A.A. Milne Would Never Write That!
It’s a touching quote, and a favourite on Facebook. It is attributed to A.A. Milne, the author of the Winnie-the-Pooh books, as the words of Christopher Robin to his best friend Winnie-the-Pooh.
Now, I’ve always felt that this quote didn’t feel quite right – as the words of A.A. Milne, or for that matter, of six-year-old Christopher Robin. Yet when I Googled it, site after site confirmed the attribution.
Finally I took out the book from which it is supposed to have been taken, The House at Pooh Corner. At the end of the book, Christopher Robin realizes he is growing up and says goodbye to his animal friends.
Here is the actual and utterly brilliant valedictory exchange between Christopher Robin and Pooh, as written by Milne.
“I’m not going to do Nothing any more.”
“Well, not so much. They don’t let you.”
Pooh waited for him to go on, but he was silent again.
“Yes, Christopher Robin,” said Pooh helpfully.
“Pooh, when I’m – you know – when I’m not doing Nothing, will you come up here sometimes?”
“Will you be here too?”
“Yes Pooh, I will be, really. I promise I will be, Pooh.”
“That’s good,” said Pooh.
“Pooh, promise me you won’t forget about me, ever. Not even when I’m a hundred.”
Pooh thought for a little.
“How old shall I be then?”
“I promise,” he said.
Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put out a hand and felt for Pooh’s paw.
“Pooh,” said Christopher Robin earnestly, “if I – if I’m not quite –“ he stopped and tried again – “Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won’t you?”
“Oh, nothing.” He laughed and jumped to his feet. “Come on!”
“Where?” said Pooh.
“Anywhere,” said Christopher Robin.”
So where did the Facebook favourite come from? A clever writer at Disney, of course, in a 1997 direct-to-video called Pooh’s Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin. Don’t rush out to buy this forgotten classic – Rotten Tomatoes gives it a rating of 38%, and frankly it sounds ghastly.
But here’s the point. A.A. Milne was a writer who knew that it’s more powerful to show than to tell. He shows us two young friends trying to find their way through a thicket of unexpected emotion, using the simple words of small children. The Disney writer, afraid we might miss the point of their undying friendship, takes out a verbal sledge hammer and hits us over the head with it.
Which one works best? Well, the Disney piece is ideal for Facebook—sentiment neatly tied up with a bow. But Milne’s words make me cry every time I read them.
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