Who Was Christopher Robin Milne?


Christopher Robin Milne and Pooh (Marcus Adams, 1928), colorized, courtesy of Achim-the-Pooh's Home Page

 

Christopher Robin Milne was born on August 21, 1920, and was so registered. However, in the Milne household he was known as Billy, and soon as Moon (from his own mispronunciation of Milne). "We did rather want a Rosemary," Alan confessed to Biddie Warren a few days after Christopher's birth, "but I expect we shall be just as happy with this gentleman" (Thwaite, pp. 214-215).

One of the most famous blonds in modern times (at least until Disney Pooh got done with his fictional namesake, many years later), Christopher was actually born with "lots of curly brown hair" and brown eyes. Later drawings, descriptions and (sometimes colorized) photos show Christopher's hair turned blond and stayed blond (as did his father's) for most of his life.

Like his father before him, Christopher waited a long time before his first haircut. "His long hair reminded his mother of the girl she'd wanted and the father of the boy he himself had been" (p. 217). There were also the girlish clothes young Christopher wore, and which appear noticeably and fairly frequently in the Pooh Books. If Alan himself had the sense as a boy of "battling against the wrong makeup" -- of looking girlish when he really wasn't -- his son battled less against a similar outward appearance. He was content to be gentle, shy and quiet (though he became an enthusiastic boxer, rope climber and explorer of the countryside as he grew older).

N.B.: Christopher Milne was most probably an INFP (as compared to the ENFP personality type of the Webmaster).


Anne Darlington and Christopher Milne walking to school in Chelsea

 

Christopher's closest childhood friend was Anne Darlington, who was eight months or so older and a tougher character (as even the photo on the left suggests). They were devoted and almost inseparable. Anne had a toy monkey, Jumbo, as dear to her as Pooh was to Christopher. (One can only imagine what might have happened had Alan chosen to immortalize Jumbo in the Pooh Books, as he did Anne herself in his dedication to Now We Are Six.)

Several poems by Milne, and several illustrations by Shepard, feature Anne and Christopher -- notably "Buttercup Days", in which their relative hair colors (brown and golden blond) and their mutual affection are noted. (The illustration to this latter poem, from Now We Are Six, also features the cottage at Cotchford Farm.) To Alan and Dorothy Milne, Anne was and remained to her death the Rosemary that Christopher wasn't, and Dorothy long held fond hopes that Anne and Christopher would marry.


Olive Rand, Christopher Robin Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh and the original Piglet

 

Though Alan had long since lost any interest in orthodox Christianity, and never had Christopher christened, he allowed the family nanny, Olive Rand (later Brockwell), to have charge of young Christopher's religious upbringing. It was by such grace and Olive's good personal example that Christopher actually felt much closer to God in his childhood than he did later. (One wonders if his later resistance to organized religion had anything to do with his constantly being teased at boarding school about the actually-intended-to-be-ironic poem "Vespers", with its famous line, "Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.")

Until he went to boarding school, Christopher (in his own words) "quite liked being Christopher Robin and being famous." There were many interviews of his parents in those years, of course, as well as of Christopher himself; and they give a delightful portrait of the boy behind the character. Some of Alan's poems about Christopher, as well as Christopher's own memoirs, intimate that Christopher had inherited his father's brains and his mother's hands -- a fact that would eventually serve Christopher well at critical times in his life.


Christopher Robin Milne and Pooh (Marcus Adams, 1928)

 

Christopher's portrait of himself as a child may be summed up thus (The Enchanted Places, pp. 37-41):

Height: Small for his age.
Weight: Underweight. Needs fattening up.
Appearance: Girlish.
General Intelligence: Not very bright.
General Interests: Good with his hands.

From all indications, though, Christopher underestimated (at least in his memoirs) his own childhood and boyhood intelligence. ("Not very bright", as he noted, stemmed from his "odd" ability to do hard mathematical sums but not easy ones -- something I can relate to, as I had the same problem.) Alan's own accounts of Christopher's achievements show a child, and then a boy, who was consistently precocious, indeed in scholarship form -- and in time, like Alan at the same age, a mathematician and a cricketer. (Alas, Christopher's shyness affected many things, including his confidence at cricket; and his undoubted keenness at cricket in his younger days withered as he grew older.) He was also competent with tools (especially woodworking tools) as early as age seven (when he was already the family's Chief Mender).

Christopher (as we may see from his self-image) could be cited as a victim, as have been so many others, of the modern world's profound misunderstanding (for all its psychological tests and sometimes precisely because of them) of what "intelligence" really is. It is a combination of nine factors, not just one to three. Alan's particular brand of blending is one of those valued by our modern world. Christopher's brand generally is not, and the world is poorer because of this prejudice. Christopher's real life is the story of his efforts to compensate for this prejudice as well as for the rare circumstances in which he found himself as the template for a successful author's most successful human literary creation.


