Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Story Time

"One of the advantages of being disorderly,
is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries."
—A. A. Milne

There in my box of treasures I was excited to discover an old friend. When I was very young this volume sat on my bookshelf; it was a Christmas present from my Canadian cousins and it seemed very foreign. The stamps were different, with pictures of the queen, and the book had words like "dressing gown" and "Mummy" and "vespers." The little boy even wore shorts with suspenders. Very exotic, I thought. I quickly memorized the last poem in the book:

"Little boy kneels at the foot of the bed,
Droops on the little hands, little gold head.
Hush, hush! Whisper, who dares?
Christopher Robin is saying his prayers."

I was developing a crush on Christopher Robin for sure.

Later that same year, Miss McDonough introduced my third grade class to Winnie the Pooh. She read the words easily, with a British accent, and I loved the stories about Pooh and Piglet and the Hundred Acre Wood. Disney had not yet decked the characters out in full costume and makeup and they still seemed of the common make-believe variety.

Hundred-Acre Wood

I wanted to climb down a rabbit hole and move in. "When Rabbit asked, 'Honey or condensed milk with your bread?' Pooh was so excited that he answered, 'Both.' Then, so as not to appear greedy he added, 'But don't bother about the bread, please.'" I could identify with this character!

"My spelling is wobbly. It's good spelling, but it wobbles and the letters get in the wrong places." Isn't this the perfect hero for third-graders? He could sit it my table.

"It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long difficult words, but rather, short easy words like 'What about lunch?'" Pooh stuffed his way into my heart and I knew food would be our topic of choice.

A.A. Milne, Christopher Robin and Pooh

Here's the true story of that tubby little cubby, all stuffed with fluff:

"Winnie—short for Winnipeg—the Pooh was a brave Canadian soldier, of sorts, during World War I. Purchased for $20, the black bear cub was adopted as a mascot by a Canadian infantry brigade and traveled with the soldiers to England. While the infantry was fighting in mainland Europe, Winnie was left in the London Zoo, where he became a favorite attraction.

One of his frequent visitors was A. A. Milne's son, Christopher Robin Milne. Christopher Robin's interactions with his toys—which included a teddy bear, a tiger, a pig, a baby kangaroo, and a donkey with no tail—became the basis for Milne's stories."

by C. Alan Joyce and Sarah Janssen

Are you feeling it yet? Phrases, thoughts, quotes, bedtime stories you've heard or told, books on your shelf, dad's legends, foreign cousins, Christmas presents, your third-grade crush on Miss McDonough? There's a memory making it's way through the fluff to your brain. Something wants to be written. Stop and think about it.

"Did you ever stop to think and forget to start again?"
—A. A. Milne

There's even more to Christopher Robin's world to think about. A.A. was a proper English gentleman, not anxious to be bothered by children who moved about, or spoke out of turn. It bothered his sensibilities. So Christopher was raised by a nanny who brought him below stairs formally three times a day to show-off and be critiqued by his parents. He was sent off to a boarding school when he was finally old enough. His dad thought at 7 he was mature and able to say goodbye to imaginary playmates in a fantasy world. (Of course, his dad continued to make his living there.)

The world inspired by Christopher's toys was not shared with him. As Christopher got older, he was embarrassed to realize he was the little boy in his father's children's stories, and resented his father for making them up about him.

They parted company over this rift when Christopher was a young man, and they remained estranged until A. A. Milne died. Not the cozy, happy ending Milne provided for his readers.

Does this disappoint you, or rejuvenate your desire to write? Seemingly, the wisest, kindest, cuddly father is bugged by own his kid, and sends him off to be raised by strangers while he creates a father/son world of enchantment where animals and boys promise never to leave each other..

Juicy ideas are oozing out of every sentence on many topics. Choose one that speaks to you!


~As a 7 year old, write a letter home from Boarding School. Would you beg to come back home, or would you have a "stiff upper lip?"

~Create a little world for your forgotten stuffed animals, or if they're truly forgotten, use your kids little friends and make up a fantasy story complete with dilemmas and problems solved. Tell it to your kids.

~Imagine that you're home from college and neighbors come to meet you, expecting a grown up version of a child your parents made up, but somebody you never were. (An athlete, a musician, a scholar, a leader . . .) Write a newspaper article about the real you.

“'Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?'
'Supposing it didn't,' said Pooh.
After careful thought Piglet was comforted by this.”
A. A. Milne quote


Christie said...

I've always been sad that Christopher Robin missed the magic of those stories. Love it when a daddy writes something about his babies.

The Grandmother Here said...

I didn't know "Winnie" was short of "Winnipeg." My education is sadly lacking.

~Kristina said...

your posts never fail to amaze me. i'm from winnipeg. winnie has long been a fav story. we visit the little statue at our zoo annually. i had no idea dynamics in the life of A.A. and Christopher.

Kay Dennison said...

I loved Milne's stories!!!!!

AND when I was about 10 or 11, my Girl did a Winnie the Pooh play and my role Christopher Robin.