16 October 2009

Book of the Week (34): "Return to the Hundred Acre Wood" by David Benedictus, with decorations by Mark Burgess

Like everyone else I know, I was secretly wanting not to like this book. Self-righteous indignation is so much fun, after all. How could they have allowed such a thing?! A sequel to Winnie the Pooh? Outrageous! And yes, having read it I am still slightly outraged at the very idea of the thing (who do these people think they are?... Winnie the Pooh is MINE and I haven't authorised this...) But I have to confess, grudgingly, that Return to the Hundred Acre Wood is lovely.

Christopher Robin is back home from school for the summer, just a little bit more grown-up than last time we saw him. But the friends he is reunited with in the Hundred Acre Wood have not, fortunately, grown up at all. Everyone we remember and love is there - Kanga and Roo, bouncy Tigger, Rabbit and Owl (WOL), Eeyore, Piglet, and, of course, the "silly old bear" himself, Winnie the Pooh. Over the summer they learn to play cricket, Owl tries to write a book, Rabbit tries to organise a census, and together they manage to find a solution to the drought that has left them all hot and uncomfortable, especially their new friend Lottie, an otter, the latest addition to the group.

Return... has some good and very AAMilneish jokes, it has very sweet, tender moments too, and much of the tone feels just right and wonderfully familiar. The pictures too, with just an occasional quibble, are very much of a piece with Shepard's originals, and they help to make us feel at home in this book too.

Inevitably not everything about it is perfect, not every word is on target, and however sweet it lacks the imaginative originality of Milne's books; but though it invites comparisons to the Milnes, that's hardly a fair measure of success (yes, it may be found wanting when seen against the Milnes, but really, what wouldn't?). A brave endeavour, and a delightfully successful one on the whole. There can't be many who would not be charmed by this book. (Yes, Eeyore, even you...)

Recommended by Daniel Hahn


Leonie said...

I just wondered - why bother? The originals were enough.

Daniel said...

Well yes, of course; and the answer one can only assume is 'Because there's money to be made...' - but given that that's the case, it could have been done very badly or very well and I'm extremely pleased that (having decided to do it at all) they did it very well.

Would far rather one of these than another Disney animation (which also exists for the same purpose$$$) because at least here an attempt was made to produce something as closely in-keeping with the originals as was possible (and so which won't dent anyone's experience in a hundred years' time when people read them all together without much thought to which is whose), rather than do what Disney did/does and just plunders it as far as it serves their purpose and changes it (spirit and letter) when it doesn't.