Saturday 10 January 2009

An old friend returns

I was going to leave Col's review of Northanger Abbey up as the latest post for longer, to encourage more people to read and comment, but I heard some news today which I couldn't ignore...

This may be old news, I don't know, but I only heard about it today. Granted my only voluntary access to news is The Week, an excellent weekly summary of all major newspapers, and perhaps an article on this will appear in due course. But I am being delibera
tely elliptical - the news I'm talking about is the new Winnie the Pooh book. If, like me, you hadn't heard, Yahoo's summary is as good as any.

Those of you who pop in here regularly may well know my love of all things AA Milne, be it his plays, novels, poetry, autobiography, pacifist leaflets, sketches, essays and, indeed, children's books. The first two books read in 2009 were re-reads of Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, and very wonderful they were too. He was the first author I got excited about in my post-teenage reading, and still very close to my heart - the news that the Pooh canon is to be extended is one I receive with very mixed feelings.

Shall I propose the a
rgument for the prosecution? My main issue, actually, is not so much that the new book will be inferior - of course it will - but that it will be written for the Disney generations. Most people reading this will be in the Disney generations, as they started churning out their dross in 1961. Whoops, I lost my journalistic objectivity a little there, didn't I? Like most, I enjoyed the Disney cartoons when I was tiny, but when I discovered EH Shepard's utterly brilliant illustrations, I was outraged - the amount of character and expression he gives with a few tiny pencil lines is astonishing. Disney lost all this subtlety and went for insane Rabbits and hyperactive Tiggers and Gopher (*shudder*)... and made everyone American. I've nothing against Americans, of course, but Winnie-the-Pooh is English! Christopher Robin is English! By all means make Gopher American, since we don't have them in England, and consequently not the Hundred Acre Wood...

Sorry, this has veered right off message. My problem is - who will illustrate these stories? Will someone imitate Shepard in the way that someone is imitating Milne? Heaven forefend Disney illustrations...

Secondly, where is the room for a sequel? The final chapter of The House at Pooh Corner, unutterably sad, ends thus:

"Promise you won't forget about me, ever. Not
even when I'm a hundred." [said Christopher Robin]
Pooh thought for a little.

"How old shall I be then?"


Pooh nodded.
"I promise," he said.
Still with his eyes on the world, Christopher Robin put
out a hand and felt for Pooh's paw.
"Pooh," said Christopher Robin earnestly, "if I--if I'm
not quite" he stopped and tried again --". Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won't you?"
"Understand what?"

"Oh, nothing." He laughed and jumped to his feet. "Come
"Where?" said Pooh.

"Anywhere," said Christopher Robin.

So they went off together. But wherever they go, and
whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.

How can they continue after that? Not possible, surely...

Well, I confidently predict that there will be a brief flurry of media attention, quite a few sales (including, let's face it, me) and it will be quietly forgotten in three or four years' time.

What do you think? Excited, horrified, or wholly indifferent?


  1. In defence - the writer (sorry, forgotten his name at this hour of the night) has immersed himself in the full range of A.A. Milne's writing and, on the radio this morning, came over as suitably awed and humble. Also, having allowed Disney to have full range on the subject for so long, maybe we can now claim Pooh back for the English. I will wait for October before making judgement, and decide then.

  2. Having been through the horrors of red sweaters on Pooh and the latest addition of turning Christopher Robin into a girl??? on a childrens channel surely this book can go no further in destroying the original charm. One must wait and see, and live in hope but I fail to see why another book is needed. For me the original is the only way of introducing him to the next generation.

  3. I agree completely with your comments, but yes I am indeed rather indifferent to this news item. By the way I always felt that Pooh and his friends were British rather than specifically English. I knew and loved places like the Hundred Acre Wood in Scotland where I was born and grew up. Probably if I ever considered any of the characters to be English then it was Christopher Robin, but certainly I didn't feel that way about the animals, and I played Pooh-sticks happily in wee burns as much as I expect you did in English streams (I am making an unsupported assumption here!).

  4. Ah, I was basing it on Pooh et al being specifically Sussex-dwellers, but I agree that poohsticks can and ought to be played in collections of running water throughout the land!

  5. I'm horrified. You said it very well, and, like you, I am particularly concerned about the illustrations.

  6. Forgive me. I had no intention of being nationalistic. Pooh, like all 'cuddly toys', cuts across all notions of nationality. He does, however, prefer the temperate zone, as being kinder to one filled with fluff. In his literary manifestation, he transcends all divisions and is best understood by the child - in the child or in the adult. The original 'toy' I believe, is imprisoned in America. But then, are we not all prisoners of one kind or another? As for the 'new book' - true followers of Pooh are so busy playing Pooh-sticks anywhere and everywhere there is a suitable stream, that they are safely ensconced in the Special Place where no Pooh detractors can reach them!
    I love the thought of many a Scottish burn being used this way. But do the 'midgies' spoil the game?

  7. Dear OVW, there is nothing to forgive! As to the biting members of the Diptera being a nuisance, it does depend where in Scotland you are playing. On the W. Coast, for all its beauty, the game might indeed by rather disturbed. Near my wee cottage in C. Perthshire we are very ofrtunate to be extremely rarely bothered. Now when I went walking in Swedish Sammi-land one summer the plague was so horrible that you could not imagine any game being played that did not involve running about rapidly.

  8. I'm on your side about Pooh, of course. But when you say: "I agree that poohsticks can and ought to be played in collections of running water throughout the land!" I take exception and suggest you mean "the world." I have played poohsticks in a mountain stream in Sequoia National Park in California at 9,000 feet and the principle was exactly the same. (By the way, it was having Pooh read to me at age three that turned me into the hardcore, lifelong Anglophile that I am. My New York Jewish mother touchingly attempted an English accent, and that did the business.)

  9. I recalled your Winnie the Pooh blog post when I heard that there is a programme on Radio 4 on Saturday morning at 10.30 (GMT), examining the popularity of Pooh in Russia. There he is called Vinni Pukh. It seems that like OVW says he "cuts across all notions of nationality". Personally, I have to admit that the Pooh books never caught my imagination as a child, either on the page or in the Jackanory readings by the late Willie Rushton.

    Thanks for your interesting blog, Simon. It's so pleasant to find good natured dialogue on the web, when so many blogs and forums descend into slanging matches.

  10. Hi, I found your blog through Becca & Bella.

    I agree with your concerns about the new book. Many times when they go back to add additional titles to a favorite, they mess it up (Indiana Jones comes to mind as a recent example). I think A.A. Milne's Hundred Acre world was brilliantly created and I hope that nothing in the new installment will taint it for future generations to enjoy.

  11. Those last few paragraphs are one of the few things I can not read aloud to my children.

    I was appalled by the idea at first, but I'm withholding judgement until I see the final product. Surely they can do no worse than Disney did with the illustrations? On the other hand, why-oh-why does everything have to have A Sequel? On the other-other hand, I'd eagerly read new adventures of Pooh and the gang, if they were done well.


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