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New Pooh: 27 million reasons why

October 2, 2009

poohcoverIn the last story of A.A. Milne’s second Winnie the Pooh book, Christopher Robin explains that he’s going away — presumably into the drab existence of adulthood. But now, 80 years later, he’s coming back, thanks to an authorized sequel.

Return to the Hundred Acre Wood, by David Benedictus with illustrations by Mark Burgess, hits bookstore shelves on Monday. The Trustees of Pooh Properties, which manages the estates of Milne and original illustrator E.H. Shepard, supervised and approved the project.

Why risk a sequel to a much-loved children’s classic? I can think of 27 million reasons. That’s how many copies of Pooh books Disney sells every year, according to USA Today. Disney purchased merchandising rights in 1961, but that did not include rights to produce new full-length sequels.

The Pooh Trust had been searching for an acceptable sequel for a long time, reports the Associated Press, despite opposition from some within the Trust.

“When I first mentioned it, there was sort of a shocked silence, and the people to whom I spoke said, ‘Ooh, you can’t do that. Oh, no no no. That wouldn’t do at all,’ ” trustee Michael Brown told the AP.

The quality of Benedictus’ first chapter silenced those objections. You can see that chapter at the London Telegraph. You can also read something called an “Exposition,” a sort of in-character introduction to the new book.

While I generally oppose the cannibalization of classic books with sequels and pastiches, authorized or not, I have to admit Benedictus seems to have gotten the tone and characters and their unique charm just right. And Burgess’ pictures evoke Shepard’s rustic originals, not the sleeker Disney version.

A.A. Milne, Christopher Robin, and the original Pooh Bear

A.A. Milne, Christopher Robin, and the original Pooh Bear

Benedictus, 71, became entranced with Milne and Pooh after producing an aclaimed 1993 audio adaptation starring Judi Dench, Steven Fry and Jane Horrocks. “All of Milne’s rhythms were buzzing round in my head,” Benedictus says.

As everyone knows, A.A. Milne wrote two books, Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) and The House at Pooh Corner (1928), featuring his son Christopher and his teddy bear. Milne died in 1956.

Alhough close to his father growing up, Christopher eventually came to resent what he thought of as the “explotation” of his childhood, which he described in a 1976 memoir, The Enchanted Places, now out of print. Still, he opened successful a bookshop, even though it meant encountering Pooh fans. He died in 1996.

Steeping himself in Milne’s books and private papers, Benedictus even hiked Ashdown Forest, the inspiration for the Hundred Acre Woods. He tried carefully to preserve Milne’s spirit in the new stories, but did not worry about failure.

“If I did it badly, it wouldn’t be like I’d destroyed the originals,” said Benedictus, according to the AP.

At least one critic thinks Benedictus and the Trust played things too safely. Philip Nel, a professor of children’s literature at Kansas State University, tells NPR that what he’s read sounds like an “imitation.”

“It’s almost like reading someone else’s memory of A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard,” says Nel. “It’s a pleasant memory, but why wouldn’t you read the original? It’s not like they’ve disappeared.”

Pooh purists will doubtless agree. And yet the real critics of Benedictus’ work won’t be literary scholars or book reviewers. If children embrace the new Pooh, it won’t matter what anyone else thinks.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. rachel permalink
    October 2, 2009 1:46 pm

    I prefer the initial response that trustee Michael Brown got: shocked silence. I’d prefer that it didn’t happen at all.

    But that being said, I think that doing something like this would be very very tricky. It’s like doing a cover of a beloved song. If the covering band does it too different, I go: ugh, the horror! And if they do it exactly the same then I cannot comprehend the use of doing it at all. It’s an extremely difficult thing to get right. For example: Wilco’s version of Daniel Johnston’s “True Love Will Find You In The End” is kind of pretty, but I don’t like it because it does not do that song justice. On the other hand Steve Earle’s Version of “I’m Looking Through You” is one of the best things I’ve ever heard. Obviously not better than The Beatles. But not worse either. Just different. And most importantly, it does do the song justice.

    • lizz permalink
      October 2, 2009 5:52 pm

      This was an interesting snipbit of the history of winnie the pooh that I did not know.

      I tend to think that this is a dangerous thing and agree with Rachel. If it is done well and taken into heart by the children the same way the original was, would the original be lost? Most people don’t even know who originally wrote “Mad World” and there is some sadness when credit is not given where it is due…

  2. Candice permalink
    October 2, 2009 8:30 pm

    If it is good, the children will like it. If they like it, who cares?

  3. October 3, 2009 6:18 am

    I Love Pooh. Really do. The problem is simple. I think that only one book for the children should be allowed. Voted on and enforced. No need for new books. New ideas. Give a child one book, and they love it. Give a child two books and they love two books. Give a child three books and the love all three. There is no need for three books. Give only one and the child will never know what they missed. The new Pooh will keep a couple hundred new children books from ever reaching the children. Only so much money and shelf space available. Is that really good?

  4. October 3, 2009 11:58 am

    I have a question. Should the new Pooh book be allowed to be entered into the new children books category in one of the book awards.?

  5. October 5, 2009 8:15 pm

    Chauncey,

    You taught me a lot I never knew about the “Pooh” legacy. Very interesting stuff.

    To me, though, the bottom line is simple. I think we’re heading, in some ways, toward functional illiteracy as a society. It seems like fewer and fewer people really read – for the sheer love of reading – these days. And it seems to me that’s the trend among younger people, as well.

    But I don’t need marketing reports to tell me that people – all people – are reading less these days.

    I tend to like originals – whether it’s literature, film, or music. But if this new book can fill a few children with the wonder of the original “Pooh,” then I think it’s a good thing. If it can spark the imagination and the excitement of even a few children, and turn them on to the quiet wonder that is reading (as opposed to electronic), then that’s a good thing.

    Interesting article, Chauncey. Thanks for putting it into perspective.

    Steve Winston
    President, WINSTON COMMUNICATIONS
    Fort Lauderdale, FL

  6. October 6, 2009 8:20 am

    I just do not know. Is it possible that people do in fact read less today because there is nothing new to read? Is it because it is all old. Is it that the new readers have nothing that is their generation. No body loves Pooh more than I? What about Tigger too. My problem may just be a huge money machine hiding behind Pooh. Nothing is wrong with that at all. It is what it is. Probably not some caring CEO about getting the children to read.

    I knew a man that made billions of dollars. When he did, and had it all saved up, he started to give money to feed the starving children around the world. He was a good man.

    I knew another man that had very little money saved up. He had been giving money to the starving children all along as he made his money. He knew the children were starving today and tomorrow. They could not wait. He was a great man. Michael John McCann 2009

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