Saturday, October 24, 2009

Return to the Hundred Acre Wood

I loved A.A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh series when I was young. In fact, The House At Pooh Corner was the first full-length book I ever read. The stories of a little boy who was actually playing with his toys and woodland animals in his imagination are certainly quite charming. That led on to my reading other books, and many of the childhood classics I enjoyed so have become treasured pieces in my library.

Many of the books I've loved have had sequels written since: Peter And Wendy has been followed with the film Hook and the book Peter Pan in Scarlet, The Chronicles of Narnia were followed by an ill-fated and largely forgotten book called The Giant Surprise, goodness knows how many people have written further adventures for Alice and the Wonderland and Looking-Glass characters, and similarly, there is a countless number of further adventures in the Land of Oz written after L. Frank Baum's death. Many of these books feel like poor imitations of the initial author's style.

When I discovered that the Milne estate had authorized a new Winnie-the-Pooh book, I was interested, though put off a bit. I largely forgot about it, however. Finally, earlier this week, I found the book at a local supermarket while looking for a card. (Coincidentally, I had settled on a Pooh-themed card.) Thumbing through it, it piqued my interest. I rarely buy books off the rack (in fact, most of my books were collected through online orders), but I did this time.

I couldn't get my hopes up too high. As A.A. Milne and his son Christopher Robin Milne are dead, likely the executors of the estate could only do so much. There will never be another A.A. Milne, and though there are some impressive imitators, there will never be another E.H. Shepard.

I was surprised at the opening note, which featured the author, David Benedictus, conversing with the Pooh characters about the writing of the book, gloomy Eeyore claiming that he would not get it right.

And how did Benedictus do?

Ultimately, Eeyore was right. As I said, there will never be another A.A. Milne. While the stories were good and very fun to read, they lacked Milne's charm and the wit that flew over my head as a child but I picked up on when I was older.

That is not to say the stories are without charm, but it is completely Benedictus'. Some tones were different, for example, while death is not addressed directly in Milne, Bendictus' Owl mentions he has his Uncle Robert's ashes in a vase on his mantle, and they were scattered (and mostly recollected) when Owl's house blew over in The House At Pooh Corner.

Some of the humor was a little odd, for example, in a cricket game, when Christopher Robin explains that England and Australia have had cricket tournaments against each other, Kanga says that she and Roo will represent Australia. I didn't pick up on this a bit, then realized that of course, one of Australia's most iconic animals is the kangaroo.

Christopher Robin left the Hundred Acre Wood at the end of The House At Pooh Corner to go to school, but Return to the Hundred Acre Wood finds him returning to his friends from the original books, presumably on Summer holiday. New adventures and endeavors are had by the characters, and we meet a new character, in the tradition of Milne. (Kanga and Roo were newcomers to the Forest in Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger arrives in The House At Pooh Corner.)

The new character is Lottie the Otter, a rather proud and haughty creature who comes off as a bit modern, but eventually, I forgot she was a new character and let her go ahead and join my old favorites.

Mark Burgess' illustrations are lovely tributes to how E.H. Shepard "decorated" the original books. They closely follow Shepard's original designs, while Burgess adds his own style.

Overall, if you can overlook that this is someone who isn't A.A. Milne writing Pooh stories (which, seeing how Disney's popular sugar-coated version has been expanded upon, it's not really the first time), Return to the Hundred Acre Wood is worth a read. I wouldn't mind giving it to a niece or nephew, after they had enjoyed Milne's original works.

1 comment:

The Never Fairy said...

Thanks for the review of it. It's a shame that it lacks the "feel" and "charm" of Milne.

As for the Peter Pan sequel you mentioned, I thought that did, it has numerous mistakes in it compared to Barrie's original stories.

There is a novel out, though, that's based on Barrie's own idea for more. And it does seem to capture the Barrie spirit. Oh, and it's accurate/faithful. Click my name to see it.