Over the years, I have read and reread this book many times. My copy is an old Penguin that I think I must have bought when Milne’s book came out in paperback for the first time. The pages are yellowed and the covers somewhat bent. Why is it that from time to time I want to revisit Christopher Milne’s recollections of his childhood? I do know it’s not always because I want to revisit the world of Pooh. To do that one would read Winnie the Pooh or The House at Pooh Corner. I think it’s because for a few moments I want to connect with a world that I never actually knew except second hand through my mother’s memories of her own childhood during the late twenties and early thirties: a mostly rural world, a world of nanny or at least a world of cook and someone from the village “to help,” a world with a water cistern that had to be pumped full every day, of paraffin stoves and intractable ranges that still had to be black-leaded, of oil lamps and candlelight. It all sounded terribly exotic to town-bred mid-century me.
What Milne captures in this first volume of what became several books of memoirs is the whole possibility of responding to the world as an enchanted place, a possibility that fades somewhat as the clearer(?) vision of experience and adulthood develop. Perhaps because the world is so small when we are children, we have the opportunity to look more closely at its capacity for eliciting wonder.
I also return to it because Milne reveals himself to be a thoughtful, sensitive man. One cannot help but see that there are silences in this first memoir. We are all somewhat over shadowed in our childhood and youth by our parents. Also, we remain aware of the difference between how others perceive us and of what we know we are. How much more challenging must it be when one of your parents is famous and that fame rests to a great extent on the way he manipulated the idea of you, making your public self not exactly yourself but a figment of his imagination. For Christopher Milne, being the catalyst for Christopher Robin was a very mixed blessing indeed.
Reading The Enchanted Places usually propels me to reread Beyond the World of Pooh: Selections From the Memoirs of Christopher Milne, which comprises extracts from Milne’s subsequent memoirs edited by A. R. Melrose and Introduced by Milne’s widow Lesley. These selections, too, reveal a thoughtful, caring man, but again there are silences. But then there are always silences in autobiography.
As I said, I return to these books because even as Milne records some of the challenges and sense of competition he experienced with his father, he also reveals that he shares that understanding of a world “where a boy and his bear will always be playing” (A. A. Milne The House at Pooh Corner), and sometimes no matter our age, we just need to join them.
As I reread this post, I sense a kind of contradiction. At the beginning, I said I don’t read Christopher Milne to connect to the world of Pooh but more to connect with a memory of a bygone time that I knew only through another’s memories and to connect to the shared experience I had with the person who introduced me to Pooh, in this case my mother. I remember when she told me there was a Christopher Robin and that he was now a man of about her age. Something changed at that moment, which my child self could not then articulate. I realized just as A. A. Milne was able to enter his son’s world and make something rooted in it but actually removed from it, something different, that it is possible to transcend the mundane world and experience something beyond it through the power of imagination. In a way, reading Christopher Milne’s own personal memories expresses a kind of gratitude to the man whose childhood was to a certain extent compromised so that so many others could share a particular kind of world of wonder.