In Praise of the New 

Louise Pfanner shares her latest discoveries.

June 2018

Gleebooks Bookshop - Monday, May 28, 2018
Goodbye Christopher Robin by Ann Thwaite is the fascinating story of how AA Milne came to write the books about his son Christopher Robin and his toys. That little boy grew up to be a man with a life of his own (he was a bookseller in fact), but his childhood remains stuck in the amber of time—and the books became a poisoned chalice for both their creator and subject.

Alan Milne was an author and a playwright before his first children’s book—he had worked at Punch, and gone to War, and was gaining a reputation as a working writer before he wrote his first collection of children’s poems which became When We Were Very Young. Looking back from this distance you can see clearly the reason for their success—they have not dated, they are fun to read aloud, and they are memorable. The fact that the author was a playwright really explains why they were such an instant and sustained success—but it doesn’t explain all of it. It was a combination of  factors—the time they were published, the place that the books were set in, the toys themselves, and of course the truly wonderful illustrations by E. H. Shepard—all contributed to their popularity. Ann Thwaite has done a good job of explaining the making of these books, but she doesn’t labour the point and try to analyse the subject to death. She wrote a biography of AA Milne (1990), and is very well versed in her subject. However she keeps her focus on the books—their creation, and their subsequent history, and it is fascinating. If you have read Christopher Milne’s memoirs you will know that he developed a complicated relationship with his father, and with his literary child self, and his road was not always an easy one. In fact AA Milne clearly felt great ambivalence towards his children’s books, and some regret for having ever written them. But this is not a tell-all book—Thwaite draws a veil over some events, and she keeps the Milne’s private lives intact. This is an engaging account of how some of the best-loved children’s books of all time (according to a recent BBC poll) came into being, and a wonderful portrait of an unlikely children’s author.

Tove Jansson, on the other hand, seemed destined to become the creator of the much-loved Moomintroll books, and a very brilliant artist as well. The child of a sculptor and an illustrator, she was born to live the life she led. She was always creative and observant, and quite early in life she created a whole other world, Moominvalley. This extraordinary place  is the subject of the comprehensive The World of Moominvalley by Philip Armagh. A very handsome book, this is a sort of guide to the world of the Moomins—there are maps, and facts, and histories and pictures, and lots and lots of pictures. There’s even an (extended) family tree of the Moomins. Philip  Ardagh has written this as a tribute to Tove Jansson, and a celebration of the world she created. It is clearly an exhaustively researched book, no stone is left unturned—because of this that I haven’t read it from cover to cover, but have really enjoyed dipping in and out of it. The World of Moominvalley is one for the legions of fans of Tove Jansson, and a good companion to her books. But like AA Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood, Moominvalley is a magical place, and it’s really best to visit by reading the original books. Louise

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