Alan Alexander Milne (January 18, 1882–January 31, 1956) created Winnie-the-Pooh. The bear first appeared in a 1924 issue of Punch magazine, the organ A. A. Milne edited, in the poem Teddy Bear. You can read it in Milne’s When We Were Very Young, a collection of poems illustrated by Punch artist E. H. Shepard – drawings are based on a teddy bear named Growler, which belonged to his son Graham.
Pooh first appeared in the London Evening News on Christmas Eve 1925 in a story called The Wrong Sort of Bees.
Had Milne intended to write for children? Does any good writer write for children? As Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are – 1963), stated:
“I do not believe that I have ever written a children’s book. I don’t write for children. I write — and somebody says, ‘That’s for children!’
Milne considered the position of children’s writer in his Autobiography:
The practice of no form of writing demands such a height of technical perfection as the writing of light verse. . . When We Were Very Young is not the work of a poet becoming playful, nor of a lover of children expressing his love, nor of a prose-writer knocking together a few jingles for the little ones, it is the work of a light-verse writer taking his job seriously even though he is taking it into the nursery”
In real life, Milne had given his son, Christopher Robin (21 August 1920 – 20 April 1996), a toy bear as a first birthday present on August 21, 1921. By way of a London Zoo bear from Winnipeg named Winnie and a swan named Pooh, that bear became Winnie the Pooh.
Soldier and trained vet, Captain Harry Colebourn bought Winnie when she was a bear cub, and he was en route to fight in the First World War. He had enlisted to look after the cavalry units and named her Winnipeg after his home city in Manitoba, Canada.
Cpt Colebourn’s regiment travelled to Europe at the beginning of the war and he brought Winnie as their mascot while they trained on the Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. When the regiment was deployed to fight in France in 1914, he left Winnie at London Zoo.
When Winnie died in May 1934, her skull was donated to dental surgeon Sir James Frank Colyer the then curator of the Odontological Museum, which was part of the RCS collections. It’s on display at the Hunterian Museum.
A little macabre? Well, yes. It’s not every day you see Winnie’s skull, a bear of very little brain.
“When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it” – A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh.
But a skull? Neil Gaiman wonders about fear:
“In order for stories to work — for kids and for adults — they should scare. And you should triumph. There’s no point in triumphing over evil if the evil isn’t scary.”
They’re putting the boo in Pooh.