Pooh Faithful Return To The Hundred Acre Wood In the first authorized sequel to A.A. Milne's classic tales of Winnie the Pooh, author David Benedictus treads gently on the sacred woods of the original.
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Pooh Faithful Return To The Hundred Acre Wood

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Pooh Faithful Return To The Hundred Acre Wood

Pooh Faithful Return To The Hundred Acre Wood

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It is not quite true that all good things come to an end. In the world of books and movies, there is always a sequel. And so it is that a new version of one of the most beloved children's classics is being released next week. �Return to the Hundred Acre Wood� is the first authorized sequel to the story of Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne. As NPR's Lynn Neary reports, it sticks pretty close to the original in both tone and style.

LYNN NEARY: Winnie the Pooh may be the most famous character in A.A. Milne's story, but everyone has their own personal favorite. There's perky Piglet, fussy Rabbit, and gloomy Eeyore. Six-year-old Kathryn Kroger's (ph) favorite is the hyperactive kangaroo named Roo.

Ms. KATHRYN KROGER: Roo was cute and he had a friend, Tigger, and his personality is kind of cute because, well, he hops a lot and squeaks.

NEARY: These days a lot of kids have formed their idea of Winnie the Pooh and his friends from the numerous Disney videos based on the characters. But Kathryn Kroger grew up listening to the original A.A. Milne's stories.

Unidentified Man: When Piglet had finished jumping, he wiped his paws on his front and said, What should we do now? And Pooh said, Let's go and see Kanga and Roo and Tigger. And Piglet said, Yes, let's - because he was still a little anxious about Tigger, who was a very bouncy animal with a way of saying how do you do which always left your ears full of sand.

NEARY: In the last A.A. Milne story, published in 1928, Christopher Robin was growing up and leaving his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood behind. But now he's back, a little older, but otherwise not much changed. And just as the last book ended with a party, so the new one begins with a party to celebrate Christopher Robin's return.

Unidentified Man: Winnie the Pooh gave Christopher Robin a bear hug and said, Welcome home, Christopher Robin. Kanga said, You must cut the cake, Christopher Robin. And make a wish, added Tigger, hopping from foot to foot, which is complicated when you have four.

NEARY: A sneak peak at the first chapter of the sequel, �Return to the Hundred Acre Wood,� reveals few changes in the world of Winnie the Pooh, and that pleases young Kathryn Kroger.

Ms. KROGER: Because it has the same characters. It has Christopher Robin and it has the Hundred Acre Wood and it has usually the honey pots.

NEARY: The writer who has taken on the task of recreating the Hundred Acre Wood and all its inhabitants is David Benedictus, who says he tried to enter the mind of A.A. Milne in order to find his voice.

Mr. DAVID BENEDICTUS (Author, �Return to the Hundred Acre Wood�): Well, it seemed to me it was a bit like acting, really. What I had to do was imagine myself to be Milne and the best way to do that was to visit the Ashdown Forest, which was where he lived and was the basis of the Hundred Acre Wood, and to read everything I could both by and about him. When I'd read all that, I began to feel that I could become him.

NEARY: But Benedictus was not entirely alone in making this sequel. Illustrator Mark Burgess has recreated the look of the original artwork, which was drawn by E.H. Shepard. And Benedictus also had input from both the trustees of Pooh Properties, and the publishers, both here and in Britain.

Mr. BENEDICTUS: With something like Milne, I think everyone knows the stories so well that there was quite a lot of pressure from people who wanted to have their finger in the pie. I had to be very mature and very tolerant, and those are not my usual qualities. I'm a bit of an indiscreet sort of person. So I had to be extremely political. I think I am ready for the Senate now.

NEARY: Benedictus says one decision that involved some wrangling was the creation of a new character. Benedictus was determined there should be one, though his first concept was not well-received.

Mr. BENEDICTUS: I had begun the idea of having a grass snake. But there were those who thought that a grass snake would be too scary for children. So I kept the characteristics of the grass snake, but the new character became Lottie the Otter. And she is a bit of a snob and she's a bit catty too. I wouldn't want to get into a slanging match with Lottie much. But that was important because I did want a new character with a bit of oomph.

NEARY: The trustees and the publishers didn't want the characters to stray too much from the original. And Benedictus said he did feel an obligation to be faithful to Milne's creation. Philip Nel, a professor of children's literature at Kansas State University, says from what he could glean from the first chapter, they may have played it too safe.

Professor PHILIP NEL (Kansas State University): It's almost like reading someone else's memory of A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard. And it's a pleasant memory, but why wouldn't you reread the original? It's not like they've disappeared.

NEARY: The result, says Nel, is that the book feels like an imitation, which may be exactly what they intended.

Mr. NEL: They've got the characters down. Pooh is ruled by his tummy. Piglet's timid. Eeyore tends to be sarcastic and depressed. I mean they understand the characters. David Benedictus has got it down. The imitation Shepard illustrations look like Sheppard's, so it makes sense that it would and it makes sense that the estate would authorize people to create this imitation, which would be pleasing to fans of the original. After all, I mean, you want to sell the books, right?

NEARY: Author David Benedictus says he expects some negative reaction, especially from those who feel no one should tread upon the sacred woods that Milne made famous.

Mt. BENEDICTUS: It's like if you're a conductor and you decide to do a new version of Beethoven's Ninth and people may not like it, but the score is still there for other people. And so if the worst comes to the worst and everyone thinks I've got it entirely wrong, I won't have destroyed the originals in any way at all.

NEARY: Does this feel like your book?

Mr. BENEDICTUS: Yes, it does. It certainly does after all these years. But I think share it with Milne and I couldn't have written it without Milne having set the scene for me and created the characters for me. But yes, I feel like he's a sort of, I don't know, an old uncle sitting in the background either smiling or frowning at my efforts a little bit.

NEARY: A.A. Milne wrote 20 Winnie the Pooh stories. Benedictus has now added another 10. Who knows how many more there will be before the tale of Christopher Robin and his friends really truly comes to an end.

Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.

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INSKEEP: We're glad you're listening this morning to this public radio station and if you check headlines throughout the day at npr.org, you can also listen to an audio excerpt from �Return to the Hundred Acre Wood� and see illustrations of some of your favorite Pooh characters.

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