By Brad Dison
Writers can sometimes feel as if they are cursed by their own creation. Such was the case with Alan Alexander.
Alan was born in 1882 and raised in London, England. He was taught at a school which was run by his father. Alan excelled in school, especially math, possibly because he was under the watchful eye of his father. He continued his education at Trinity College, Cambridge on a mathematics scholarship. During his tenure at Cambridge, he edited and wrote smart and witty articles for a student magazine called The Granta. In 1903, Alan earned a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics. Rather than following the career in mathematics that he had assumed would be his path in life, Alan moved to London to try his hand at freelance writing. In 1906, his writing caught the attention of the editor of Punch magazine, the leading British humor magazine, who hired Alan to write humorous verses and essays.
Alan thrived as a writer and was happy. In 1913, he married Dorothy “Daphne” de Sélincourt. He eventually became assistant editor of Punch magazine. His future seemed assured, but World War I changed the trajectory of his career. In 1915, Alan, exchanged his pen for a rifle when, although a pacifist, he volunteered for military service.” In the following year, Alan was injured in the Battle of the Somme and shipped back to England to convalesce. When he had recovered enough to write, he was recruited to write propaganda articles for MI7, a secret military intelligence organization.
After the war, Alan returned to London where he assumed he would resume his old job at Punch magazine. When the magazine failed to rehire him, Alan turned to playwriting. Following the December 1918 opening of his play entitled “Make-Believe,” one critic wrote that it was, “very popular entertainment.” His other plays, including The Dover Road, Mr. Pim Passes By, and Michael and Mary, were also successful. Alan’s reputation as a write grew with his well-received detective/mystery novel The Red House Mystery.
Agents and publishing companies tried to steer Alan in directions that would suit their needs rather than his, but Alan was determined to write whatever he pleased, whenever he pleased. Luckily, Alan’s writing continued to attract an accepting audience.
In 1920, to their delight, Alan and Daphne had a son they nicknamed Billy Moon. All throughout his childhood, Alan created stories to amuse Billy Moon. The central character in the story was an animal named Edward. In 1924, Alan published a children’s book with Edward and Billy Moon as the central characters, which was an immediate success. He published more stories featuring the characters and they, too, were immediately successful. Alan’s children’s books were so popular that they overshadowed all of his previous work.
Most critics wrote positive reviews of Alan’s “whimsical” children’s stories. Alan detested any reference to his work as being whimsical. “If I write anything less realistic, less straightforward than ‘The cat sat on the mat,’ I am ‘whimsical.’ Indeed, if I did say that the cat sat on the mat (as well it might), I should be accused of being whimsical about cats.” Finally, Alan decided he would never again write a story based on Edward and Billy Moon.
Alan felt cursed by his own creation. The popularity of his children’s books eventually severed the bond between father and son. The rift between them had grown so large that when Alan died in 1956 at the age of 74, he left the rights to his books to four benefactors, none of which was his son, Billy Moon.
Alan would have preferred to have been remembered as a novelist or a playwright, but only the most hardcore fans can name a single work outside of his children’s books. Do you remember Edward and Billy Moon, stories which were written by Alan Alexander “A.A.” Milne? Rather than using the name Billy Moon, Alan used his son’s legal first and middle names, …Christopher Robin. He renamed Edward …Winnie the Pooh.
- The Observer (London, England), December 29, 1918, p.11.
- The Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah), October 13, 1929, p.76.
- Birmingham Post (Birmingham, England), February 1, 1956, p.16.
- The Des Moines Register (Des Moines, Iowa), February 12, 1956, p.54.