New Pooh: 27 million reasons why
In 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.
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.
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.