Pooh Returns After 80-year Absence, But Was the Wait Worth It?
I've been a Winnie-the-Pooh fan since my mother read the books, Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, aloud to us when we were kids growing up in England. Our family went through several copies of both books and, when I moved out of the family nest the Pooh books were two of the first additions to my own bookcase. I'm still hooked on Winnie. Right now, I'm listening to a marveilous audio adaptation on my iPhone with Stephen Fry as Winnie-the-Pooh, Judi Dench as the narrator and Geoffrey Palmer as Eeyore.
So when I heard last month that the A.A. Milne estate had authorized a sequel by journlist and children's author David Benedictus, I was of two minds. I was excited - new Pooh stories after all these years (I don't count the Disney versions)! But I was also a bit nervous. Would they be any good? Or would they be as saccharine as the Disney cartoons? Sequels are tricky things. Too much like the original and there's no reason to read them; too unlike the original and the devotees will complain. Some years ago, William Horwood wrote a series of sequels to The Wind in the Willows -- the first one succeeded because it included the original characters in new, but similar, adventures. The later ones were less successful because they introduced a new generation of characters -- shattering the illusion of timelessness that was an essential characteristic of The Wind in the Willows.
And what of the Pooh sequel? I'm sorry to say that Return to the 100-Acre Wood was not worth the 80 year wait since we said goodbye to Pooh, Piglet, Christopher Robin and the others at the edge of the Enchanted Forest. Benedictus's writing style is a good pastiche of Milne and Mark Burgess's illustrations are similar in style to E.H. Shepard, but the stories lack the spark of the originals. In fact, they are dull. Would your children find enthralling stories about a spelling bee, about starting a school, about a cricket game, or about Owl writing a biography of his Uncle Robert?
The original stories had an edge to them -- a hint of danger enough to titillate without terrifying a small child. There were heffalumps and wild woozles, floods and housewrecks. All ended well of course, but there was some excitement along the way. There's no such excitement in The Return to the 100-Acre Wood. I can't see these new tales appealing to a child today, especially a child exposed to the variety of media available today.
Another issue I have with the new book is the focus. The originals succeeded in large part because they were mostly about Pooh. Maybe because he wanted to be fair, Benedictus has tales about Rabbit (folding tablecloths no less), Owl, Kanga and a new character named Lottie the Otter. Pooh and Piglet get short shrift unfortunately.
My advice: reread the originals and skip the sequel. The stories can take multiple readings, though you might need to replace a worn-out book or two, as my mother had to do.