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Sunday, July 24, 2011

THE WONDERLAND OF A. A. MILNE

V.SUNDARAM I.A.S.


“The gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.”Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

“The power which makes a man able to entertain a good impulse is the same as that which enables him to make a good gun: it is IMAGINATION”G.K.Chesterton (1874-1936)

“Imagination is a Warehouse of Facts with poet and liar in joint ownership”-Ambrose Bierce (1884-1911)

"All the works of man have their origin in creative fantasy. What right have we then to depreciate imagination."-Carl Jung (1875-1961)

"It is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top."- Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

A A MILNE (1882-1956)

I wanted to have a bracing change from the dirty and murky world of Indian politics on which and about which I have been writing  in profusion during the last several months.  Recently I found myself in a second-hand book shop in Moore Market and I was delighted to lay my hands upon a fantastic book by that famous writer of children’s books A.A. Milne (1882-1956) titled Winnie-the-pooh, with decorations by Ernest H. Shepard. My mind immediately flew back to my school-days in Simla in the early 1950s when I had the splendid good fortune of being introduced to A A Milne’s Classic Quartet:  “Winnie-the-Pooh, The House At Pooh Corner, When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six”. A A Milne was famous for his Plays and these four children’s books.  However, these four children’s books became very popular among the larger general public.  Winnie-the Pooh is the engaging story of a Teddy Bear and his friends, continued in a sequel, the House at Pooh Corner.  When we were very young and Now We Are Six, were two volumes of light-hearted verse. His Winnie-the-Pooh character has delighted children throughout the world. Even college students, considerably older than the target audience, responded with Pooh Societies. His legacy has lived on in the form of animated movies, songs, and merchandise for infants and adults alike. Translations of his famous four books were produced almost immediately after Winnie-the-Pooh was first published in 1929. The little honey bear had firmly established itself as an enduring classic.

During the last three days I have been re-reading the precious copy A.A. Milne’s The House At Pooh Corner with tremendous delight and enthusiasm after a lapse of 56 years.  And what a refreshing change I have had, giving me a new sense of wholesome well-being! 

I can see how very right was Sir Winston Churchill (1872-1965) when he wrote: “Many remedies are suggested for the avoidance of worry and mental overstrain by persons who, over prolonged periods, have to bear exceptional responsibilities and discharge duties upon a very large scale.  Some advise exercise, and others, repose.  Some counsel travel and others retreat.  Some praise solitude, and others, gaiety.  No doubt all these may play their part according to the individual temperament.  But the element which is constant and common in all of them is CHANGE. Change is the master key.  A man can wear out a particular part of his mind by continually using it and tiring it, just in the same way he can wear out the elbows of his coat.  There is, however, this difference between the living cells of the brain and inanimate articles: one cannot mend the frayed elbows of a coat by rubbing the sleeves or shoulders; but the tired parts of the mind can be rested and strengthened, not merely by rest, but by using other parts.  It is not enough merely to switch off the lights which play upon the main and ordinary field of interest; a new field of interest must be illuminated.  It is no use saying to the tired ‘mental muscles’ – if one may coin such an expression – ‘I will give you a good rest’, ‘I will go for a long walk’, or ‘I will lie down and think of nothing’.  The mind keeps busy just the same.  If it has been weighing and measuring, it goes on weighing and measuring.  If it has been worrying, it goes on worrying.  It is only when new cells are called into activity, when new stars become the lords of the ascendant, that relief, repose, refreshment are afforded”.

 Book Cover

Reading Milne’s book has given me necessary relief, repose and refreshment.  A A Milne legitimately belongs to the great literary tradition in the field of fantasy established by Lewis Carroll (1832-1898), Edward Lear (1812-1888), J M Barrie (1860-1937) and Kenneth Grahame (1859-1932). Between 1865 and 1930, these four writers and A.A. Milne who could not grow up transformed their longing for childhood into a literary revolution. Indeed there is no doubt that these five writers stand at the centre of a golden age of Victorian and early twentieth-century Children’s Literature. From the vibrantly imagined stories of Alice in Wonderland to the enchanted, magical worlds of Peter Pan and Winnie-the-Pooh, these five writers made the realms of fantasy they envisioned an enduring part of everyday Western Culture. We return to these classics again and again, for enjoyment as children and for the consolation and humour they offer to adults.

