A.A. Milne - The Man Who Brought Winnie-The-Pooh To Life
Is there anyone who doesn’t smile when they see Winnie-the-Pooh? Most people would recognise the Disney version, but if you haven’t read the original books and poems by A.A. Milne, you are missing out.
As much as I love Pooh Bear, Piglet and their friends in the Hundred Acre Wood, I wanted to take a closer look at the writer who gave the world the lovable teddy bear character. He did much more than write children’s books, even if they are what he is best known for.
Life Before Christopher Robin
Alan Alexander Milne was born to John and Sarah Milne in Kilburn, London on the 18th of January 1882. His father ran a small public school, and it was there that A.A. Milne grew up.
During his student days at Trinity College in Cambridge, the aspiring writer and his brother Kenneth worked together on articles for a magazine published at the university. Those early writings were good enough to attract the attention of the famous magazine, Punch.
Milne submitted articles and other pieces for publication regularly. Later, he became one of the magazine’s assistant editors. But before anyone thinks that he spent all his time writing, I should add that the man who created Winnie-the-Pooh knew that exercise is important. A.A. Milne wasn’t just a talented writer; he also was a skilled cricket player! What’s more, most of his teammates on the two amateur teams he joined were also writers. One of them was his hero, J.M. Barrie, the man who wrote one of the best-loved children’s books, Peter Pan.
Milne must have been a confident young man, because when the First World War began in 1914, he did not hesitate to join the British Army. This happened less than a year after he married Dorothy de Sélincourt, also known as Daphne, in 1913.
A Grand Adventure
In 1920, the couple became the proud parents of Christopher Robin. When their son was five years old, A.A. Milne bought Cotchford Farm in East Sussex. The family spent weekends and holidays on the farm, and it was there that the classical children’s books were created.
I think what amazes me more than the Pooh Bear author’s creativity is how quickly he was inspired, and how he was able to act on that inspiration. During his sons early years he wrote detective and mystery novels and plays, and even tried screenwriting for early movies.
In 1925, the same year in which he bought the farm on the edge of the Five Hundred Acre Wood, he published a story in the London Evening News. Printed in the Christmas Eve edition, the story, called Winnie-The-Pooh and the Wrong Bees was the first time the famous bear appeared in print by name. In 1926, he published a collection of stories called Winnie-the-Pooh. It was followed by the children’s book House at Pooh Corner in 1928. The bear and his friends also appeared in a 1927 collection of rhymes called Now We Are Six.
A.A. Milne used his son’s name, Christopher Robin, for the boy in the stories. The animal characters were inspired by a few of his son’s toys. Pooh Bear, as well as Piglet, Tigger, Kanga, Roo, and Eeyore all exist. If you ever are in New York City you can see almost all of them, as they have been on display at the New York Public Library since 1987. Unfortunately, Christopher Robin lost Roo when he was a small child, so this toy is absent from the collection.
The Later Years
A few short years after his success with the Winnie-the-Pooh stories, A.A. Milne served as a captain of the British Home Guard during the Second World War. In 1952, he suffered a stroke and underwent surgery on his brain. He became an invalid and was forced to retire to the farm, where he passed away in 1956.
I was sad to read that, as he grew older, the writer of the classical children’s books almost resented the works that made him famous. He felt that Pooh and friends distracted readers from his other writings, and that the books had inadvertently exposed his son to too much publicity.
I hope A.A. Milne realised before then that his classical children’s books are a treasured part of the childhood of millions of children around the word. Winnie-the-Pooh has been translated into more than 50 languages, including Latin, and it was the first and only Latin book to ever make it onto the New York Times bestseller’s list. Now that’s something for any author to aspire to!