Saturday, 17 October 2009

Winnie the Franchised

Last year it was James Bond. This month it’s Winnie the Pooh and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (together at last!). Of what do I sing? Of authorised sequels as any fule kno. So we’ve had Sebastian ‘literary writer’* Faulks commissioned to continue the Bond saga with Devil May Care. Now we have Eoin Colfer’s officially sanctioned continuation of Hitchhiker and Don’t Know Don’t Care’s Return to the Hundred Acre Wood which picks up some eighty-one years after The House on Pooh Corner was published. Now I am prepared to admit under extreme interrogation by an intelligence organisation that feeds its results to MI5 that there is a modicum of justification for the Bond and Adams resurrections. But I cannot with Winnie the Pooh. Alright, there’s the Disney films and books but they’ve already branched off into a universe of their own. I saw one of the DVDs in the shops yesterday and the cover had Pooh wearing a sweatband a la Mark Knopfler which is the oddest thing I’ve seen since I came across the head of Buddha in a cage outside a restaurant in central Newcastle last summer.

No the problem with Return to the Hundred Acre Wood is that it is the official sequel, or continuation, as authorised by the Milne estate to the Pooh stories. They’ve even commissioned an artist who seems to have done rather a good pastiche of E H Shepherd’s illustrations. I heard on the radio some bod from the Milne estate explain that it was felt that the coming generation needed more stories in order to discover the bear of little brain. He admitted however that Winnie the Pooh and The House on Pooh Corner have never left the top ten list of best-selling children’s books since their publication which, unless there’s a crazed solitary collector somewhere hoarding them, would seem to suggest that the coming generation is being made aware of Pooh whether it likes it or not. He also stated that Milne himself only wrote the second collection because he was bored during a dull holiday and seemed to be hinting that he would have written more if he’d had more unsuccessful holidays. And here’s the problem.

The rather big problem.

This rather big problem is the last Winnie the Pooh story that A A Milne wrote: In Which Christopher Robin and Pooh Come to an Enchanted Place, and We Leave Them There.

Even the soul dead cold critics who dislike Milne admit that this story is something else. And the something it is, is the end of childhood. If you haven’t read it I will pause a moment while you get hold of a copy and have a shufti.

There you are. See what I mean? This story is an ending. Milne intended the stories to stop here. It’s about growing up and moving on. It’s about putting aside childish things.

It is not a sequel hook.

Often the best of children’s literature has a melancholy running gently through or underneath it. This will pass. Puff the magic dragon is doomed to be alone as we all move onto salaries, mortgages and worrying about the neighbours. An Enchanted Place is one of the most touching evocations of this and I defy anyone to read it and still have a dry eye at the end.

And yet it is a happy ending, an optimistic ending because we can all take comfort in the fact that:

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.

*well that’s how he kept describing himself on Desert Island Discs earlier this year and who am I to argue

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