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Book review: Remembering Christopher Robin: Escaping Winnie-the-Pooh by Kevin J. Last

24 November 2023

John Pridmore revisits an icon of childhood and his bid to leave it behind

ONE book can save you reading several others. Most of Kevin Last’s biography of Christopher Robin Milne is based on Milne’s own autobiographical writings, beginning with The Enchanted Places (1974). From these memoirs, Last quotes extensively, and, where he is not citing them verbatim, they remain his source.

There is no fresh material such as that which biographers delight in: the stash of letters at the back of a drawer, the startling recollections of the ancient aunt, and the like. Some — perhaps for Christmas reading — will prefer this one-volume summary of Milne’s story to the sequence of memoirs by Milne himself.

Last quickly grasps the nettle confronting every would-be biographer tackling this subject. Whom are we talking about? The shy old gentleman with a bit of a stammer who died in Totnes on 20 April 1996 or the little boy playing in the woods with a kindly but woefully muddled old bear? And, crucially, what is the relationship between the two?

The trouble is that, while Christopher Milne grew up, Christopher Robin was never allowed to. Long into his adult life, pestered by devotees of the child that he once was, he struggled to establish his own identity. Some might say that he never quite did so: that he never finally succeeded in “escaping Winnie-the-Pooh”.

But then, of course, neither have you and I, the latter-day readers of these tales. We recall the last of the Pooh stories. At the end, Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh set off together we know not whither. Lest our hearts should break, A. A. Milne adds a postscript. “Wherever they go,” he tells us, “and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanting place on the top of the forest a boy and his bear will always be playing.”

Here is a large claim, but there are those, your reviewer among them, who believe that it is above all a true claim — rather more deserving of our credence, in fact, than half the propositions bidding from pulpits for our assent. Bears of bigger brain will explain how this can be.

Christopher Robin eventually becomes Christopher Milne. He exchanges his tranquil childhood and student days for the grown-up business of soldiering in wartime. After the war, he drifts in and out of various jobs, including selling lampshades for John Lewis — which he is rather good at.

Last’s narrative follows in detail the twists and turns of the story as it unfolds in Milne’s memoirs. We learn of his marriage to his cousin Lesley de Sélincourt, and of the birth of their daughter Clare, who suffered from severe cerebral palsy. Milne settles down finally as the proprietor of the Harbour Bookshop, in Dartmouth, which he manages with some success, tolerating as best he can the attentions of “customers” who only want to buttonhole a certain Christopher Robin.

This book is pleasingly illustrated. Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh look out at us from the front cover, wondering who we are. Pictured on the back cover is Cotchford Farm, in the Ashdown Forest, the Milnes’ grand country home. This great pile, reminiscent of Chartwell, must have suited Pooh, that most Churchillian of bears.

The Revd Dr John Pridmore is a former Rector of Hackney, in east London.


Remembering Christopher Robin: Escaping Winnie-the-Pooh
Kevin J. Last
Unicorn £30
Church Times Bookshop £27

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