In an interesting post by We Are The Mighty, Eric Milzarski theorizes that A. A. Milne, an English author and veteran of both World Wars, wrote Winnie the Pooh to explain the harsh reality of war to his own child when he penned the 1926 children’s classic.
As a young man, Alan Alexander Milne stood up for King and Country when it was announced that the United Kingdom had entered World War I. In 1915, he was commissioned as an officer member of the Royal Corps of Signals into the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. Soon after, he was sent to France to fight in the Battle of the Somme.
The description, “Hell on Earth” is apt, but doesn’t come close to fully describing the carnage of what became the bloodiest battle in human history. More than three million men fought and one million men were wounded or killed, with many of Milne’s closest friends among the casualties. Bodies were stacked in the flooded-out trenches where other men lived, fought, and died.
On August 10, 1915, Milne and his men were sent to enable communications by laying a telephone line dangerously close to an enemy position. He tried warning his command of the foolishness of the action to no avail. Two days later, he and his battalion were attacked, just as he had foreseen. Sixty British men perished in an instant. Milne was one of the hundred or so badly wounded in the ambush. He was sent home for his wounds suffered that day.
Milne returned to his wife, Daphne de Selincourt, and spent many years recovering physically. Writing became his therapeutic outlet for handling his shell shock, now known as post-traumatic stress.
On August 21, 1920, his son, Christopher Robin Milne, was born. Alan put his writings on hold so he could be the best possible father to his baby boy.
Winnipeg the Bear
One fateful day, he took his son to the London Zoo where they bonded over enjoying a new visitor to the park, a little Canadian Black Bear named Winnipeg (or Winnie for short). Alan was drawn to the bear because it had been a mascot used by the Canadian Expeditionary Force in WWI. Despite being one of the most terrifying creatures in the zoo, Winnie was reclusive, often shying away from people.
Alan saw himself in that bear. At the same time, Christopher loved the bear for being cuddly and cute. Understandably, Alan bought his son a teddy — the real-life Winnie the Pooh bear.
The demons of war followed Milne throughout his life. It was noted that when Christopher was little, Alan terrified him when he confused a swarm of buzzing bees with whizzing bullets. The popping of balloons sent him ducking for cover. Milne knew of only one way to explain to his son what was happening — through his writing. A.A. Milne started writing a collection of short stories entitled Winnie-the-Pooh.
Winnie-the-Pooh and PTSD
The book was written specifically for one child, by name, and features the stuffed animals that the boy loved. However, the stories may also have been a way for Milne to deal with his own post-traumatic stress and, perhaps, even explain it to his six-year-old son.
Every stuffed friend in the Hundred Acre Woods is a child-friendly representation of a characteristic of post-traumatic stress:
- Piglet is paranoia,
- Eeyore is depression,
- Tigger is impulsive behaviors,
- Rabbit is perfectionism-caused aggression,
- Owl is memory loss,
- Kanga and Roo represent over-protection.
- This leaves Winnie, who Alan wrote in for himself as Christopher Robin’s guide through the Hundred Acre Woods — his father’s mind.
The books were published on October 14, 1926. As a child, Christopher Robin embraced the connection to his father, but as the books grew in popularity, he would resent being mocked for his namesake character. Christopher Robin Milne eventually followed in his father’s footsteps and they both served in the Second World War. His father was a Captain in the British Home Guard and he served as a sapper in the Royal Engineers. It was only after his service that he grew to accept his father’s stories and embraced his legacy, which endures to this day.
I’m sure that I once knew, long ago, that the character Christopher Robin, was a role played for his son. I may even have known some of these other details about the toys, et al. What I didn’t know was the war-induce PTSD. Amazing story.
Thank you so much, John! I’m so glad you enjoyed it 🙂
I thoroughly enjoyed this post, Nicholas! One of my favorite children’s books is “Finding Winnie. The true story of Winnie the Pooh.” I think you make a good point that the story could be Alan’s way of explaining PTSD to his son. love the photo of the stuffed animals. Thank you!
So glad you enjoyed it, Jennie! Thank you 🙂
Now as a dyed in the wool Pooh lover who pilgrimages to Ashdown Forest every year to commune a little, I love this Nick, and never heard of it. It makes a kind of sense too. It puts a different spin on the philosophy of ‘sometimes I sits and thinks and sometimes I just sits’.
If only it explained the bitter antipathy to that other hero writer of mine PG Woodhouse that cause much poison with Milne. People are complicated!!
People sure are complex creatures! I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who loves Pooh 🙂
I love this observation. Thank you for posting… You write great posts. I still read ‘Pooh’ and ‘Now we are six’ as well as Benjamin Hoff’s ‘THE TAO OF POOH and ‘THE TE OF PIGLET’ must reads for any Pooh fan. Have you read them?
Thank you so much! I absolutely love The Tao of Pooh and it sparked a lifelong interest in Taoism (I’ve translated the Tao Te Ching into Greek and have been studying Tai Chi) 🙂
AA was a good father… sounds like you are too!
*blush* Thank you, Veronica!!!
The story of how Winnie the Pooh came to be is a great one. That character was very much a part of my kids’ childhood and I can recite a lot of the poems!
I absolutely love him and have got all of his books for Natalie 🙂