I read that Posingford Bridge, otherwise known as Poohsticks Bridge, was up for sale. Located in Ashdown Forest in England, it was a place where author A.A. Milne and his son, the real-life Christopher Robin, would go to play a game they called Pooh Sticks. It is the simplest of games. You put a stick in the water upstream, then go to the other side and watch it comew3 out from under the bridge and sail away. The game appears in the Winnie the Pooh stories.
I played Pooh Sticks with my sons on the bridge at our local library, and we read all the Pooh books. I still had my own childhood copies of the Milne books and some newer simplified versions for younger readers.
Pooh’s birthday just passed on August 21st. It is also the real Christopher Robin’s birthday. What a nice coincidence. The stories about Christopher Robin and his toys (His toy Edward Bear became Winnie the Pooh in the books) that became his father’s stories seem like such a nice series of tales. I made up stories about Peter Rabbit and his friends and family for my oldest son at bedtime. For my younger son, the stories were about Curious George. The stories closely paralleled my sons’ lives day to day., and I’m sure I was partially inspired to do this by what I imagined had happened in the Milne household between father and son.
But the real-life Christopher Robin and his father didn’t have as loving a relationship as Pooh and Christopher. Alan Alexander Milne was not Pooh or Piglet. Definitely not Tigger. Maybe a little bit Eeyore. He wasn’t warm and snuggly and was often absent from their home. His mother dressed him in “girlish” clothes and kept his hair very long – both styles that didn’t help him in his earliest school days.
Christopher Robin also had a love-hate relationship with his fictional version. That was true when the books became famous and he was maturing and it continued into adulthood.
Christopher wrote a memoir, The Enchanted Places, and in that book he writes, “At home I still liked him, indeed felt at times quite proud that I shared his name and was able to bask in some of his glory. At school, however, I began to dislike him, and I found myself disliking him more and more the older I got.”
Theirs is not a very happy story and though he did come to terms with his relationships with his father and the character, it didn’t happen until after his father’s death.
The fourth and final Pooh title is The House at Pooh Corner, published in 1928 when Christopher was 8 years old. The entire series of books was a bestseller worldwide by then. The more popular the books, the more Christopher disliked them. He was teased at school and it was no better when he was put into boarding school at age 9.
He saw his father on school breaks, but when he went on to Cambridge University and served in World War II, their relationship was distanced physically and emotionally. After the war, he finished his degree and in his mid-twenties didn’t know quite what to do with his life.
Christopher married at age 27 his first cousin, Lesley. His parents did not approve. The couple moved to Dartmouth and opened The Harbour Bookshop together.
Though he occasionally visited his father when the elder Milne became ill, after his father died in 1956, Christopher never returned to Cotchford Farm. The farm near the Ashdown Forest in East Sussex was a place the family went on holidays from London. It is the real life Hundred Acre Woods of the books and that’s where Pooh’s walnut tree home and the bridge were located.
His mother sold the farm and his father’s personal possessions, and Christopher wanted no part of his father’s things or royalties from the books. Sadly, after Alan’s death, his mother, Daphne Milne, had almost no contact with her only child and did not see him at all during the last 15 years of her life. She refused to see him on her deathbed.
A few months after his father’s death, Christopher and Lesley had a daughter Clare. She was diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy but lived into her mid-50s.
Christopher Milne gave the original stuffed animals that inspired the Pooh characters – Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, and Kanga – to the book series editor, who in turn donated them to the New York Public Library. Christopher did not like the commercialization of the Pooh books and characters.
Christopher Milne died in April 1996 at age 75. He had lived with myasthenia gravis for some years.
In the film, Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017) there is a version (not completely accurate) of his relationship with his father that was “inspired” by the more accurate book Goodbye Christopher Robin: A. A. Milne and the Making of Winnie-the-Pooh. There is also a Disney live-action/animation hybrid film “biography,” Christopher Robin, in which the adult Christopher encounters Pooh and relives some of the best parts of his childhood.
The two Pooh novels are Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner. Milne also wrote two poetry collections, Now We Are Six (as in being 6 years old) and When We Were Very Young, which features the very first appearance of Pooh.
The four books are available as a collection.