Checking in on Winnie the Pooh

The character Winnie the Pooh has lived on for generations in the hearts of children everywhere who have followed the journey of the little bear and his friend Christopher Robin. From the pages of the first Pooh books to the big screen of the Disney animated adventures, Pooh proved to be a resounding success, and it was inevitable that its promoters should capitalize on it by creating a line of Pooh merchandise in the form of a whole line of stuffed bear animals and other products. As outstanding as this success story is, however, the real story behind the Winnie character is found in that of its author, A.A. Milne.

Born in London, England in 1882 as the youngest of three boys, Alan Alaxander Milne received influences early on that would prove to be instrumental in shaping his literary career. The school he attended, Henley House, was owned by his father and Milne was fortunate enough to have the literary legend H.G. Wells as one of his instructors. Wells noted the gift for words that Alan possessed and later developed a friendship with the young student. In college Milne wrote for a student magazine and started freelancing for magazines and newspapers. Noting the quality of his works, H.G. Wells encouraged the young Milne to compile some of his articles into book form, and it was through this that Milne decided to publish the book Lovers in London in 1905. The book enjoyed good commercial success at the time, but Milne admitted later that he did not particularly like it, so much so that he repurchased the publication rights to the book to prevent further reprints.

After completing college Milne contributed to the British humor magazine Punch and later became the assistant editor. At Punch he met his editor’s daughter Dorothy (also known as Daphne) whom he married in 1913. His writing career was briefly interrupted by military service in 1915 but thereafter Milne began to write prolifically. He managed to publish numerous plays which were quite successful as well as three novels. The true inspiration for the character we would recognize as Winnie the Pooh, however, came from the birth of his son Christopher Robin Milne in 1920.

Milne published a book of children’s poems before eventually writing the famous Pooh stories. Like the Pooh stories, these poems borrowed inspiration from the young boy Robin. As an example, he published a book of poetry called Vespers which is said to be inspired by the time that Milne had spent observing his son Robin say his prayers at bedtime. After the finished work was submitted to Vanity Fair (netting him $50) Milne was asked to submit more, and eventually he published a well received children’s book of poetry.

The direct influence of the Pooh bear comes from the military however. A bear named Winnipeg whose mother was killed by a hunter was found by the Canadian militia and used as a mascot in World War I. Later Winnipeg was sold to the London zoo and it was there that the young Christopher Robin, fond of animals, found him. Winnipeg remained in the zoo until its death in 1934 and Christopher Robin named his teddy bear after it. Inspired by his young son’s affection for the bear, Milne began to write the story of “Winnie” (Winnipeg) the Pooh and the young Christopher Robin.

Four books telling the story of Pooh and his journeys would go on to be published, eventually published and translated in thirty four languages and making the author very famous. To illustrate the Pooh books Milne enlisted the services of Ernest Shepard, one his professional acquaintances who worked with him at Punch magazine, agreeing to give him twenty percent of the books’ royalties for remuneration.

It was not easy at first for the real life Christopher Robin to accept his identification with the central human character in the Pooh stories, and he had become somewhat estranged from the elder Milner as time went on. Robin eventually resigned himself to his place in the Pooh legacy. After service in World War II Robin married his cousin Lesley de Selincourt and opened his own bookstore. After the elder Milner’s death Robin wrote two books of his own, The Enchanted Place and The Path Through the Trees.

The Pooh story is based on the real life journey of these three characters: Milne the writer, Winnipeg the bear, and Christopher Robin the young boy. Without them there would be no Winnie the Pooh.

Oct 5th, 2015 | Posted in Animation
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