No matter your age, opening up a Winnie The Pooh book and spending the afternoon exploring the 100 Acre Wood with Pooh, Eeyore, and Tigger can leave you mesmerized. Christopher Robin and Co. always go on grand adventures, and the pages of the books have beautiful photos to match. The stories of Winnie The Pooh are captivating for adults and children alike, and they’re the childhood stories many pass on to their children and grandchildren.
There’s a secret behind Winnie The Pooh’s creation, though. Despite the wholesomeness of the series and it’s centerpiece in childhood literature, the author and his family spent much of their lives wishing it hadn’t been written at all.
The second-most valuable character in the world
Alan Alexander Milne (also known as A.A. Milne) didn’t ever aspire to be a children’s author, though he always knew he would write. After graduating from Cambridge, young Milne had no trouble securing employment at Punch — a satire magazine published in London— and published regular articles, novels, and plays.
While Milne was a skilled writer across many genres, he was truly interested in the detective genre, eventually publishing The Red House Mystery in 1922. The work was an instant success and remained in publication for 16 years (a feat for any author), though it was published against the advice of his literary agent, who thought his audience would rather read something closer aligned with his previous work at Punch.
the novel’s success, and his agent’s urging, Milne would never write another mystery, as he felt the timing of the project was never quite right. This was due to the sheer success of his Winnie The Pooh series, which was released three years later at the urging of his agent.
Based on Milne’s three-year-old son, Christopher Robin, a park near their home, and Christopher’s stuffed animal toys, the Winnie The Pooh collection became even more successful than any of his previous work, selling millions to date. The rapid success of the books would inspire Milne to add to the series through 1927, halting a sequel to The Red House Mystery, and ultimately to sell the rights to television producer Stephen Slessinger in 1930.
Soon after the purchase, Slessinger began running short Winnie the Pooh cartoons on Sunday morning television, leading to further commercialization of the character into movies, merchandise, and more. After the death of Milne and his wife, Slessinger would later sell the rights of the franchise to Disney. Today, Winnie the Pooh is the second most-valuable character in the world, behind only that of Mickey Mouse.
However, despite the fame of his creation, Winnie The Pooh impacted the lives of Milne’s family tremendously, causing him to resent his creation until his death in 1956.
The mistake that followed Milne
The sheer success of the children’s series rocketed Milne into stardom and projected his son, Christopher Robin, into the public eye, leaving Milne instantly regretful. Due to his writing, his only son would be a permanent public figure. Though it was reported that Christopher enjoyed his fame as a young child, he grew to loathe the series and his involvement in it, and would become estranged from his parents later in life.
“It seemed to me almost that my father had got to where he was by climbing upon my infant shoulders, that he had filched from me my good name and had left me with the empty fame of being his son,” wrote Christopher to The Independent while working on a project with a staff journalist.
But the estrangement of his son wasn’t the only troubling aspect of Pooh bear’s success, for Milne was considerably annoyed at the direction the children’s books took his career. He wanted to create the novels he was excited about, not the ones recommended by his publisher. After all, he thought, this was the entire point of being an author; creating on the whim of oneself.
The coupled circumstances would inspire Milne to never write another children’s book, though his “likeness” has published dozens of Winnie the Pooh stories since the rights to the characters were sold.
Christopher would eventually forgive his father, and Milne would go on to publish several works for adults, including Mr. Pim Passes By (1953), The Norman Church (1948), and Year In, Year Out (1952). Some readers struggle to identify Milne as anything other than a children’s author, undoubtedly causing him some annoyance even post-mortem. For as a writer, there is nothing worse than being most remembered for your least favorite piece.
Whether you’re a big Winnie The Pooh fan or even if you’ve never read any of Milne’s work, join us in a celebration of his recent birthday (January 18) by picking up something of his that is new to you. You might be newly captivated by the 100 Acre Wood, or find your new favorite play or poetry collection. After all, no matter what works of his you read, all Milne really wanted was to be kept in your heart.