As I write this from my bed, there’s a Winnie-the-Pooh stuffed toy sitting next to me. At the age of 36, I cannot fathom ever giving away my slightly tatty, yet enormously loved funny old bear. When I was a young girl, my parents bought him during a family holiday to Disney World Florida and we’ve been together ever since.
As a child, and even as an adult, I loved reading tales about the Hundred Acre Wood and its inhabitants. Not only were A.A. Milne’s tales bursting with joy and warmth, they were also, rather poignantly, filled with wisdom.
So, when I received an email about Winnie-the-Pooh: Once There Was a Bear, a series of stories created by Jane Riordan for the official 95th anniversary prequel to Winnie-the-Pooh, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy.
Many people will be familiar with the adventures of Pooh Bear as told by Milne in Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner. To celebrate the 95th anniversary, Riordan has created a collection of stories, written in the style of Milne, that take us back to where it all began, when Winnie-the-Pooh was first purchased for baby Christopher Robin. But Riordan is no stranger to writing in the style of Milne having previously penned Winnie-the-Pooh Meets the Queen and the re-issue edition Winnie-the-Pooh Goes to London.
Each story in the collection is new and accompanied by illustrations of Pooh Bear and his friends (Rabbit, Piglet, Kanga, Roo, Eeyore, Owl and, of course, Tigger) created by Mark Burgess in the style of E.H. Shepard. Previously, Burgess illustrated The Return to the Hundred Acre Wood and The Best Bear in All the World.
Now, there are people out there who disagree with taking someone’s creative work and adding to it. We only need look at the criticism Disney received for the likes of Maleficent and Cruella, where fairy tale villains from our childhood have been given their own movies – and backstory. But I love these films. I’m a firm believer that once a creative work has been released into the world, it belongs to everyone and can twist and turn in a multitude of ways.
I also relish the idea of characters living on long after the death of their creators. It’s especially wonderful when you think of Pooh and his pals as toys, passed down from generation to generation (and immortalised by Disney). When I was a child, I used to play with Coco, a small brown bear with one eye and a hard, stitched nose which my mum has owned since she was a young girl. I made up stories that differed from the ones my mum might have told, and the bear took on other lives and adventures. I feel the same way about books and stories, altered by setting and perspective.
But the thing about Winnie-the-Pooh: Once There Was a Bear is that it’s so close to the original books that, if you didn’t know any better, you’d believe it was written by Milne and illustrated by Shepard.
That, I think, is the beauty of this book. Not only is Winnie-the-Pooh a much-loved character, the appeal of these stories is enduring. They have followed me through my childhood, into adulthood and, now, I can share these cherished books with the next generation. I’m reminded of the power of reading, of shared stories and connection. There’s something wonderful about that.
Nevertheless, I wonder why the publishers didn’t hold off for another five years to mark the 100th anniversary, rather than mark the 95th. Perhaps they have something even greater in store for Pooh Bear’s centennial?
By Emma Yates-Badley, Literary Editor
Winnie-the-Pooh: Once There Was a Bear (The Official 95th Anniversary Prequel) is published by HarperCollins and is available to buy now.