Christopher Robin Milne and Pooh (Marcus Adams, 1928)

During the last years of Christopher's easy identification with Christopher Robin, there was a pageant held at Kidbrooke Park at the edge of Ashdown Forest near Cotchford. Both Christopher Milne (pp. 87-89) and Ann Thwaite (pp. 330-331) mention it. It occurred in July 1929 twice a day for four days. After a long procession of historical personages, Christopher entered carrying his famous toys (dropping Eeyore -- it would be Eeyore! -- along the way), went into the woods, then returned..

"But this time he is not alone. Behind him come the animals, grown larger, walking one behind the other, Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger, Kanga....In the middle of the field the child stops and holds up his hand. One by one the others come up, form a circle round him and sit down....This is Ashdown Forest today, where a boy and his bear will always be playing...." (The Enchanted Places, p. 88).


Ms. Helen Kent and Pooh

Incredibly, some rare film footage of this pageant survives. It was featured on a BBC documentary entitled "The Real World of Winnie-the-Pooh" (see the BBC's original story here). Here is the story as posted on Justin Valentin's Web site:

Christopher Robin footage found (November 26th, 2001)

Film footage of the real-life Christopher Robin playing with friends dressed as Winnie-the-Pooh characters has been found -- 72 years after it was shot. The clip was unearthed during research for a new BBC documentary celebrating the 75th birthday of the children's books. The 10-second piece shows Christopher Robin Milne, son of creator A.A. Milne, following school children dressed for a pageant as Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Eyeore, Tigger and Kanga. He was nine years old when the film was shot in the Ashdown Forest, East Sussex, in 1929.

Although Christopher Robin was unaware of the film he remembered the pageant and wrote about it in his autobiography. It says: "The pageant went its memorable way and I see it as an ancient cine film, much faded and blurred and with many breaks, but with here and there and a sequence as vivid as the day it was shot. It was exciting doing my bit." Helen Kent was the BBC producer who discovered the footage, while looking for shots of the Ashdown Forest. To her amazement the film she requested contained shots of Christopher Robin himself.

Ms. Kent said: "I couldn't believe I had discovered actual footage of the real Christopher Robin Milne." Frank Gray, director of the South East Film and Video Archive where the piece was found, said: "If anyone asked me 'would this film still exist?' I would have said 'no' as 80% of the films from the 1920's have been lost. This is the only film we have of Ashdown Forest from that period, so for this one film to be the film that also showed Christopher Robin was virtually impossible. It's a wonderful piece of film because it links the world of Winnie-the-Pooh to Ashdown Forest and Christopher Robin."

 


Christopher Robin Milne & friends at the pagent

 

To the left is a sample frame from the film footage, as featured in the BBC's original story published on November 27, 2001. The documentary "The Real World of Winnie-the-Pooh" was presented on that date by 10-year-old Joel Pitts, who navigated his way around Ashdown Forest using the map E.H. Shepard drew of the Hundred Acre Wood. Along the way, Joel found that Roo's Sandy Pit, Galleon's Lap and other landmarks in the stories still exist.


Christopher Robin Milne and A.A. Milne

 

At Gibbs Christopher was still living in the nursery, and his Nanny was still very much a part of his life. Going to Boxgrove in 1930 put an end to Olive's role in his life; and it also marked the beginning of his love-hate relationship with his fictional namesake. As with introspective boys at boarding schools generally, Christopher had to assume a dual identity: one for home, another for school. Thanks to the fictional Christopher Robin, in the real-life Christopher's case the split was particularly deep. On the other hand, as he grew older Christopher became increasingly close to his father, and remained so until well into his twenties. This may explain (as Christopher himself wrote much later) why when his departure from his father's orbit finally came, it was a farther departure than usual.

It is often said that A.A. Milne was not particularly "good with children". Christopher opined so himself, in his own writings. Certainly the formal photos taken of Alan and Christopher together, even in later years (such as the above), have a decided awkwardness about them. Yet Alan was always keenly observant of and delighted in his son; and as Christopher grew into his teens, he and his father could share many things that Alan used to share with his brother Ken. One might say that Alan's relationship with Christopher as a teenager was a blend of affection and nostalgia - which dynamic would be fully consistent with a father/son relationship of INTP/INFP (referencing the famous Myers-Briggs Type Instrument grid).


