Happy Half Hours by A.A. Milne

I’ve often thought how frustrating it must be for an author to have been prolific during their writing career, and yet only ever remembered for one particular work. A.A. Milne is a case in point; most casual readers would only know his Winnie the Pooh tales, which are of course quite marvellous. However, they’re not the end of the story when it comes to Milne; he was a prolific and well-known author of plays, poetry, novels and screenplays before Pooh Bear came along and eclipsed everything else.

Because of this, many of his non-Pooh works were unavailable for years, and in fact one delight has been the reissue of some of his novels and short stories – I’ve read and loved “The Red House Mystery” and “Four Days’ Wonder” for example in recent years. However, Milne really *was* prolific and many of his short pieces haven’t seen the light of day for ages. However, rather wonderfully, Notting Hill Editions have just released a beautiful edition of selected writings, entitled “Happy Half-Hours” – and what a joy it is! 😀

Every now and then doctors slap me about and ask me if I was always as thin as this. ‘As thin as what?’ I say with as much dignity as is possible to a man who has had his shirt taking away from him. ‘As thin as this,’ says the doctor, hooking his stethoscope on to one of my ribs, and then going round the other side to see how I am getting on there. I am slightly better on the other side, but he runs his pencil up and down me and produces that pleasing noise which small boys get by dragging a stick along railings.

Milne wrote many pieces for magazines like Punch; light and witty articles on any subject from love and marriage to the joys of golf. Many of those works are included here, and the book is divided into sections with titles like “Literary Life”, “Home Life”, “Public Life” etc. In fact, the first piece in the book “My Library” will resonate with anyone who ever despairs of getting their collection of books into a sensible order; in the end Milne seems to advocate leaving them just as they are!

Art is not life, but an exaggeration of it; life reinforced by the personality of the artist. A work of art is literally “too good to be true.” That is why we shall never see Turner’s sunsets in this world, nor meet Mr Micawber. We only wish we could.

Milne’s pieces on the literary world are a great joy, and his take on married life a hoot – whether as the eternal wedding guest, or struggling with domestic crises like a bath that refuses to fill and empty in a sensible time, Milne can make you laugh at anything. “Heavy Work” was very funny, with the rueful Milne being told off by his doctor for being so skinny and then attempting to put on weight….And “Geographical Research” dismisses quite wonderfully the need to learn geography at all (which would suit me, as I never could the hang of east and west…) Instead, everyone should simply be provided with an efficient atlas!

International politics is a morass of treachery, theft, broken promises, lies, evasions, bluff, trickiness, bullying, deliberate misunderstanding and shabby attempts to get an opponent into a false position.

However, there is a serious side to Milne on display here, which might be a bit of surprise to some. Having served in World War 1 he became, like many survivors of that conflict, a strong pacifist; and the section of the book entitled “Peaceful Life” contains some powerful pieces arguing against war, with which I couldn’t help but agree. Milne is not an author you’d initially think of turning to for thoughts on war and peace, yet he obviously felt passionately about this; and although I disagreed with some of his later views on the efficacy of the atomic bomb as a deterrent, nevertheless it’s quite clear his beliefs came from the heart.

These Notting Hill Editions books are *so* beautifully produced!

Reading these wonderful writings by A.A. Milne, I couldn’t help sharing some of Christopher Robin’s dismay at the popularity of the Winnie the Pooh books (although for very different reasons…). Milne senior was a really marvellous, punchy and entertaining author – and I’ve loved his adult fictions too – so it’s such a shame that the breadth of his writing hasn’t had appreciation it deserves. Witty, eloquent and profound, these selected writings of A.A. Milne are a sheer delight, and hopefully this is a wonderful release from Notting Hill Editions will bring him to a wider audience – highly recommended!