For my final paper I really struggled throughout the research process because, as one source led me to another, I found that each of my grand and ‘original’ ideas were in fact, not so original after all. The life of English scholar I guess… However, one idea I think may work, an idea that, out of the many articles and books I’ve read on Milne and Winnie the Pooh, has not been approached in the way I think it could be explored. The idea that Milne, not by his literary intention, is his own creation – he is Pooh bear. Every source I’ve explored has discussed Milne’s life and how he tried, through his children’s stories, to recapture the idyll and Arcadian life and surroundings that defined his carefree and happy childhood; that he wanted to hold on to Edwardian England and sunny days at his family’s country home.
Would Lewis Carroll have been able to create the innocent Alice, immersed in an identity crisis in the fantastical, and god-like world of Wonderland, if his own life struggles didn’t exist? If he himself wasn’t plagued by a stammer, distraught by the fact that the closest he could get to the children was by his, somewhat questionable, relationship to other family’s young daughters? Would J.M. Barrie have been able to construct the boy who would never grow up, Neverland, Wendy, and Mrs. Darling if he were not depressed by an unhappy and adulterous marriage, desperate to be part of a family and have a connection with children, a relationship that ended up devastating him and the Llewellyn-Davies boys’ lives? My answer is no. Without the need to escape, this successful, escapist children’s literature could not exist. Carroll’s stammer disappeared during his teas with the girls whom inspired Alice. Barrie’s Peter Pan came to life when he played dress up with the Llewellyn-Davies boys. So what was the great tragedy of Milne’s life? In what ways was he trying to compensate for or fulfill sadness by writing Winnie the Pooh?
My argument is that he was not; it is that Pooh is not quite the same type of “escapist” children’s classics that were written by the ‘Greats’ who were his predecessors. He wrote it from happy memories, he delighted in the nostalgia it surfaced within him, and it was something he could share with his young son. As Jackie Wullschlager wrote in her book, Inventing Wonderland: The Lives and Fantasies of Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, J.M. Barrie, Kenneth Grahame, and A.A. Milne, “Milne grew simply from happy child into a charming young man excelling in the adult playground of pre-war London.” (181) Pooh and his friends did not come from a place of his deepest imagination and longings; they were just Christopher Robin’s toys, bought from Harrods (a high end London department store).
It is for these reasons and many more that I am arguing that Milne is just like Pooh,leading a happy and bumbling life that looked much like the Hundred Acre Woods, full of friends, support, and success, and he wrote Winnie the Pooh not to escape, but because he was simply ‘hungry’. He was hungry to use these Pooh stories as a way to revisit the times he was happiest: his boyhood, the whimsical Edwardian era, and pre-war London because they were, quite simply, his ‘honey pots’.
Rebekah – have I convinced you that this can work? 🙂