Alan Alexander Milne was born in London on 18 January 1882. He was educated at Westminster School in London. Later he graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge BA in Mathematics with Honours in 1903. Upon completion of his studies, he immediately began his long career in writing, contributing light essays to several magazines. His first novel, Lovers in London (1905), was published when Milne was twenty-three. In 1906 he joined the staff of Punch as an Assistant Editor, contributing a weekly essay. His work as a dramatist began a decade later, during his service in the British Army in World War I. His first play, Wurzel-Flummery, appeared in 1917, and his one unqualified success in the theatre, Mr Pim Passes By, was completed and produced in 1919. By the time of his death in 1956, more than two dozen plays by Milne had been produced in London or New York. However, there is no question that Milne’s most lasting monument lies in four slim volumes of children’s literature: two books of poems and two books of the adventures of Christopher Robin’s friend Winnie-the-Pooh. He also wrote two mystery novels; his Red House Mystery (1921) is considered a classic in the genre.

In 1924, Milne published a book of children’s poems entitled ‘When We Were Very Young’, with drawings by Punch illustrator, ERNEST SHEPARD. This book includes a poem about a Teddy Bear who ‘however hard he tries grows tubby without exercise’. This was Pooh’s first unofficial appearance in A A Milne’s writing. ‘When We Were Very Young’ proved to be an instant success and sold over 50,000 copies within eight weeks. Ernest Howard Shepard  was an English artist and book illustrator. He was known especially for his human-like animals in illustrations for The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame and Winnie-the-Pooh by A A Milne.  It will not be too much to say that A A Milne’s classic books for children became world famous after 1926 mainly on account of the decorations and illustrations of Ernest H Shepard. 
  


Illustrations of Winnie the Pooh by Ernest Shepard (1879-1976)

In later years A A Milne lived a rather uneventful life in London, answering questions about the mythical bear of his stories and trying unsuccessfully to fend off the label “whimsical.” He travelled in the United States in the fall of 1931 and continued writing mostly unnoticed books and plays until he reached the age of 70 in 1952.  He died on 31 January 1956. 


THE HOUSE WHERE A.A.MILNE LIVED

A famous critic has observed that Milne wrote in the tradition of Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) but without the harsh cutting edge of Oscar Wilde; he wrote in the style of Noel Coward (1899-1973), but without his sophistication; he wrote in the mood of his mentor, J M Barrie (1860-1937), but without the same firm grip on theatre and staging. He even occasionally wrote in the problem-play tradition of Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), but without Shaw’s piercing wit.  Some critics have dismissed A A. Milne as suffering from a ‘heavy effort to be insistently light.’ Novelist James Hilton, reviewing one of Milne’s later autobiographical books, appropriately summed up: “A A Milne has perfect vision out of a small window; and even when he looks through a bigger one the slight distortion can be very charming.”

The following two poems of A A Milne have always haunted me ever since 1952 when I first read them in School in Simla and they continue to haunt me even today.

(I) SPRING MORNING

Where am I going? I don’t quite know.
Down to the stream where the king-cups grow-
Up on the hill where the pine-trees blow-
Anywhere, anywhere. I don’t know.

Where am I going? The clouds sail by,
Little ones, baby ones, over the sky.
Where am I going? The shadows pass,
Little ones, baby ones, over the grass.

If you were a cloud, and sailed up there,
You’d sail on water as blue as air,
And you’d see me here in the fields and say:
‘Doesn’t the sky look green today?’

Where am I going? The high rooks call:
‘It’s awful fun to be born at all.’
Where am I going? The ring-doves coo:
‘We do have beautiful things to do.’

If you were a bird, and lived on high,
You’d lean on the wind when the wind came by,
You’d say to the wind when it took you away:
‘That’s where I wanted to go today!’

