You probably know the name Christopher Robin from one of the most beloved children’s books in history. But Christopher Robin Milne was a real person—the only child of Winnie the Pooh author A.A. Milne. It was his playtime in the woods with his parents and his favorite stuffed animal that inspired the series. However, the little boy would soon be thrust into the spotlight before he was even old enough for kindergarten, much less equipped to handle worldwide fame and recognition. Here’s what Christopher Robin really thought of Winnie the Pooh and his own reluctant legacy as the hero of these stories.
Christopher Robin’s childhood started out idyllic
Christopher Robin was born on August 21, 1920. His father, Alan Alexander Milne, kept a home in London for the family, but they would often spend weekends at a country home called Cotchford Farm in East Sussex. That’s the location that inspired many of the locales in the books, including the Hundred Acre Wood. As for Winnie the Pooh, he was inspired by a real-life character, too. Well, sort of. A.A. Milne bought Christopher Robin a teddy bear named Edward Bear from Harrods of London for his first birthday, according to the New York Public Library. Christopher Robin renamed the bear Winnie after a real bear he saw at the London Zoo. Here’s more about the real-life toys that inspired the other Winnie the Pooh characters.
The creation of the Winnie the Pooh stories was a family affair. In fact, A.A. Milne often credited his wife, Daphne, as a collaborator on the books because he was inspired by watching how she played with Christopher Robin, helping him bring the stuffed animals to life with different voices and personalities to suit each one.
A little boy becomes a household name
The Winnie the Pooh sensation started with a short story that A.A. Milne wrote for the London Evening News. It was called “The Wrong Sort of Bees,” and it included Christopher Robin and his bear, Winnie the Pooh. But, according to the Smithsonian, the boy and his bear really rose to fame with the publication of A.A. Milne’s 1926 book that was illustrated by E.H. Shepard.
Fan mail poured in when people learned that there was a “real” Christopher Robin. The author would give his son those fan letters, introducing the little boy to his new, widespread fame. Christopher Robin was expected to respond to each fan letter with his nanny’s help. He also appeared in a pageant based on the Pooh characters and would participate in audio recordings of the books when he was only 7, which his cousin would later refer to as exploitation, according to the BBC.
Christopher Robin sours on his newfound fame
Christopher Robin liked the Winnie the Pooh books at first, and he even enjoyed the fame. However, after a few years, those books that were so beloved to readers around the world became a burden to him. Christopher Robin went away to boarding school around the age of 9, at the height of Winnie the Pooh’s popularity, and he was bullied there. The other kids would play that record of Christopher Robin reading the poems about Winnie the Pooh and tease him mercilessly.
Plus, the real-life Christopher Robin was very different from the fictional character who shared his name, but people made the false assumption that he was truly like the character in the books. As a result, Christopher Robin felt very misunderstood. Here are more fictional characters you never knew were based on real people.
A.A. Milne tries to do damage control
By 1929, A.A. Milne told reporters that he was “amazed and disgusted” by Christopher Robin’s fame. Although he didn’t go into detail about the problems that his son faced, the author felt that his son had already experienced more fame than he had intended or wanted for him. Realizing that his young son might be damaged by this, A.A. Milne vowed never to write another children’s book after the fourth Pooh book was published.
Still, as with most family situations, things were complicated. The Guardian reports that A.A. Milne was a bit in denial about the grave impact the fame had on his son, telling reporters on another occasion that Christopher Robin referred to himself as “Billy Moon” at home and claiming that the fame didn’t impact them personally. That would prove to be untrue.
Harsh words from an angry son
Having first soured on the Winnie the Pooh books when he was bullied at boarding school, Christopher Robin really came to hate his association with them as a young man. He served in World War II, then had a hard time finding a job and adjusting to adulthood. He was angry and disillusioned, and he felt that the early fame had held him back. That fame still haunted him, and he didn’t know what his place in the world was.
Of his famous father, he stated that it was almost like he’d achieved success by “climbing upon my infant shoulders,” according to the Independent. He also said it felt like his name had been taken and that he was left with the “empty fame” of being the son of A.A. Milne. Ouch!
And Christopher Robin wasn’t the only one irked by the bear we all know and love. As reported by the BBC, E.H. Shepard, the original illustrator of the books, also regretted his involvement with the beloved character. His issue? The Winnie the Pooh illustrations greatly overshadowed any other art he created and work he had done. Don’t miss these other children’s books everyone should read in their lifetime.
Estrangement from his parents
Because of all this, Christopher Robin didn’t speak often to his parents as an adult, and he eventually became estranged from his mother. Neither parent appreciated the bitter things that Christopher Robin said publicly about his childhood, and they were distraught when he married his first cousin Lesley. He sadly never reconciled with either parent, and he didn’t see his mother in the last 15 years of her life.
Did Christopher Robin ever come to terms with his legacy?
Christopher Robin Milne passed away on April 20, 1996. He was 75 years old and died in his sleep after a long battle with Myasthenia gravis. For many years, including the last decades of his life, Christopher Robin and his wife owned and managed a bookshop, and they were devoted to taking care of their adult daughter, Clare, who had cerebral palsy. In case you were wondering, he did, indeed, sell his father’s books at the bookshop.
He also wrote three autobiographical books of his own, including the memoir The Enchanted Places (in which he described his relationship with Winnie the Pooh as a “love-hate relationship), and this helped him come to terms with his early fame and his complex relationship with his parents. Still, he was never particularly sentimental about his father’s books, and he sold his share of the proceeds to establish a trust fund for the care of his daughter.
Christopher Robin finds a loving home for Pooh
Although Christopher Robin may have resented becoming a famous little boy, he eventually realized that the stories he inspired meant so much to so many people. Because of this, he donated five of his most well-known toys to the New York Public Library in 1987 so that fans could enjoy them. The plush toys of Pooh, Kanga, Tigger, Piglet, and Eeyore are a part of the library’s permanent collection and are kept in a climate-controlled case in the children’s area, in front of a backdrop of the Hundred Acre Wood.
A movie about the real Christopher Robin
In 2017, the movie Goodbye, Christopher Robin shocked many filmgoers, as it explored the complex relationship between Christopher Robin and his father. That was the first time many people realized that Christopher Robin resented the success of the stories based on his childhood. However, like nearly all movies based on true stories, several facts were changed to fit the narrative of the film. Keep in mind that this 2017 Fox Searchlight film shouldn’t be confused with the 2018 Disney movie Christopher Robin, starring Ewan McGregor, which whimsically explores what happened when the fictional Christopher Robin grew up. Looking for more kid-friendly flicks? Try these 25 best cartoon movies for family movie night.
The legend lives on
Winnie the Pooh continues to capture the public’s imagination, and according to the Los Angeles Times, Pooh is a $1-billion-a-year industry! This fictional bear even has a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. For another behind-the-scenes story of a Disney classic, learn what author P.L. Travers really thought of Disney’s Mary Poppins film.