You can call [this] a sort of companion to the Pooh books. In the first chapters I have attempted a picture of Milne family life that both inspired and was subsequently inspired by the books. In the later chapters I have attempted a picture of my father. If I have imagined an audience it has been a gathering of Pooh’s friends and admirers, and I have tried to answer the sort of questions that I imagined friends of Pooh wanting to ask. They would want to know about the real Pooh and the real Forest and whether there really was an Alice. They would want to know something about the real little boy who played with Pooh in the Forest. And finally they would want to know something about the man who turned all these things into stories and verses.The Enchanted Places is a memoir by the man who’s best known to the world as Christopher Robin: A.A. Milne’s son, or the little boy who actually owned a teddy bear named Pooh and played with it in a forest. The book mostly focuses on Milne’s country childhood in the 1920’s and 1930’s, and the time period, with the mixture of lingering Edwardian sensibilities and modernity I so love about the early twentieth-century, is a big part of its appeal.
There is, however, a darker side to The Enchanted Places, which Milne mostly reveals in the epilogue. One of the reasons why I so love the Winnie-the-Pooh stories is because they seem to be written with absolute respect for childhood and for the imaginary world of its young protagonist. But A. A. Milne’s intimate portrayal of Christopher Robin came at a cost: regardless of the fact that the character from the books is a mixture of the real Christopher Robin, of A.A. Milne’s own childhood, and of pure imagination, what the books effectively did was expose the young Milne’s childhood before the whole world.
Let me start by saying that this question is not the main focus of the book. However, it’s what I’ll focus on the most here, because it’s what I found the most interesting. I suspect this is a conflict a lot of writers feel: the people you’re close to will inspire you to write, and possibly they’ll be involved in situations you’ll want to include in your stories, however disguised. But as much as you do disguise the facts, there is always some potential there for making people feel exposed and hurting their feelings. Is it a form of personal betrayal if a writer decides to write freely? In A.A. Milne’s case, there weren’t even any attempts to disguise anything – he gave the little boy in the Pooh books the name of his real-life son, and the young Christopher Robin starred in theatre adaptations of the stories and recorded Pooh-inspired phonograph records.
This was all very well when Christopher Robin was a little boy, but things took a darker turn when he grew older and went to boarding school, only to have his classmates torment him by playing the aforementioned records over and over again. There’s also the fact that a very private moment of his life and a very specific, temporary identity had been immortalised and were perpetually associated with him, regardless of who or how old he had become. Can you imagine having complete strangers asking after your favourite childhood toy when you’re thirteen, seventeen, twenty-three or thirty-eight?
This probably makes A.A. Milne sound ruthless, and it might make you think that Christopher had good reasons to resent his father. But The Enchanted Places is actually not written with any hint of anger and resentment. The younger Milne’s tone reminded me of that of Craig Thompson in Blankets: he writes with sadness and regret, but he tries to understand and forgive a man who was doing the best he knew now. He even apologetically suggests that his readers skip the epilogue if they’re not up to dealing with the less-than-charming side of his childhood. He comes across as a mild and gentle man, and somehow that made his story all the more moving.
Moving is a fitting word to describ eThe Enchanted Places as a whole – there was something about Christopher Milne’s vulnerability, about his nostalgic recollection of a childhood spent in solitary communion with nature, about his private imaginary world made public, about the pain he suffered as he grew older, and about his conflicted relationship with his father that really got to me. This is a quiet, lovely memoir, and a book I won’t soon forget.
Sadly The Enchanted Places is now out of print, as are Christopher Milne’s other two biographies. But there’s a book called Beyond the World of Pooh in print, which seems to include selections from all three. If like me you dislike the idea of abridged books, you might be able to find a used copy same as I did.
People sometimes say to me today: “How lucky you were to have had such a wonderful father!” imagining that because he wrote about me with such affection and understanding, he must have played with me with equal affection and understanding. Can this really be so totally untrue? Isn’t this most surprising?Reviewed at:
No, it is not really surprising, not when you understand.
There are two sorts of writer. There is the writer who is basically a reporter and there is the creative writer. The one draws on his experiences, the other on his dreams. My father was a creative writer and so it was precisely because he was not able to play with his small son that his longings sought and found satisfaction in another direction. He wrote about him instead.
The wind roaring in the tress, roaring in the giant sycamore that grew in the lawn just outside my nursery window. (“What would happen if the wind blew it down? Would it flatten the house, do you think?”) The rain beating on the water and the river rising to meet it. The snow, a rare visitor, and so all the more exciting when it came. Misty days when Gills Lap vanished and it might be fun to see if you could get lost and then cleverly find yourself again. Sunny days when the trees were dark and heavy with leaf and the air was heavy with the scent of meadow-sweet and the river was almost asleep. These were the Cotchford weathers, new and exciting to me; and for my father, perhaps, awakening memories of country holiday weathers when he was a boy. These are the weathers you will meet in the books.
If you read a book and it influences you greatly, or even if you just enjoy it very much, you long to persuade others to read t too. A book is not just to be read privately in the evening in front of the fire. It is a pleasure to be shared; it is the cement that bonds person to person in greater sympathy and understanding. It was, after all, their shared love of the light verse of C.S. Calverley and Owen Seaman that helped to bring my parents together.
The Captive Reader
Stuck in a Book
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