Once on a Time
Category: Children
Level 4.67 5:48 h
Once on a Time is a fairy tale by A.A. Milne. The story tells the story of two warring kingdoms. In one of the kingdoms, Euralia, things get out of hand while the king is away. Milne stated he wrote the book for the amusement of his family and is uncertain if others will enjoy it. Read this odd book published in 1917 by the English writer.

Once on a Time

A. A. Milne

Once on a Time


This book was written in 1915, for the amusement of my wife and myself at a time when life was not very amusing; it was published at the end of 1917; was reviewed, if at all, as one of a parcel, by some brisk uncle from the Tiny Tots Department; and died quietly, without seriously detracting from the interest which was being taken in the World War, then in progress.

It may be that the circumstances in which the book was written have made me unduly fond of it. When, as sometimes happens, I am introduced to a stranger who starts the conversation on the right lines by praising, however insincerely, my books, I always say, “But you have not read the best one.” Nine times out of ten it is so. The tenth takes a place in the family calendar; St. Michael or St. Agatha, as the case may be, a red-letter or black-letter saint, according to whether the book was bought or borrowed. But there are few such saints, and both my publisher and I have the feeling (so common to publishers and authors) that there ought to be more. So here comes the book again, in a new dress, with new decorations, yet much, as far as I am concerned, the same book, making the same appeal to me; but, let us hope, a new appeal, this time, to others.

For whom, then, is the 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. Is it a children’s book? Well, what do we mean by that? Is The Wind in the Willows a children’s book? Is Alice in Wonderland? Is Treasure Island? These are masterpieces which we read with pleasure as children, but with how much more pleasure when we are grown-up. In any case what do we mean by “children”? A boy of three, a girl of six, a boy of ten, a girl of fourteen — are they all to like the same thing? And is a book “suitable for a boy of twelve” any more likely to please a boy of twelve than a modern novel is likely to please a man of thirty-seven; even if the novel be described truly as “suitable for a man of thirty-seven”? I confess that I cannot grapple with these difficult problems.

But I am very sure of this: that no one can write a book which children will like, unless he write it for himself first. That being so, I shall say boldly that this is a story for grown-ups. How grown-up I did not realise until I received a letter from an unknown reader a few weeks after its first publication; a letter which said that he was delighted with my clever satires of the Kaiser, Mr. Lloyd George and Mr. Asquith, but he could not be sure which of the characters were meant to be Mr. Winston Churchill and Mr. Bonar Law. Would I tell him on the enclosed postcard? I replied that they were thinly disguised on the title-page as Messrs. Hodder & Stoughton. In fact, it is not that sort of book.

But, as you see, I am still finding it difficult to explain just what sort of book it is. Perhaps no explanation is necessary. Read in it what you like; read it to whomever you like; be of what age you like; it can only fall into one of two classes. Either you will enjoy it, or you won’t.

It is that sort of book.
A. A. Milne.

Once on a Time

A map of EuraliaA map of Euralia

Chapter I.
The King of Euralia Has a Visitor to Breakfast

King Merriwig of Euralia sat at breakfast on his castle walls. He lifted the gold cover from the gold dish in front of him, selected a trout and conveyed it carefully to his gold plate. He was a man of simple tastes, but when you have an aunt with the newly acquired gift of turning anything she touches to gold, you must let her practise sometimes. In another age it might have been fretwork.

“Ah,” said the King, “here you are, my dear.” He searched for his napkin, but the Princess had already kissed him lightly on the top of the head, and was sitting in her place opposite to him.

“Good morning, Father,” she said; “I’m a little late, aren’t I? I’ve been riding in the forest.”

“Any adventures?” asked the King casually.

“Nothing, except it’s a beautiful morning.”

“Ah, well, perhaps the country isn’t what it was. Now when I was a young man, you simply couldn’t go into the forest without an adventure of some sort. The extraordinary things one encountered! Witches, giants, dwarfs — . It was there that I first met your mother,” he added thoughtfully.

“I wish I remembered my mother,” said Hyacinth.

The King coughed and looked at her a little nervously.

“Seventeen years ago she died, Hyacinth, when you were only six months old. I have been wondering lately whether I haven’t been a little remiss in leaving you motherless so long.”

The Princess looked puzzled. “But it wasn’t your fault, dear, that mother died.”

“Oh, no, no, I’m not saying that. As you know, a dragon carried her off and — well, there it was. But supposing” — he looked at her shyly — “I had married again.”

The Princess was startled.

“Who?” she asked.

The King peered into his flagon. “Well,” he said, “there are people.”

“If it had been somebody very nice,” said the Princess wistfully, “it might have been rather lovely.”

The King gazed earnestly at the outside of his flagon.

“Why ‘might have been?’” he said.

