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The Enchanted Places

The Enchanted Places

When I learned (I can no longer remember where) that there was a memoir by Christopher Milne—yes, the son of A. A. Milne, formerly known a Christopher Robin—then I had to find it. Hooray for interlibrary loan!

Christopher Milne says it’s a companion of sorts to the Pooh books. However, it’s not a book I’d hand to a child currently in love with Pooh. It’s too mature in its viewpoint, too reflective, too caught up in the love-hate complexities of the relationships between father and son, between real life and fantasy and a boy who both loved the imaginary world his father spun and sometimes, understandably so, resented the attention it drew to him as he grew up and found that he had a sort of notoriety of his own.

This book paints a picture of the Milne family life when Christopher Milne was a child and a picture of A.A. Milne as Christopher remembers him. It’s not scholarly but personal, not a researched work that builds up a detailed portrait but more of an informal snapshot. It is meant for the Pooh enthusiast who wants to dig a little bit.

From the introduction:

Forty years ago such letters were addressed to my father, and I can well remember seeing them on the breakfast table every morning and watching him open them. [. . .] He would read them silently, then pass them, one at a time, to my mother.

“What do you think?”

“Probably Wol.”

“I thought so too.”

So “Wol” it often was.

You may remember the occasion. Rabbit had found the notice saying GON OUT BACKSON BISY BACKSON and had taken it round to Owl for his advice. You may even remember the actual lines. Owl asks:

“What did you do?”

“Nothing.”

“The best thing,” said Owl wisely.

Somehow, so often, nothing did seem the best thing to do. To answer them was impossible. To explain why you couldn’t answer them seemed unnecessarily unkind. So they remained unanswered. “Wol.” And now that these letters are coming my way, I, too, find that “Wol” is often the best, indeed the only possible thing. But it leaves me feeling unhappy….

To some extent, then, this book is an attempt to salve my conscience; and it may perhaps be some slight consolation to all those who have written and waited in vain for a reply that this, in a sense therefore, is their reply. Belated, I confess, but at least a fairly full one.

Generally I don’t like digging too much into the biographies of authors. I don’t have much of an urge to write letters to authors and I’ve never known what to say when I meet an author. I like enjoying their work on its own terms and don’t really feel the author can add much to the magic of the works themselves. But I have read and re-read the Pooh corpus to the point that I almost need some sort of outlet to allow me to come at the stories and poems from a new angle. I have a feeling I’m going to be living with them for some time to come unless I want to completely deprive Ben and Sophie and any future Bettinelli babies of their magic. So I am enjoying using Pooh as a jumping off point for other intellectual inquiries.

I enjoyed The Enchanted Places very much. I liked especially the author’s attempt to unravel the influences in the poetry, claiming that the point of view in many of the poems were a sort of generic any child and that many of them are really about his father’s childhood and not his own. But some of them are indeed about Christopher Milne as he was. It’s interesting to see those various strands pulled apart.

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