The Pre-History of The Unwritten

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On the eve of the release of The Unwritten #3, Mike Carey shares a special post with Broken Frontier on how he and Peter Gross concocted their new Vertigo hit series.

One of the most important moments in the pre-history of The Unwritten was when I read an obituary for Christopher Milne in one of the British broadsheets, back in the mid-90s when he died.  The obituary described Milne as having “survived a remarkable childhood” – an odd choice of verb, I thought – and then quoted the most disturbing and arresting sentence from Milne’s autobiography: "It seemed to me almost that my father had got to where he was by climbing upon my infant shoulders, that he had filched from me my good name and had left me with the empty fame of being his son."  I had to know more – and the best place to go seemed to be that autobiography, The Enchanted Places.

Milne, of course, is famous as Christopher Robin, the little boy whose best friend in all the world is Winnie the Pooh, and whose exploits were immortalised by his father in two collections of short stories and two of verses and pictures.  But the story that the adult Christopher Milne tells about his childhood is very different from this charming little idyll – and all the more disturbing for the stark contrast.

Like many middle class boys of his generation, Milne was sent to boarding school – in his case, the Stowe school in Buckinghamshire, maybe an hour’s drive from where I live.  There he was taunted and tormented by older and bigger kids who would often recite the poems from the Winnie the Pooh books as they abused him.  “Hush, hush, whisper who dares.  Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.”  Small wonder that when the boy became a man he was a life-long and dedicated atheist.  He came to see the Pooh books as a millstone around his neck, tying him whether he liked it or not to his father’s genius and his father’s definition of him.  He spent much of his life avoiding that automatic association and trying to create his own definition, his own identity – only to find, when he wrote his autobiography, that it was read avidly by fans of his father’s work whose only interest was in seeing the writer of Pooh through a child’s eyes.

So yeah.  Flash forward to 2007.  I’m just back from San Diego Comicon, and Peter and I are putting our heads together trying to come up with a starting point for a Vertigo pitch.  We had all sorts of ideas, to be honest, but they were all of them at that formless stage where they don’t really contain any sense of a narrative.

It was Peter, not me, who came up with the idea of writing a story about the real and fictional lives of the same person – the son or daughter of a famous creator, immortalised but also maybe distorted in their work.  “Oh yeah,” I said, “like Christopher Robin Milne.”  And I think we both saw Tom Taylor in our mind’s eye at the same time.  There was a moment’s silence, then we both started to talk at the same time.  “Suppose we…”

Tom isn’t Christopher Robin, and Wilson Taylor – Tom’s forbidding and mostly absentee father – isn’t A.A.Milne, who by all accounts (although not at all good with children) was a gentle and thoughtful man.  But the Winnie the Pooh books, and the way in which they glanced off Christopher Milne’s reality and bent it out of shape in passing, are one of the things that stayed in the back of our minds as we were turning our initial ideas into a story.

For more behind the scenes info on The Unwritten, check The Unwritten blog by Mike Carey and Peter Gross.

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  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Jul 7, 2009 at 3:01pm

    Fascinating piece. Love little snippets like this that give us insights into the creative process.

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