By Ann Weller Dahl
A. A. Milne and son
Christopher Robin Milne.
Mention the name "A.A. Milne" (1882-1956) and it’s a safe bet that most readers of a certain age will respond, Winnie-the-Pooh. They would be quite correct, having probably been raised, as was I in the 1940’s, on the two books of poetry for children and the two classic storybooks about Pooh and his fellow stuffed animals in Milne’s son Christopher Robin’s nursery. Mention Pooh to those under 45 and they probably will respond "Disney," but that’s another story.
It would also be a safe bet that most people in both age groups do not realize that Milne was a very prolific writer.
Alan Alexander Milne's unofficial literary career began with assorted writing throughout his school days. At Cambridge he edited Granta, the school’s undergraduate magazine. As a professional, by the time he was 24 years old he had already had 30 pieces published in the English magazine Punch. He also served as its Assistant Editor. After the war, he left that publication because he really just wanted to write, period. His wife wasn’t happy about him leaving a steady job, but leave he did.
Over the years he penned hundreds of light articles for Punch and similar American magazines. Collections of them eventually appeared in books.
Milne also published short stories and novels. Among them was one of his very successful plays, Mr. Pim Passes By, that was re-written as a novel. He also gained renown with The Red House Mystery, a detective story. His rule for a successful novel: "Few people, short time, small scene."
It would seem, however, that writing plays was his real love. Over the years he wrote more than 30, but do we see any of those produced today? Probably not, though they are available in collections. (I do know that there was a reading of one last spring at a local retirement community.)
It was, however, the four works for children that took the world by storm in the 1920s. After what we might today term "prequels"—the poem "Vespers" being probably the most famous—he published When We Were Very Young in 1924, followed by Winnie-the-Pooh in 1926 and Now We Are Six in 1927. The House at Pooh Corner, in which we meet the energetic Tigger, brought this quartet of children's books to a close. But in a way, that is not really true, for as Milne phrased it at the end of that book, "Wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place at the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing." They continue to "play" today, for the books are still in print, and the Disney versions continue the popularity of the beloved characters.
Do read or re-read "Pooh" and the books of poetry, and delve into Milne’s writing for adults.
Ann Weller Dahl taught for 31 years at Calvert School in Baltimore. In retirement she both lectures and leads workshops about the lives and writing of three authors: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Robert McCloskey, and A.A.Milne. Ann has been and remains active on several committees at the Pratt.