Pooh Bear Essentials
Washington Post, April 1998

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by Christopher Milne.
169 pages; Dutton;

THERE ARE SOME TRUTHS that even a strong man should not have to bear, and one of them may be the fact that Christopher Robin's mother always wanted a baby girl named Rosemary not a boy at all. For nine years she dressed Winnie-the-Pooh's young master in girls clothes and left his hair long. "I remained a boy," Christopher Robin now confesses. "But only just. I was one of her few failures."

Christopher Robin, of course, is Christopher Milne, who today confronts the world as a shy, bespectacled, 54­year-old bookshop owner and amateur carpenter from the British provinces. If his life has not exactly been blasted by Pooh and Mummy, it has had its melancholy moments, and with both parents now dead, he has written a book. This is the age of dreadful domestic disclosure (Elliott Roosevelt nipping at Eleanor in the guise of historian; Nigel Nicolson vicariously reveling in the vagaries of V. Sackville-West). A friend of Pooh therefore at first approaches Enchanted Places the way Piglet crept up on the Heffalump trap: full of horrible fascination but ready to run for his life.

Brains or Fluff. No need to panic.  Milne wears his rue with a certain deference. Most of his revelations are brief more marked by tact and irony than by whine or whimsy. In truth. Mummy, a daughter of the rich and distinguished de Sélincourt family, does not come off very well. When Rabbit says to Owl, "You and I have brains. The others just have fluff," Milne makes clear that "the others" emphatically included his mother. She was dim, she hated games and was good only at gardening, interior decoration, and tying parcels - the one "practical thing she was properly taught in her whole life." But she laughed at AA Milne's jokes.

By evenhanded contrast; the creator of Winnie-the-Pooh was brainy, an amateur mathematician, a superior gamesman especially addicted to cricket and golf. A.A Milne had been an editor of Punch, a master of whimsy and light verse. The Pooh books are for grown­ups as well as children, and he wrote them to make money and please himself as well as to please Christopher Robin. In fact, the elder Milne appears to have regarded small children as egotists and barbarians. "I have certainly never felt the least sentimental about them," he once told an interviewer, "or no more sentimental than one becomes for a moment over a puppy or a kitten." He rarely played with his son when Christopher was little.

Young Milne did not get to know his father until he was old enough to go away to prep school and like many an Englishman, he seems to owe more kindness and wisdom to his nanny than to his parents. The book shows greater nostalgia for the land around Crotchford, the family place near Ashdown Forest than for the world's most famous stuffed animals. But yes, dear reader, the Six Pine Trees, the Hundred Acre Wood, Galleon's Lap (where Pooh and C.R. said their last goodbye), Christopher Robin's tree house and the Poohsticks Bridge were real. The book offers photographs juxtaposed against E.H. Shepherd's matchless drawings to prove it. The animals were real too, except for Owl and Rabbit, though Kanga and Tigger, Milne explains, "were later arrivals, carefully chosen for their literary possibilities."

Roo was lost in an apple orchard and never heard from again. The original Pooh, Piglet, Kanga, Eeyore, and Tigger eventually emigrated to America for purposes of commerce and now sit in a glass wall case in the offices of E.P. Dutton on lower Park Avenue in New York. Friends of Pooh often feel that Milne should object to this, even though they do not keep their own childhood animals around them. "But my Pooh is different, you say: he is the Pooh," writes Milne in reply. "No, this only makes him different to you, not different to me. My toys were and are to me no more than yours were and are to you ... Fame has nothing to do with love."

Whisper Who Dares. Rather the reverse. The book notes some of the minor agonies of a lifetime trying to escape from literary renown: "Now Marmaduke, you can tell your friends you've shaken hands with Christopher Robin." Milne mentions his toe-curling horror at hearing classmates at boarding school play a record of Vespers on the Victrola: "Hush' Hush' Whisper who dares' Christopher Robin is saying his prayers." Enchanted Places is eloquent about the joys of countryside, the felicities of light verse. Milne writes with wit and humane perception about his later relationship with his father. In a space hardly larger than a Pooh book, he has in fact, unobtrusively condensed a mini-memoir, a portrait of A.A. Milne, a bittersweet study of a literary celebrity in the '20s and something very like an annotated Winnie-the-Pooh. It is pure HUNNY all the way to the bottom of the jar.