Monday, 23 April 2007
5. It's Too Late Now - A. A. Milne
It was only a matter of time before Mr. Milne got a mention on these pages. Wait, he had one the other day, didn't he?
The Secret Option to my potential Summer Reads may be the only way in which most people have come across Alan Alexander - but he wrote far more than the children's books. In fact, like almost every successful author of children's books that you could care to mention, he came to look on them as something of a distraction from his other work. During his lifetime, though, he was a renowned playwright, novelist, detective-novelist, poet, sketch-writer, essayist and even wrote one of the only three official works for the national Pacifist movement. Busy man.
Back in 2001, I decided to familiarise myself with the adventures of Mr. W. Pooh et al (still some of the best children's books ever written - like most, wasted on children and most adults), and this led to me reading Christopher Milne's autobiographical trilogy, The Enchanted Places, The Path Through The Trees, and The Hollow on The Hill. Look out for mention of them later. My Aunt Jacq, who shares many of my reading tastes, lent me several volumes of his work for Punch (of which he was sometime Assistant Editor) and the rest, as they, is history. I've read nearly everything he wrote (which is a LOT) and can recommend all of it - for those wishing to dabble, and don't mind doses of whimsy, track down The Holiday Round as a starting point. If you don't like whimsy, then try Two People, his best novel. His most popular non-children's work was the detective novel The Red House Mystery, which was written before the Golden Age and thus looks a bit like a poor cousin - but still highly enjoyable.
BUT. The reason I've chosen It's Too Late Now as the fifth book in my '50 Books You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About' is that is the perfect 'way in' to going beyond Winnie. This is his autobiography (in fact, published in the US as just An Autobiography), and is as representative of his work as anything else - funny, self-deprecating, anecdotal... and provides a great companion to the rest of his work. If you'd prefer a more impartial work, which also focuses more on his literary output, rather than his childhood, try Ann Thwaite's excellent book A.A. Milne: His Life. She writes with evident enjoyment of his work, and presents extensive research without hitting you over the head with it.
Sadly, both books are out of print (well, the Thwaite keeps wavering, and is easier to come across) but both certainly worth locating. Milne's 'other work' has become unjustly neglected, and needs re-discovering. Hope I'll make some converts! He is such an amusing writer, and once you enter his world, you'll never want to leave. Joie de vivre characterises almost all his work, especially the early plays and sketches. Oh yes, read Mr. Pim Passes By too, in either novel or play form. Oh yes, he did it in both. Another interesting point of comparison is the play The Great Broxopp, which is about an advertising tychoon whose child features in the adverts, as a baby - and the effect childhood fame has on the boy as he grows up. All written before Christopher Robin Milne was even born.
P.s. sorry for lack of cartoons over the past few days - hope people do enjoy them when they appear?? Instead, you have a nabbed picture of Ashdown Forest, the inspiration for the Hundred Acre Wood. The Clan went a few summers ago, and it is a wonderful place. An enchanted place, if you will.