If you are a devotee of Winnie the Pooh you may have winced on hearing that another book of new Pooh stories – not by A.A. Milne – had been published. You may have felt that there are some books which can only be sullied if tampered with by another author. So let’s deal with all the things about which one might grumble first.
The drawings are by Mark Burgess, modelled on the famous originals by E.H. Shepard. There are differences; Burgess’s animals seem somehow furrier, but they are good likenesses and are clearly the same animals, unlike the ghastly Disney versions. The large vistas of the Hundred Acre Wood, including a lot of the animals, are particularly attractive.
The style of David Benedictus’s writing is Milnesque, and for the most part it could have been written by his predecessor. With the odd exception, the book has the right ‘period’ feel about it. The hums are Poohish in content and structure. The characters are well-based on the originals, though they do not seem quite so nice to each other as in the Milne stories. Eeyore becomes more outspoken and less resigned. Rabbit gets in a disorganised tizz. Wol plays a much bigger role. The one new animal – Lottie the otter – is rather fey, but fits in well enough. After all, there has to be room for creativity in such a book; it must not be strait-jacketed by the past.
Looking back on the book, my main unease is that Christopher Robin returned to the Hundred Acre Wood after his first year at school, and in the last chapter it was acknowledged that he had grown taller. But A.A. Milne’s original books had a timeless quality about them, in which Christopher Robin was the eternal small boy, innocent and with limited knowledge – definitely pre-school. The shades of the prison house had not begun to close on A.A. Milne’s Christopher Robin. Benedictus’s book accepts that Christopher Robin had learnt things at school; he had grown up and was somehow becoming distanced from the animals – as would happen to an older boy, leaving behind his childish things.
Then there is the question whether Return to the Hundred Acre Wood is really a children’s book or a book for adults who want to return to their fond childhood memories of Winnie the Pooh. But then it could be said that the originals were also about recollections of lost early childhood; certainly they carried a message for adults as well as for children.
Having shared the grumbles and quibbles, I would recommend this book as a worthy addition to the Pooh library. There are some nice touches and witticisms; the drawings are good; and the stories are enjoyable. I think that parents and children will have a good time reading them together.
Benedictus, David (2009) Return to the Hundred Acre Wood