Saturday, January 19, 2008

A.A. Milne -1-18-08

It's the birthday of the humorist and children's book writer A. A. [Alan Alexander] Milne, (books by this author) born in London, England (1882). His parents ran a private school for boys, and while Milne was growing up, one of the teachers his parents hired was H. G. Wells, who encouraged him to be a writer.

Milne got into college on a scholarship for mathematics, but once there he spent all his time writing funny poems and essays for campus publications. When he graduated, he got a job at the famous Punch magazine, where he became one of the leading humorists of his day, writing essays about golf, croquet, parties, and cricket.

In 1917, he produced the play"Wurzel-Flummery." He went on to write more than 30 plays, all of them drawing-room comedies and all of them successful, but all quickly forgotten. So he turned to writing novels and specialized in detective stories, which were also successful and forgotten. He also published 19 volumes of essays, but though everything he wrote was entertaining, it was all forgettable. More than anything else, Milne wanted to write something that would stand the test of time.

One of Milne's friends had just started a new magazine for children, and asked him if he would contribute. He didn't have any interest in writing children's literature, even though his own son was three years old and just learning how to read. But during a holiday in Wales, he found himself trapped in the house during a rainstorm with nothing to do.

Milne said, "So there I was with an exercise-book and a pencil, and a fixed determination not to leave the heavenly solitude of that summer-house until it stopped raining ... and there on the other side of the lawn was a child with whom I had lived for three years ... and here within me unforgettable memories of my own childhood." So he began writing a series of poems, most of them addressed to his son, Christopher Robin. The poems were collected in his book When We Were Very Young (1924), which was a huge success.

Around the same time, his son had begun playing with a group of stuffed animals named Pooh Bear, Piglet, Tigger, and Eeyore in the Ashdown forest near their house. Milne loved the idea that his son played with fake animals in a real forest. In his books Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) and The House at Pooh Corner (1928), he turned that forest into a magical place where there are no adults, but only Christopher Robin and his animal friends.

Since his death, Milne's more than 60 books for adults have almost all gone out of print, but his Winnie-the-Pooh books remain classics of children's literature. They have been translated into more than 20 languages, including Latin.

A.A. Milne wrote, "Wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing."

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