IT SEEMED TO ME ALMOST THAT MY father had got to where he was by climbing on my infant shoulders,” Christopher Robin Milne once wrote. In fact, A.A. Milne was already a successful playwright and humorist in 1924 when, during a rainy holiday in Wales, he wrote a whimsical collection of verses about his then 4-year-old son. The book, When We Were Very Young, and three later volumes—featuring the adventures of a wide-eyed child named Christopher Robin and his guileless teddy bear companion Winnie-the-Pooh—would sell millions of copies, be translated into more than 30 languages and also shadow the real Christopher Robin until his death, at 75, on April 20 in Devon, England.
Young Milne was raised in London, and as a child he once admitted that he “quite liked being Christopher Robin and being famous.” The novelty began wearing thin at boarding school, where classmates taunted him, and he became shy and started to stammer. Eventually the strains of establishing his own identity soured relations with his father. In 1948, he risked the senior Milne’s disapproval and that of his mother, Daphne, to marry his first cousin Lesley de Sélincourt, now 70. The two had one daughter, Clare, 40, who suffers from cerebral palsy.
After moving to Dartmouth, in Devon, in 1951, Milne opened a bookstore, wrote a two-volume memoir and seemed to make a posthumous peace with his father, who had died in 1956. He sold his claim to any future royalties from the Pooh books to the Royal Literary Fund for a lump sum in order to provide for his disabled daughter. Distancing himself altogether from his famous alter ego was impossible, however, and even in his later years fans of the books “would throw their arms around him and kiss him, whether he wanted it or not,” says Mike Ridley, a longtime Milne acquaintance who runs a Pooh souvenir shop in Hartfield, England. “The Christopher Robin he tried to get away from is the Christopher Robin that’s going to be remembered.”