LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

A.A. Milne and his Pots of Honey

on April 18, 2013 11:06am

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?

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A.A. Milne, Christopher Robin, and Pooh Bear

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).

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Winnie the Pooh and his ‘Hunny’ pot.

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? 🙂

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One response to “A.A. Milne and his Pots of Honey

  1. kevinmgriffin says:

    Catherine, this post is exactly what I’ve thought from the moment I started exploring many of the texts from this class in more detail. I really appreciate the part of your post where you state, “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’.” I could not think of anything more accurate to describe the relationship of this author to his work. I would even go as far as to argue that basically any children’s author writes their story not so much as a means to create a fantastical wonderland for child readers but more so to escape to a land of their own where they can relive the purity and happiness that is often associated with childhood. We’ve discussed this a bit more in depth in person, but I think that we both have a similar understanding of what the true intentions of these authors are in their works. It is something that I’ve done extensive research on as well for my final paper, and it is incredibly obvious that authors like Carroll or Barrie needed an escape from the somewhat tumultuous cards that they were dealt in life. It seems that everyone has moments in their lives when they were happiest and often have a deep yearning to revisit those moments when times seem rough. What better way to do this than through literature, especially when one is blessed with the gift of writing wonderful stories? We read these stories as great, imaginative tails to which our minds can attach themselves and be taken on a fantastic journey. However, if we think more deeply about it, the journey that we are often being taken on is one that the author intended to take him or herself from the dark moments in their lives to a time with more light. Thank you for this post; I could not agree more.

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