A new biography about Christopher Milne – the inspiration for Winnie the Pooh’s friend Christopher Robin – reveals a troubled man eager to escape the suffocating environs of Hundred Acre Wood, as Jill Parkin reveals

Imagine yourself lost in a hilly woodland, knowing that also on the loose in the same spot were a paranoiac, a depressive, an obsessive eater, an aggressive perfectionist and an unpredictable mood-swinger. You may well be out of there rather fast.

Yet how else could we describe the characters so many of us happily spent childhood hours with in the Hundred Acre Wood? Many psychologists have had a field day with them. Or are they wrong, and are Piglet, Eeyore, Pooh, Rabbit and Tigger just cuddly toys? As with so much in the life of Christopher Milne, otherwise known as Christopher Robin, it depends on how you look at it.

There’s the little boy whose mother wanted a girl, whose father entered the mind of a child when he wrote, but hardly seemed to understand his own son. That father breathed charming life into battered toys, though he was himself battered by the trenches, jumpy and rather withdrawn for the rest of his life.

And at the heart of all these distorting mirrors is Christopher Robin saying his prayers at the foot of his bed and growing into a non-believer who was alienated from his father, the Winnie-the-Pooh author Alan Milne (better known as AA Milne), and visited his widowed mother Dorothy just once in 15 years.

Cotchford Farm, his childhood home on Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, was similarly left in the cold quarter of his memory, never visited after his father’s death. It is Cotchford to which Kevin J Last, author of Remembering Christopher Robin, keeps returning. He wrote an earlier book about the Young farming family, who lived there in the 19th century, and he hopes to bring out another, about the Rolling Stone Brian Jones, who died there in the 20th.

Last has combed Christopher Milne’s autobiographies for nuggets that allow him to philosophise and expatiate upon the world, and he cuts and pastes from Milne rather too often. The book would also have benefitted from tighter proof-reading. Still, the story of the boy and his bear draws our attention as adults, just as it did when we were children.

The underexplored character stalking the Wood, though, is AA Milne. He came from the Somme via the propaganda-writing desks of MI7 to his Galleon’s Leap, which he peopled with those soft toys and their troubled minds. It’s only Owl who seems really content. And he, as the book points out, has memory loss.

Christopher Milne, who died in 1996, was ambivalent about his family and his upbringing, choosing to set up a bookshop in the West Country to escape those characters roaming the Hundred Acre Wood and perhaps still roaming his head, yet writing two autobiographies and other memoirs. Perhaps he could never resolve it – that question of whether he was loved or exploited. Or both.

Remembering Christopher Robin: Escaping Winnie the Pooh by Kevin J Last is published by Unicorn at £30.

Great British Life: Remembering Christopher RobinRemembering Christopher Robin (Image: Unicorn)