A couple of months ago, I celebrated my birthday by treating myself to an afternoon at my local library. I didn't go in with a list, a plan, or a time limit. I simply took my time wandering amongst the shelves, fingering the titles, picking up whatever struck my fancy. At the end of one of the dimly lit aisles in the non-fiction section, my eyes lit upon an old, discolored book whose dust jacket was protected by the shiny plastic used by libraries the world over. Though the title of the book, The Enchanted Places, didn't immediately strike me as something special, the name of the author did...Christopher Milne. "Milne?" I thought. "I wonder if he's any relation to A. A. Milne?" Sure enough, this was a memoir by someone who is more famous as a book character than as a real person. In fact, many people do not realize that Christopher Robin was a real boy who did live in England and had stuffed animals including Eeyore, Piglet, and of course, Winnie the Pooh.
As a life-long Pooh fan, I knew that this particular library simply had to come home with me. I wasn't quite sure what this story would be about. Would it center on the reality behind the Pooh stories, would it concern Christopher's famous father and how he came to write the stories, or would it focus on how Christopher dealt with being such a famous literary character. It turns out that the book would contain elements of all three.
The first part of the book relates Christopher's early years, first in London, then full time at Cotchford Farm. Though his parents dealt lovingly with him, Christopher (like most well to do British children of the era) found himself cared for mostly by his devoted nanny. His life was in many ways as innocent and idyllic as one could wish, and he relates his childhood interests, adventures, and joys in a rather nostalgic tone. He also gives quite a bit of background on the real places and instances that found there way into his father's stories. But though many things in the stories are based on Christopher's own experiences, he is quick to point out that many have there origin in other places. Quite a few of the stories are memories from A. A. Milne's own boyhood, and even more are from his imagination. Christopher stresses that much of the enchantment and nostalgia of the stories is simply his father's creation and portrayal of childhood as he wished it might be.
Though quite a bit of the book is Christopher looking back fondly on his childhood, there are instances, especially later in the book, when his tone becomes somewhat bitter. He notes the moments of distance and coolness between his parents and himself, and the challenge of being a shy boy growing up as a world famous literary character. There are many times when he lays quite a bit of blame at his father's feet, feeling that he wronged his son by using his life as a launch for his own literary success. Are these feelings justified? Who can say. But life for any person is never wholly good nor wholly bad, and this holds true for Christopher as well.
All in all, this is a must for Pooh fans. Though it is not going to give you a "Hundred Acre Woods" nostalgia fix, nor give you all the rosy details of the stories' creation, it will give you glimpse into the life of the real Christopher Robin. Perhaps the most important thing this book does is to separate the truth from the fiction, and allow us to see both A. A. Milne and his son not just as elements of our own childhood, but as real people with hopes, joys, and fears of their own. This was definitely a nice gift to discover on my birthday!
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