Monday, November 2, 2009

Tiddly pom!

I don't know about you, but I always take a gander at the "professional" reviews of a book I've just finished reading to see if my opinion jibes with that of the reviewers. Well, the only review I could find of Return to the Hundred Acre Wood is from Publishers' Weekly (more of a bookseller's resource than a librarian's ... I think?). Is this a conspiracy of librarians? If we don't review it, it will go away? Trust me, this book is nothing to get your knickers in a twist over. It is extremely minor Pooh. In the Pooh oeuvre, I'd much rather put a stake in the heart of Disney's Pooh than a poor imitation (the sincerest form of flattery) of Messrs. Milne and Shepard.

Return to the Hundred Acre Wood: In Which Winnie-the-Pooh Enjoys Further Adventures with Christopher Robin and his Friends is by David Benedictus (who appears to be hiding his affiliation with this book on his website). A brief introduction -- which is mysteriously called an Exposition -- provides a poetic explanation for the lengthy pause (80 years) it took to bring Christopher Robin back from school. Ten short stories follow that are somewhat amusing and sentimental and true to Milne's characters. The adventures are no longer about childish things, but about schoolboy things -- like spelling bees, a thesaurus and cricket. (I liked the cricket one especially [I listened to it twice] because the explanation of how to play was extra simple, and I think I finally understand how to play that utterly foreign sport.) There's a new character, Lottie the Otter. Some wit and hilarity is present, but Pooh's poetry (or hums) weren't particularly inspired and the whole thing just falls a little flat.

So, can anyone save this? Calling the great Jim Dale! Dale is such a sensitive reader, he transmits a book's range of emotions so sincerely that he can pretty much read anything. Scroll down a bit on this Amazon page to see the video of Dale reading the Exposition.

Thankfully, Dale brings his vast array of character voices to these slight stories and breathes some much needed life into shy Pooh and squeaky Piglet and dignified Owl and rambunctious Tigger (who has a fairly low profile here) and officious Lottie, as well as all the Friends and Relations (who I don't remember at all, so I guess I need to go back to the originals). He sings Pooh's hums (singing where appropriate is always a plus to me). I think Dale really does a good job here -- the characters are so familiar to most of us (in Disney form or original); and he gives each one the exact right voice (I quibble with his Pooh, who sounds like he's medicated), practically the voice you had in your head when these were first read aloud to you (except that was your mom or dad ... but you get my point).

There's a nice little bit of music that segues in at the end of each story. And although the stories come to a natural conclusion, I appreciate the signal to take a moment and digest the last bits before getting ready for the next episode. I wonder if this should be listened to in a more episodic way, the way you might experience one story every night at bedtime. I listened almost straight through the whole three hours and, well, they began to blend together. Is this the spelling bee story or the school story? They probably become fairly indistinguishable in print as well.

I was trolling through our catalog for audio versions of the original -- for pleasure listening after January (hooray!). We have a massive eight-hour collection of both Poohs and Milne's poetry books which I think only the most dedicated would listen all the way through. More fun, though ... one lone cassette copy of Winnie-the Pooh read by Charles Kuralt. I can hear it.

Recently, the publisher of the book and audiobook, Penguin, donated some money to the New York Public Library for a spiffy display case backdrop (more of Dale reading) for Christopher Milne's original animals. Hmmm ... how did they get to New York? Practice, practice, practice.

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