word craft


Goodbye Christopher Robin

Goodbye Christopher Robin

I recent­ly watched (on TV) Good­bye Christo­pher Robin, which tells the life sto­ry of the boy so key to Win­nie-the-Pooh, by A.A. Milne. Accord­ing to the movie, Pooh is the “most loved children’s book of all time.”

The depict­ed sto­ry of the boy’s life is a painful one. A.A. Milne, (Christopher’s father) played by Domh­nall Gleeso, was a vet­er­an of World War One, and suf­fered from PTSD syn­drome, which caused him—a very suc­cess­ful West End playwright—to suf­fer debil­i­tat­ing war-induced flashbacks—to have a repressed emo­tion­al life—and a hard time being an engaged father.

Christopher’s moth­er (played by Mar­got Rob­bie) is depict­ed as self­ish, exploita­tive of her son’s fame, and a snob­bish upper-class lady.

The most con­sis­tent love in Christopher’s life comes from his Irish nan­ny (played by Kel­ly Macdonald)—who is dis­missed when she objects to the way Christo­pher is mistreated.

The very young Christo­pher Robin is played, charm­ing­ly, by Will Tilston.

The movie sug­gests that the Pooh sto­ries came to life when Christo­pher and his father enjoy a rare time alone togeth­er in rur­al Eng­land. Moth­er has left for Lon­don to enjoy the high life, while the nan­ny has gone away to take care of her dying moth­er. In oth­er words, get rid of the women, and cre­ativ­i­ty happens.

But the essen­tial sto­ry revealed here is the deep resent­ment Christo­pher felt as to how he was exploit­ed, and cheat­ed of parental love. As depict­ed, he spent much of his young adult life try­ing to get away from his lit­er­ary persona.

What does the film tell us about Win­nie-the-Pooh? Very lit­tle except to sug­gest how some of the book’s charm­ing points came from some of the rare moments when father and son enjoyed time together.

a scene from Goodbye Christopher Robin
Scene from Good­bye Christo­pher Robin [Fox Searchlight]

What does the film tell us about children’s lit­er­a­ture, or the writ­ing life? Nothing.

What does the film tell us about ear­ly 20th Cen­tu­ry British par­ent­ing? That it was pret­ty pathetic.

At the end of the movie we are told (via sub­ti­tles) that Christo­pher refused to take a pen­ny of the mas­sive mon­ey engen­dered by Pooh, that he always remained in con­tact with his for­mer nan­ny, and that he cre­at­ed and ran a bookstore.

I liked that part.

But it also sug­gests that a book—however depen­dent on the real­i­ties of an author’s life—that life has lit­tle to do with how read­ers enjoy it. It is fas­ci­nat­ing to think how lit­tle a writer has to do with the pub­lished book once it is the hands of readers.

Indeed, when it comes to books, it’s the read­ers who mat­ter most.

4 thoughts on “<em>Goodbye Christopher Robin</em>”

  1. A rather sad movie, it seems. I haven’t seen it yet. I always hope that the writ­ers of beau­ti­ful, hon­or­able chil­dren’s book are also beau­ti­ful of soul and hon­or­able. Sad­ly, too often I have found it not so…still there are some who write as they are.

  2. Dear Avi,
    I’ve read your books since I was a lit­tle girl in ele­men­tary, just learn­ing about what the world was and how to read. I’d like to say that I deeply appre­ci­ate all that you’ve writ­ten, that it’s helped shape who I am today, and that I will always car­ry your words around with me. I hope you don’t mind too much, for I think they are good words and I val­ue them. Thank you for being here for so many peo­ple, includ­ing me.

  3. I enjoyed the movie, gave me time to pause. Your com­ments have also giv­en me time to reflect, Avi. Thank you.

  4. I love your wise analy­sis and con­clu­sion. Books live in read­ers’ minds. With­out writ­ers, this can’t hap­pen. Louise Rosen­blatt so wise­ly talked about this. A writer writes from their own voice and luck­i­ly sends it out into the world. Thank you, writers!


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