By Nadia Cohen
“If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ears.”
After finishing Nadia Cohen’s newly published biography of the writer A.A. Milne, I reached for my well thumbed and somewhat tatty copy of The Illustrated Treasury of Children’s Literature and turned to page 357 to look at the first few lines of In Which Eeyore Loses a Tail and Pooh Finds One.
It’s a very long time since I first read the stories of Winnie-the-Pooh, but like so many people born in the last eighty odd years, the motley animals of Hundred Acre Wood are deeply embedded in my childhood memories – in my case, they are strongly associated with being snuggled up in a cosy bed, book balanced on my knees, fingers curled around a steaming mug of Horlicks.
With this in mind, it makes me sad to think that both Alan Alexander Milne and his son, Christopher Robin Milne, on whom his storylines were based, came to deeply resent these whimsical tales of a boy and his bear. Alan because the fame of Pooh utterly eclipsed all his other written works – although he made a vast fortune from him – and Christopher because he was ridiculed mercilessly in school, eventually coming to believe his childhood had been stolen from him.
In 1939 Milne senior wrote an amusing but restrained autobiography (republished earlier this year by Bello): It’s Too Late Now, and his son later produced several memoirs detailing the relationship he had with his famous father, from adoration to enmity. However, Cohen’s relatively short (216 page), far from scholarly life history is certainly engaging, and what it lacks in meaningful literary analysis, it gains in readability.
She Tiggerishly scampers through Milne’s early life as a British spy, playwright and humorist, up to and including the publication of Winnie-the-Pooh in 1926, then more leisurely traces his post-Pooh career, difficult marriage to Daphne de Sélincourt, latter compositions and disgruntled dotage – until his death in 1956 at the age of 74.
While The Extraordinary Life of A A Milne will undoubtedly delight fans, it will probably appeal to anyone with even a passing interest in the author and his famous teddy bear. One hopes that it also brings fresh interest in his Pooh-free plays, novels and non-fiction.
Many thanks to Pen & Sword for supplying an advance review copy of this title.
Somehow I missed out on Pooh as a child so my first encounter with A A Milne was through Toad of Toad Hall, his wonderful dramatisation of The Wind in the Willows. That must have been around fifty years ago, but I can still remember large swathes of it and frequently explain to people the difference as propounded by Badger between teaching someone something and learning them. I did eventually read Pooh and really appreciated Milne’s incredible way with language but I think I lost out on the magic I would have felt as a child.
Many thanks indeed for your comment, Café Society. There are quite a few classic children’s books I missed out on too – oddly enough, The Wind in the Willows was one of them. I have read a couple of such titles as an adult, but I completely agree, you definitely lose some of the magic if you miss out as a child. Incidentally, you have me intrigued: I must seek out Badger’s views on teaching v learning! 🙂
One writer I missed out on my childhood. How nice the book is well written.