devoting her time to shopping at Harrods and redecorating the house (Daphne Milne - or Dorothy as she was christened - is something of a warning of the deadly dull life of the upper-midde-class girl of a certain period). However, there is nothing bitter about the book at all - it is a warm, unsentimental tribute to Christopher's parents, and a brilliant evocation of the reality that inspired some of the greatest children's stories ever.
As proof of the writer's wide appeal - I read this book as a child and enjoyed it, and read it again with equal pleasure as an adult.
on 15 January 2015
Fascinating and highly insightful book. If you are expecting a true autobiography revealing the life of Christopher Milne, working life, marriage, loves lost and found etc. then this would disappoint you. What we have here is a sensitive and focussed look at what it was like growing up as Christopher Robin, his relationship with his Father, his Mother, his beloved Nanny, childhood friends and, of course, the magical animals. I have just read this book again, nearly forty years after the first time. My reaction to it now, having been through the mill of raising three children of my own, was entirely different. I would recommend this book to anyone who has a love for the Pooh stories and poems and who, like me, has spent years reading those stores to entranced children who nevertheless do us the inevitable discourtesy of growing up and leaving us! It is a minor masterpiece of a book.
on 16 July 2014
In what are virtually a series of cameos, Christopher Robin (b.1920) looks back on his childhood, giving some of the background to the famous poems and stories written by his father. An only child, he enjoyed his formative years in London and at the family home, Cotchford Farm, in Sussex. But it was decidedly odd a family – almost dysfunctional in a quiet kind of way: Christopher spent most of his time as a child with his Nanny and, later, was sent off to boarding school (Stowe); his father, though highly intelligent and a gifted writer, was shy in company and remained distant from his son until the latter was eight or ten years old; his mother, who was not clever and had many quite different interests from her husband’s, was entirely impractical and relied on domestic staff for even the simplest of things.
The dust jacket describes it as “a happy book about a happy childhood in the twenties and thirties”. But it is really rather a sad book: as a boy, as an adolescent and even as a man Christopher seemed quite unable, yet increasingly anxious, to escape from being the Christopher Robin of his early life and of his father’s fiction. It is not altogether clear why he felt thus or why he was not able to fulfil that ambition.
Notwithstanding the sadness, this book – an easy read – is interesting for the lost world that it portrays and the poignancy with which it is written. The hardback edition contains five plates and so, graphically, is as restrained as the text.