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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Once Upon a Time, by A.A. Milne

A breath of fresh air. Finishing this book was like a breath of fresh air. There is usually a reason why some author's works disappear into the black hole of the literary world. Winnie the Pooh this is not. A timeless classic this is not. An interesting anecdote in the history of A.A. Milne it most certainly is. That is all, unfortunately.

I was really excited to find a copy of Once Upon a Time at a local used bookstore. I'd never heard of it before and finding unheard of books by well-known authors is always a fun treat. This book is no exception to that rule. Published originally in 1917 (before Pooh appeared in 1926) it faded much more quickly into literary history. As far as I can tell, the last time an American publisher laid laid claim to this book was in 1962. (See the picture of the Pepto Bismol colored cover up top? Yup, that's the one!)

Milne wrote this book as a fairytale for him and his wife to enjoy and it definitely reads as such. It reads like a story that is being related by the author to someone who knows him and his thoughts quite well, thus removing any obligation to go into detailed explanation on any subject whatsoever. It's like a big inside joke in some ways. In other ways it's like a Danny Kaye movie that you'd watch really late at night with only your best friend - the requirement being that neither of you had slept in 24 hours. Under those circumstances, this is a really funny book. You have to determine to be amused. If you determine it though, the chances of you being so are highly increased. If not, well, then, it's just a dud of a book and you are free to move on.

In the introduction to this book Milne writes "For whom, then, is this book intended? That is the trouble. Unless I can say, 'For those, young or old, who like the things which I like,' I find it difficult to answer." And so do I.

It is the story of two kings who are completely inept at ruling their kingdoms, let alone putting together one coherent thought, who go to war over a silly offense between them. No wait! It is the story of Princess Hyacinth who is left behind to rule the kingdom after her father goes to war and has her own battle to fight against the Countess Belvane, the budding but uninspired poetess, who attempts to take over the kingdom in the king's absence. No wait! It's the story of the arrogant Prince Udo who comes to rescue the princess only to be sidetracked in his efforts by the flirtatious Countess Belvane and ends up doing nothing substantial. It's a story about all of that, somehow, pieced together in a quirky sort of way. Great one-liners sometimes but pathetic dialogue on the whole.

This book could very well be your thing, especially if you like Danny Kaye and are prone to hysterical fits during late night sessions with your best girlfriends. As for me, I sighed with relief on page 234 when Milne wrote:

"Indeed, I think there has been enough eating and drinking in this book already. Quite enough of everything in fact; but the time has nearly come to say goodbye."


I couldn't agree more.

The best of Milne has been preserved and heralded in a proper manner. This particular work was properly left behind.

3 comments:

DebD said...

Wow, you finished it? Kudos to you! I've been having a hard time finishing books I'm not particularly enjoying. There's just so many other choices out there to move onto.

I love A.A. Milne, but I'm not sure I'd like this one either. From your descriptions it seems a bit pointless.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

I read this book in the mid 1970s, and I thought it was delightful. I only wish I had my own copy!

Perhaps you'd prefer Milne's Four Days' Wonder, another of his adult books. It's sort of a mystery cum romance. Or romance cum mystery. Our whole family read it aloud together and found it to be hysterically funny.

suetortoise said...

I used to have this book read to me by my father when I was very young, and to read it myself when I was just a little older, and I loved it. I loved the pictures and the Countess's writing in coloured ink and irregular spelling, and the author's fun with words. I don't know what happened to the copy we had, but I still have a few memories. Not of the plot, just little phrases and some of the illustrations. Thanks for reviving those memories. perhaps you need to read it at six or seven for the magic to work, and then lose it forever.

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