Paddling Down the Old Milne Stream
When I was a freshman in college, I took a 2-D design course. I loved it. One of our projects involved taking some bit of literature and using it in graphic form. It could a little book, a poster, whatever we liked. Our professor had us line up our projects at the front of the room for critiquing.
I suspect that I might have used one of my own poems. I was young and foolish and still wrote lots of poems; because I’m no longer young, I write less poetry these days. Another class member put up a little book, with water-colored illustrations. The text went:
“The more it
The more it
The more it
How cold my
How cold my
I had never heard—or read—such twaddle in my entire life. However, I held my revulsion in check.
The classmate who was responsible for this outrage was shy and beautiful, with sky-blue eyes and straight blonde hair that flowed to her waist. I might have been young and foolish, but not sufficiently foolish to casually alienate the entirely-imaginary affections of extraordinarily beautiful people. And she was beautiful enough for me to use four freaking adverbs in one sentence.
But I digress.
It was the first time I’d ever heard of A.A. Milne. I hoped it would be the last. Of course, I did encounter his work, from time to time, over the years, and some of it—the mystery stories—was easier to swallow.
But I also found this little quote: “Almost anyone can be an author; the business is to collect money and fame from this state of being.” Since 99.44% of writers make little or no money from their work—and, while unpaid, receive even less fame—Milne’s words might seem like rubbing salt in the open wounds of the rest of us. Fortunately, a few writers of the .56%-class were offended by the man and his work—and took him to task for it.
Most famously, Dorothy Parker wrote a review of The House on Pooh Corner for The New Yorker in 1928. She opened with the same quote that I’d encountered in 2-D. Then she added a bit more:
“ ‘That’s a very good idea, Piglet,’ said Pooh. ‘We’ll practise it now as we go along. But it’s no good going home to practise it, because it’s a special Outdoor Song which Has To Be Sung In The Snow.’
“ ‘Are you sure?’ asked Piglet anxiously.
“ ‘Well, you’ll see, Piglet, when you listen. Because this is how it begins. The more it snows, tiddely-pom…’
“ ‘Tiddely what?’ said Piglet.”
Miss Parker wrote, “He took, as you might say, the very words out of your correspondent’s mouth.” When she finished choking on them, she continued quoting:
“ ‘Pom,’ said Pooh. ‘I put that in to make it more hummy.’ ”
It was too much for her. She snapped, “And it is that word ‘hummy,’ my darlings, that marks the first place in ‘The House at Pooh Corner’ at which Tonstant Weader Fwowed up.”
Parker was not the only .56%er to take issue with Milne’s poisonously-saccharine writing. P.G. Wodehouse—who had other reasons for his feud with Milne—lampooned him in The Mating Season (one of the Jeeves and Bertie books). If you’re familiar with the books, you know that their plots usually involve the faithful (and brainy) Jeeves rescuing Bertram Wooster from some odious situation. Bertie has a horror of public speaking but—in The Mating Season—he gets roped into it anyway. Bertie's forlorn complaint gives Wodehouse a chance to skewer his own rival:
It is unnerving to know that in a couple of days you will be up on a platform in a village hall telling an audience, probably well provided with vegetables, that Christopher Robin goes hoppity-hoppity-hop. Indeed, a fellow who comes on a platform and starts reciting about Christopher Robin going hoppity-hoppity-hop (or alternately saying his prayers) does not do so from sheer wantonness but because he is a helpless victim beyond his control […] While an audience at a village concert justifiably resents having Christopher Robin poems recited at it, its resentment becomes heightened if the reciter merely stands there opening and shutting his mouth in silence like a goldfish.
Why, you are probably asking yourself, all this ranny-gazoo about Milne? The man’s been dead for nearly seventy years.
Being a lifelong member of the 99.44%, I naturally resent being tiddely-pommed by the likes of A.A. Milne. And, since today is his birthday, I’m taking my shot at spoiling his party.
I haven’t decided what rewards will go to paying subscribers, in the future. For now, if you become a paying subscriber, I’ll send a complete copy of my latest novella. Would that be of any interest to you? I’m open to suggestions…
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