Christopher Milne (from the frontispiece of his book THE ENCHANTED PLACES, 1974)

Adulthood naturally brought many changes for Christopher -- and many unexpected twists and turns to his life. They began with his arrival at Cambridge at nineteen, just as the clouds of World War II were gathering. Both he and his father, for different reasons, were pacifists; and now both were to seemingly betray their beliefs.

Christopher had won a major scholarship to read English at Cambridge. He also brought with him his keenness in mathematics. Yet here, Christopher's love of mathematics perished, as Alan's love had before him (even leaving aside Alan's earlier experiences at Westminster). Even so, a certain way of thinking remained in the Milnes. It showed in Alan's logically based humor (especially in the Pooh Books); it also showed in Christopher's delight in elegance (in things both written and made by hand).

Meanwhile, Christopher decided to join the army instead of returning to Cambridge after his first year. With help from his father (and in large measure thanks to a detailed book on Victorian carpentry), Christopher became a Sapper in the Royal Corps of Engineers, a place where he could put his talent for woodworking and mechanical things to good use. In all, he served in the Middle East and Italy for five years. Like Alan before him, he was lucky; he avoided death or ultimately serious injury. During the Allies' Italian Campaign, the enemy bombarded a bridge which he had helped to design and build. Shrapnel put him out of action, just when (as he wrote later) he needed such a happenstance the most. (Small shards of the metal were left embedded in his brain, where they remained undetected for nearly fifty years.)

Italy was a marvelous place to be for someone who loved the countryside as much as Christopher did. It was there that he encountered Vesuvius in one of its occasional fits. And it was there that he encountered another sort of turmoil, that of his first romance -- with an Italian girl named Hedda (The Path Through The Trees, pp. 105-106):

Hedda was one of a group of Italians whom Harry -- in ways only known to people like Harry -- had managed to organize. (...) I was not present on their first visit. I forget now what particular excuse was given -- headache, pressure of work, calls of duty. If Harry wanted to import a gang of popsies, that was O.K. and just the sort of thing Harry would want to do, but count me out. I don't dance, thank you very much, and I don't particularly enjoy female company, thank you very much, and I don't fancy spending my evenings necking with signorinas who don't speak my language. This was my reaction. And so my heart sank when I was told that the party had been a success and that they would be coming up again next week.

"Oh, and Chris, there was one who would have been just right for you. We told her all about you and she wants to meet you. She's at Venice University studying English."

Then I hope you told her that I don't dance.

"That's all right, Chris, she wants someone to help her with her English. You ought to be good at that. She's quite a smasher, by the way."

Oh, shut up, Harry.

Christopher's natural shyness notwithstanding, he and Hedda hit it off very well. Their months together were happy and innocent, leaving no regrets. If Hedda learned English the more readily thanks to Christopher's help, Christopher learned about Italian -- and about Italians in their many varieties, especially Hedda (who was herself part Austrian). In the end, Christopher declared his love for Hedda and promised to return for her after he was decommissioned.

In the end, though, Hedda needed a more masterful husband than Christopher could be. He began to realize this himself, when he did return for a visit; and six months later, "without too much heartbreak and with no ill-feeling, [the relationship] came to an end" (TPTTT, p. 113). Hedda's last letter to him (in 1948) was to congratulate him on his engagement to Lesley de Selincourt, his first cousin.

Christopher and Lesley had a great deal in common -- not least of which was enjoyment in doing "nothing much together". If this echoed young Christopher Robin's love of "doing Nothing", it was all the more ironic that Lesley seemed to despise Pooh and add to the real-life Christopher's resentment of him. Lesley was not Anne Darlington, and Alan could not help but compare the two unfavorably,. There was also the "instinctive antipathy" between Lesley and Christopher's mother Dorothy; and there was Alan's fear for his future grandchildren, born of the fact that Christopher and Lesley were so closely related (Thwaite, p. 471). Nevertheless, on April 7, 1948, Christopher and Lesley were engaged, and on July 24, 1948, married.

 


Christopher Milne (from the frontispiece of his book THE HOLLOW ON THE HILL, 1982)

 

Christopher had earned only a Third Class degree in English Literature at Cambridge, and was ill-equipped to make his way in the world by traditional means. Like his father, he wanted to be a writer, but times for writers were very difficult after the war. On top of this, there was the burden of "the empty fame" of being A.A. Milne's son on the one hand and being unwanted and unappreciated for what he really was on the other. There had been a deepening rift between father and son after the latter's return from the war; and this was only compounded by Christopher's difficulties in finding employment and his eventual marriage to Lesley.

