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 deliberately 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 argument 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?”
“Oh, nothing.” He laughed and jumped to his feet. “Come on!”
“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?