Where am I going? I don’t quite know.
What does it matter where people go?
Down to the wood where the blue-bells grow-
Anywhere, anywhere. I don’t know.

(II) WIND ON THE HILL

No one can tell me,
Nobody knows,
Where the wind comes from,
Where the wind goes.

It’s flying from somewhere
As fast as it can,
I couldn’t keep up with it,
Not if I ran.

But if I stopped holding
The string of my kite,
It would blow with the wind
For a day and a night.

And then when I found it,
Wherever it blew,
I should know that the wind
Had been going there too.

So then I could tell them
Where the wind goes...
But where the wind comes from
Nobody knows.





THE FAMOUS ILLUSTRATOR OF ALL THE TIMELESS CLASSICS OF A.A.MILNE WAS E.H.SHEPARD (1879-1976).


E.H.SHEPARD (1879-1976).

E.H.Shepard was born in St John's Wood, London in 1876 Having shown some promise in drawing at St Paul's School, Shepard enrolled in Heatherleys School of Fine Art in Chelsea. By 1906 Shepard had become a successful illustrator, having produced work for illustrated editions of Aesop's Fables, David Copperfield, and Tom Brown's Schooldays, as well as an illustration for Punch. Throughout the war he had been contributing to Punch. He was hired as a regular staff cartoonist in 1921 and became lead cartoonist in 1945.  

Shepard was recommended to A.A.Milne by another Punch staffer, E. V. Lucas in 1923. Initially, Milne thought Shepard's style was not what he wanted, but used him to illustrate his book of poems When We Were Very Young. Happy with the results, Milne insisted Shepard illustrated Winnie-the-Pooh. Realising his illustrator's contribution to the book's success, Milne arranged for Shepard to receive a share of his royalties. Milne also inscribed a copy of Winnie-the-Pooh with the following personal verse:


When I am gone,
Let Shepard decorate my tomb,
And put (if there is room)
Two pictures on the stone:
Piglet from page a hundred and eleven,
And Pooh and Piglet walking (157)…
And Peter, thinking that they are my own,
Will welcome me to Heaven.



Shepard's original inscribed copy of the book Winnie-the-Pooh was bought by investor Luke Heron for £34,850 at a Sotheby's auction in December 2008.
E.H.Shepard’s Winnie the Pooh work is so famous that 300 of his preliminary sketches were exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1969, when he was 90 years old.

Shepard wrote two autobiographies: Drawn from Memory (1957) and Drawn From Life (1962). In 1972, Shepard gave his personal collection of papers and illustrations to the University of Surrey. These now form the E.H. Shepard Archive.

An E.H. Shepard painting of Winnie the Pooh is the only known oil painting of the famous teddy bear. It was purchased at an auction for $285,000 in London late in 2000. The painting is displayed at the Pavilion Gallery in Assiniboine Park, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.


 UK has honoured Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger with 10 postage stamps in 2010. I am presenting below the postage stamps  containing the timeless illustrations of E,H.Shepard. The honey-loving bear was created by A.A. Milne for his son, Christopher Robin in 1926. I am presenting below two photographs of A.A.Milne with his son as a child and his son as a child surrounded by Winnie the pooh and other characters in the book.


A.A.MILNE WITH HIS SON CHRISTOPHER  CHRISTOPHER WITH WINNIE   
   

When the above Postage stamps were realeased, Philip Parker, Royal Mail Stamps Spokesperson, said: "At nearly 90 years old Winnie-the-Pooh is looking incredibly good for his age, thanks to the imaginative writing of A.A. Milne and the timeless illustrations of E.H. Shepard. We’re delighted that through this wonderful collection we will bring a new adventure for Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends as they travel on letters to millions of homes across the UK and beyond."

Disney’s new full length animated feature film starring Winnie-the-Pooh and friends will bring back the original storytelling and art style essence of this beloved character in April 2011. The film re-tells the stories from the original books and is set to delight families across the world.

1 comment:

Maria said...

wow, i collect stamps and i just loved those. Shepard is an amazing artist. Great post.