With Goodbye Christopher Robin—an exploration of the life of Winnie the Pooh‘s creator A.A. Milne and his son Christopher Robin Milne—making its way to movie theaters this fall, more and more people are talking about the true nature of the father-son relationship that sparked a worldwide literary phenomenon. In a 1998 article for The Telegraph titled “I Knew Christopher Robin—The Real Christopher Robin,” playwright Gyles Brandreth revealed it was far from idyllic.
A.A Milne’s first Pooh book, When We Were Very Young, was published in November 1924, when Christopher had just turned four. The last book in the collection, The House at Pooh Corner, was published in October 1928. Each book sold hundreds of thousands of copies, and made Christopher Robin and his stuffed bear household names. Christopher told Brandreth that he enjoyed being famous until he was about eight of nine. "It was exciting and made me feel grand and important," he said. But that all changed when he went away to boarding school. “He was teased and bullied and learnt to hate the boy in the book called Christopher Robin,” Brandreth wrote.
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Additionally, despite his seeming devotion to his son on paper, Christopher says his father was never good with children. "Some people are good with children. Others are not,” he explained. “It is a gift. You either have it or you don't. My father didn't." As a result, he grew extremely attached to his nanny, Olive Rand, who filled the void his father left in his life. Christopher came to believe that, because his father didn't know how to play with him, he created "a dream son" on the page instead.
As he grew older and the family parted ways with Rand, father and son managed to grow closer. They spent their time doing "the Times crossword and algebra and Euclid," Christopher recalls. But things came to a head after he graduated from Cambridge and struggled to find himself professionally. “He came to believe that his father ‘had got where he was by climbing on my infant shoulders,’” Brandreth wrote. Christopher rarely saw his father in the last years before he died in 1956, and he only saw his mother once before she died 15 years later.
According to Brandreth, Christopher eventually came to terms with his childhood, and died a happy and fulfilled man in 1996 at the age of 75. "It's been something of a love-hate relationship down the years, but it's all right now," he said of the books two years before his death. "Yes, believe it or not, I can look at those four books without flinching. I'm quite fond of them really."