2/3/12 - christopher robin is estranged from his father

In today's excerpt - when Alan (A.A.) Milne died at age 74, his only child Christopher Robin was estranged from him. Alan was a highly successful playwright of adult dramas who had unexpectedly gained worldwide fame and fortune by writing poems and children's stories about his son—starting with the books When We Were Very Young (1924) and Winnie-the-Pooh (1926). The two had been extremely close—Alan called his son 'Billy Moon' and Christopher called his father 'Blue'. But the adult Christopher Robin had become bitterly resentful of his overwhelming fame, a fame so great that at one point he was considered the most famous child in the world—a burden he carried in dealing with his boarding school and college classmates. His estrangement began with his marriage shortly after his army service, and they had not reconciled when Alan passed away. Billy Moon did not overcome his resentment until more than a decade after his father's death:

"There was one great consolation [when Alan's brother and closest friend Ken died in 1929]. His relationship with his nine-year-old son Christopher was becoming even closer. Christopher was off to boarding school, his nanny, Olive Rand [Alice to readers, since it rhymed so conveniently with 'palace'], left the household, and there was no one to come between father and son in the holidays. ... For Milne, Christopher could be, as he grew up, in some ways a substi­tute for Ken. The letters to Ken in Somerset (once Alan had written, 'This is the world's longest letter, except one or two of St Paul's') became letters to Christopher at school. In the holidays they did things together more and more, if not, understandably, in the totally equal relationship that Milne always found easiest. From now on—for the next ten years, anyway—Christopher seems to have been his father's closest friend.

"For ten years he was close indeed to his father, 'adoring him, admiring him, accepting his ideas'. He had shown no signs of any normal adolescent rebellion. What he did show was the signs of nervous tension, of an increasing shyness, the outward expression, presumably, of a subconscious worry that he could never fulfill his father's deepest ambitions for him, that he could never be the sort of debonair young man the world expected that charming, competent child, Christopher Robin, to become—if, indeed, they imagined him growing up at all. The schoolboy Christopher Milne both trembled and stammered. He remembered the stammering like this:

"Around the age of eight—and not altogether surprisingly—my voice had begun to get itself knotted up. By the age of twelve, though I was fluent on occasions, there were other occasions when the words got themselves sadly jammed. By the age of sixteen the jamming had got worse and my shyness wasn't helping things. ...

"The boy remained anxious in all he did to please his father. He hated to disap­point his expectations. There had been some disappointment already. The first time Milne went to see his son play in a school cricket match, he was out for a duck, not scoring a single run.

"My father had always hoped that one day I would be a great cricketer, captaining the Stowe Eleven perhaps, or even playing for Cambridge. But at Stowe the tender plant that had been so devotedly nourished hour after hour at wickets during the holidays drooped and faded: I got no further than the Third Eleven.

"Milne gave up mentioning the boy's cricket in his letters. ... In 1939, on holiday in Devon, Milne and his son (who had joined the British Army) were still extremely close and would remain so throughout the war, though for several years separated by many hundreds of miles. Much of Milne's writing energy would go into letters to his son—first to Cambridge, then to army camps at Newark, at Barton Stacey in Hampshire, to Aldershot, to Sible Hedingham in Essex—and then to destinations all over the Middle East, North Africa and Italy as the young man travelled here and there with the fortunes of war. It was the war that would eventually allow him to make the necessary escape from his father, to be himself, to put his childhood finally behind him. Those five years, he would say, 'provided me with a foundation stone, strong and lasting, on which to build my adult life.' "


Ann Thwaite


A.A. Milne: His Life




Copyright 1990, 1992, 2006 by Ann Thwaite


278, 338-340
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