The Princess was still puzzled. “But I’m grown up,” she said; “I don’t want a mother so much now.”

The King turned his flagon round and studied the other side of it.

“A mother’s — er — tender hand,” he said, “is — er — never — ” and then the outrageous thing happened.

It was all because of a birthday present to the King of Barodia, and the present was nothing less than a pair of seven-league boots. The King being a busy man, it was a week or more before he had an opportunity of trying those boots. Meanwhile he used to talk about them at meals, and he would polish them up every night before he went to bed. When the great day came for the first trial of them to be made, he took a patronising farewell of his wife and family, ignored the many eager noses pressed against the upper windows of the Palace, and sailed off. The motion, as perhaps you know, is a little disquieting at first, but one soon gets used to it. After that it is fascinating. He had gone some two thousand miles before he realised that there might be a difficulty about finding his way back. The difficulty proved at least as great as he had anticipated. For the rest of that day he toured backwards and forwards across the country; and it was by the merest accident that a very angry King shot in through an open pantry window in the early hours of the morning. He removed his boots and went softly to bed….

It was, of course, a lesson to him. He decided that in the future he must proceed by a recognised route, sailing lightly from landmark to landmark. Such a route his Geographers prepared for him — an early morning constitutional, of three hundred miles or so, to be taken ten times before breakfast. He gave himself a week in which to recover his nerve and then started out on the first of them.

“Most extraordinary,” said the King“Most extraordinary,” said the King

Once on a Time

Now the Kingdom of Euralia adjoined that of Barodia, but whereas Barodia was a flat country, Euralia was a land of hills. It was natural then that the Court Geographers, in search of landmarks, should have looked towards Euralia; and over Euralia accordingly, about the time when cottage and castle alike were breakfasting, the King of Barodia soared and dipped and soared and dipped again.

“A mother’s tender hand,” said the King of Euralia, “is — er — never — good gracious! What’s that?”

There was a sudden rush of air; something came for a moment between his Majesty and the sun; and then all was quiet again.

“What was it?” asked Hyacinth, slightly alarmed.

“Most extraordinary,” said the King. “It left in my mind an impression of ginger whiskers and large boots. Do we know anybody like that?”

“The King of Barodia,” said Hyacinth, “has red whiskers, but I don’t know about his boots.”

“But what could he have been doing up there? Unless — ”

There was another rush of wind in the opposite direction; once more the sun was obscured, and this time, plain for a moment for all to see, appeared the rapidly dwindling back view of the King of Barodia on his way home to breakfast.

Merriwig rose with dignity.

“You’re quite right, Hyacinth,” he said sternly; “it was the King of Barodia.”

Hyacinth looked troubled.

“He oughtn’t to come over anybody’s breakfast table quite so quickly as that. Ought he, Father?”

“A lamentable display of manners, my dear. I shall withdraw now and compose a stiff note to him. The amenities must be observed.”

Looking as severe as a naturally jovial face would permit him, and wondering a little if he had pronounced “amenities” right, he strode to the library.

The library was his Majesty’s favourite apartment. Here in the mornings he would discuss affairs of state with his Chancellor, or receive any distinguished visitors who were to come to his kingdom in search of adventure. Here in the afternoon, with a copy of What to say to a Wizard or some such book taken at random from the shelves, he would give himself up to meditation.

And it was the distinguished visitors of the morning who gave him most to think about in the afternoon. There were at this moment no fewer than seven different Princes engaged upon seven different enterprises, to whom, in the event of a successful conclusion, he had promised the hand of Hyacinth and half his kingdom. No wonder he felt that she needed the guiding hand of a mother.

The stiff note to Barodia was not destined to be written. He was still hesitating between two different kinds of nib, when the door was flung open and the fateful name of the Countess Belvane was announced.

The Countess Belvane! What can I say which will bring home to you that wonderful, terrible, fascinating woman? Mastered as she was by overweening ambition, utterly unscrupulous in her methods of achieving her purpose, none the less her adorable humanity betrayed itself in a passion for diary-keeping and a devotion to the simpler forms of lyrical verse. That she is the villain of the piece I know well; in his Euralia Past and Present the eminent historian, Roger Scurvilegs, does not spare her; but that she had her great qualities I should be the last to deny.

She had been writing poetry that morning, and she wore green. She always wore green when the Muse was upon her: a pleasing habit which, whether as a warning or an inspiration, modern poets might do well to imitate. She carried an enormous diary under her arm; and in her mind several alternative ways of putting down her reflections on her way to the Palace.

“Good morning, dear Countess,” said the King, rising only too gladly from his nibs; “an early visit.”

“You don’t mind, your Majesty?” said the Countess anxiously. “There was a point in our conversation yesterday about which I was not quite certain — ”

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