Friday, October 13, 2017

Liverpool is Birmingham!

So, more signs that make it look as if the in-the-works Tolkien biopic may actually happen: they're scouting out sites where they might do location filming. At least that's what I gathered from the following little piece posted yesterday:

So, many things can and no doubt will go wrong with this project, but it's still live at this point, which is further than any previous such effort got.

And now to find out more about, so as to decide whether or not to watch, the latest 'based-on-a-true-story' film about a twentieth century British author, GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN.

Which, based on Christopher Milne's own account of his childhood in his excellent autobiography, sounds like it's the 'good parts' version, not particularly close to the facts. We'll see.

--John R.
--last day at Archives


David Bratman said...

Not sure what you mean by the "good parts version," but an amazing number of people have read Christopher Milne's The Enchanted Places and gotten the impression he spent his entire life in seething resentment of having been co-opted into his father's books.

Actually, that's not what he says at all. He says that he did resent it for a period in his early adulthood when he was having trouble establishing himself in a career, but in his childhood it wasn't a heavy impingement, and afterwards when he became a bookseller (not a career for someone who resents being a literary character) he came to resigned terms with it. If the movie, as it appears, is about the childhood, there's not much of a "bad parts" to tell, save that A.A.M. was, like many children's authors (Dr. Seuss) not comfortable with small children and spent less time with Christopher than one might think. As the boy grew older, though, father and son became very close for the rest of Christopher's juvenile years.

Further info and confirmation is in his other autobiography, The Path Through the Trees, and in the excellent biography of A.A. Milne by Ann Thwaite.

John D. Rateliff said...

It's been a long time since I read Christopher Milne's three autobiographies (the first of which I especially highly recommend; C. Milne is a wonderful memorialist), but my memory is that he remembers his parents as remote, detached, and generally disinterested in him. The person who provided him with love and support, he said, was not his parents (whom he only saw for a few minutes once each day) but his nanny, who was the center of his world. He mentions the misery of going off to boarding school and being a soft target for bulllying by his fellows, the only thing his new schoolmates knowing about him being the name of his teddy bear when he was five or six.

The most telling scene I remember is that he says his dad bought him Tigger because he wanted to see what personality young Christopher gave him -- in other words, A.A. was not being a thoughtful dad but seeking copy as a writer.

None of which affects the books, which transcend the disfunctional Milne family and are clearly timeless, holding up well almost a century later

--John R.

David Bratman said...

Nothing you say about the father-son relationship disputes what I reported. As I said, they were not close when Christopher was small - and parents leaving the care of children to the nannies was the normal middle and upper class behavior of the time and for quite a long period earlier, so it's not as much of individual indictment of a parent who followed the custom as it would be today. The idea of the family as totally dysfunctional on these grounds is anachronistic.

In any case, Christopher went on to say that, as an older child, he and his father became very close indeed, and in that period he had no reason to hold the books against him.

As for Tigger (and Kanga and Roo came under similar circumstances), it's purely a prosecutorial insinuation to imply that the gift was only to generate copy and that the child's joy in a toy was not a factor; nor that there must have been anything wrong in AAM's hoping he might get a story out of this. People post amusing videos of their children and pets on YouTube all the time without claims that they must be dysfunctional families for exploiting them. Occasionally you get cases where the parents really did do something stupid or dangerous for the sake of a cute video, and comparing those should help clarify the difference.

As before, I'm relying on what CRM actually wrote in The Enchanted Places and The Path Through the Trees (the third book is hardly an autobiography), noting the peculiar tendency by which people remember the first book as far more hostile than it actually is - the second one is even less so, and exposes far more difficulty between CRM and his mother than with his father.

David Bratman said...

I went through the books in search of specific textual evidence. It's hard to find quotes, as CRM isn't that kind of a writer, but I got the very strong impression that AAM wasn't that much of a hands-off father as he's being depicted. Rather than simply "seeing him for a few minutes once each day," they had real conversations even in nursery days (EP ch. 3); CRM is sympathetic towards his father's lack of a gift for playing with small children (EP, end of ch. 4); but AAM did arrange for the visits of the man called Soldier who did have that gift (ch. 4). Later on in EP, when CRM is an older boy, there is much more interaction: there are several anecdotes showing the father's sensitivity to the son, e.g. the history dates and table manners anecdotes in ch. 18, and the extraordinary way AAM weaned his son, then about ten, from an interest in shooting in ch. 21. And there's cherished family holidays in ch. 22. In ch. 20, CRM tells how, when he was in his 20s, his father sent him philosophical books, hoping the son would share his beliefs but not pressing him to do so; this is also discussed in The Hollow in the Hill. In The Path Through the Trees, there's lengthy discussion of AAM's role in helping CRM join the Army in WW2 and in helping him settle on and qualify for his post as sapper; and post-war pulled strings in the book industry to help CRM get set up as a bookseller.

As for the books, it's very clear in the Epilogue in EP that the books were at most an occasional irritant in his schooldays ("Mostly [at school] we were occupied with other things ... mostly I had other things to think about ... it never occurred to me me that perhaps I ought to be blaming somebody for it all"). And his continuing discomfort with Christopher Robin ("he still fills me with acute embarrassment ... after years of practice I am still terribly bad at this sort of thing") is not to be confused with the actual anger he felt for a period around 1947 ("in pessimistic moments ... it seemed to me, almost, that my father ... had filched from me my good name," emphasis added; but then he came to realize that "if I wanted to escape from Christopher Robin, so, too, did he"). I think that it is confusion between these points that is responsible for the misreading of the books.