In 1951 Christopher and Lesley left London to start the Harbour Bookshop in Dartmouth, Devonshire. Dorothy thought the decision very odd, inasmuch as Christopher didn't seem to like "business" and would have to meet Pooh fans all the time. While both of these factors would cause their frustrations, Christopher and Lesley successfully established and ran their bookshop for many years -- and that without any help from royalties derived from sales of the Pooh Books. Much of Christopher's The Path Through The Trees describes those years and the years of retirement following: the details of running a bookshop, and the causes (education, then civic development) that finally enabled Christopher to overcome his public shyness and find his voice.

Then there was the birth of Clara Milne, a few months after Alan's death in 1956. Alan's fears for Christopher's and Lesley's future offspring had proven justified; Clara was born severely palsied. And yet, in devising means to gave her as much independence as possible, Christopher's rather unusual combination of a mathematician's brain and a woodworker's hands finally shone.

Another cause fired Christopher's efforts in later years: the preservation of the Ashdown Forest country from oil exploration. It was not only the inspiration for much of the Pooh Books; it was one of the few nearby places Londoners could go to breathe fresh air. Naturally, Christopher was involved in the dedication of monuments to his father's work and other preservation efforts related to it.

At the relatively early age of 52, Christopher handed over the keys of the Harbour Bookshop to Lesley and began his career as a professional writer. His first two autobiographical books, The Enchanted Places and The Path Through The Trees, enabled him to look both his father and his literary namesake in the eye and established his own literary reputation. In his third volume, The Hollow On The Hill, he explored his search for a personal philosophy, a sort of pantheistic humanism similar to that of his father.

Alan had never had Christopher christened; and while he allowed the Church to seek to persuade his son, he never allowed it to apply force to him. While Christopher was abroad during the war (he was then twenty-four), Alan sent him two books: Renan's The Life of Jesus and Winwood Reade's The Martyrdom of Man. Upon comparing the two philosophies described by the two authors, Christopher chose the latter for himself, as Alan had before him. To him, as to Alan, God had not created Man, but quite the other way around. (Christopher takes some little space defending his beliefs on this point, in his first two volumes.) Yet with Christopher, as with Alan, the witness of nature concerning God could not be completely ignored; and in Christopher's third volume, he showed a somewhat greater willingness to listen to it, and even to certain traditional Christian teachings, than is evident in his earlier volumes.


 

In 1985, Methuen published Christopher Milne's fourth book, Windfall. Wikipedia's article "Christopher Robin Milne" mentions it, but I had not heard of it previously (that is, prior to January 7, 2007).

In 1988, Methuen published Christopher Milne's fifth book, The Open Garden. I have not seen or read this book, but it is excerpted in the combined volume Beyond the World of Pooh (left), published by Dutton in 1998. Ironically, the British edition has on its cover the very figure that was such a mixed blessing to Christopher Milne through so much of his life: Christopher Robin, so accurately drawn from life by E.H. Shepard. (The American edition, with equal irony, has a famous photo of A.A. Milne, young Christopher Milne and the real-world Winnie-the-Pooh.)

As the synopsis of this book on Amazon.co.uk puts it, "Eventually, in his later years, [Christopher] turned his attention to contemplating the wasteful exploitation of the environment and produced a provocative treatise on humankind's duty to the natural world." The Open Garden appears to be that treatise. As such, it undoubtedly begins where The Hollow on the Hill left off: with a humanistic plea for concern for the natural environment.


Christopher Robin Milne and Pooh (Marcus Adams, 1928), courtesy of Achim-the-Pooh's Home Page

Justin Valentin's Web site ends its summary of Christopher Milne's life thus:

Christopher battled bravely for some years with myasthenia gravis, a neurological decease, and passed away peacefully in his sleep on April 20th, 1996. His life was celebrated in a small Quaker gathering of family and friends.

To the broader world, however, and whether he ultimately would have liked it or not, Christopher Milne will always be best remembered as "the real-life Christopher Robin" -- something that I and many others would have counted a badge of honor. Probably few irreligious adults can say that as children, they so exemplified the basic traits that Jesus Christ honored in children and taught his disciples to imitate. And in the end, it's not hard to see the reason why both A.A. and C.R. Milne were irreligious adults. From childhood onward, they trusted deeply in their own cognitive processes: A.A. in his ability to decided based on personal principles, Christopher in his ability to decide based on his personal values.

And now we come to further news (August 18, 2011). The Harbour Bookstore which Christopher and Lesley Milne opened, and which has long since gone to other owners, is most regrettably closing. An article by the BBC is featured here. Another, earlier article on the Bookstore contains the only live footage of the adult Christopher Milne I have ever seen.


 

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Updated October 07, 2014