15 January 2009

New Pooh?

This report from The Bookseller, a British publishing-industry journal, has already been echoed around the world:

An authorised sequel to A A Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner is to be released by Egmont Publishing in October. The contents of the book are a closely guarded secret but will reflect Milne’s idea that "whatever happens, a little boy and his bear will always be playing," said author David Benedictus.

The forthcoming title, Return to the Hundred Acre Wood, will be published in a similar format to the existing Classic Winnie-the-Pooh books. The text will be illustrated by Mark Burgess who has already illustrated a number of Winnie-the-Pooh titles.
At first I was a little troubled that the Milne and E. H. Shepard estates were chasing more bucks before their lucrative copyrights run out in 1926. We've seen the heirs of Margaret Mitchell, J. M. Barrie, and James Joyce do that in various ways, and the results have been mixed.

I began feeling a little better about the idea when The Bookseller went on to report:
  • Benedictus wrote this new book after working on some Pooh adaptations and then submitted it to the Milne and Shepard estates for their authorization; the estates didn't set out to commission a sequel.
  • The estates had actually turned down some other "suggested sequels."
But then I recalled that the Disney Company bought a lot of the rights to Pooh about ten years ago, paying the heirs a lump sum--which means they won't see more money unless they produce new intellectual property. There has been a long series of lawsuits among those heirs, the Slesinger family who originally licensed the Pooh characters, and Disney, running up lawyers' tabs. So the estate's decision to authorize Benedictus's book might not be based purely on literary merit. We can only hope it is.

I resist an automatic reaction against latter-day sequels. I've enjoyed some of those stories very well. Others not only miss the target, they seem to miss the point of the original.

ADDENDUM: Today's Publishers Weekly report added more food for thought about the genesis of this project:
While working on post-production for those audiobooks--which required the approval of the Trustees of the Pooh Properties--he [Benedictus] decided to write a pair of stories about Pooh and send them to the trustees (the four trustees own the copyright for the text and represent the estate of Pooh illustrator E.H. Shepard).

Eight years passed, according to Benedictus, but in 2006 he got a call from the trustees. Over the years the trustees had seen several proposals for sequels. “We had looked at a number of people, including my own poor efforts,” said Michael Brown, chairman of the trust, adding that the idea for authorizing a sequel had been in his mind “for a very long time.” But he said that the timing of the book’s release this year was a matter of various pieces coming together--including finding the right contributors.
So Benedictus wrote his first Pooh stories in 1998, and the estates started to pursue the idea with him in 2006. How do those years match up to the business timeline?


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your article on the Pooh Bear sequels. I too am scepticle about sequels - if the author has died, then I don't want to see some-one else borrow the story, just to make money.
I am a new author of children's books, and hope that (if I am lucky), one day you will review my book.
Irene Harvey

Sam said...

I was able to get a sneak peek at the sequel. Here's what I can tell you (spoiler alert):

Pooh and Piglet set off to find the Skull-o-Saurus, but then Tigger shows up wearing a Winnie the Pooh costume and Roo falls off a cliff. Rabbit and the Gopher construct a crazy contraption --Eeyore says it won't work -- which saves Roo but knocks loose a boulder from a cliff, exposing a cave. They go through the opening, but Piglet drops his book of memories over a waterfall and every one thinks Tigger is dead and is very sad. Then they realize that it's Pooh that's dead, because he's now wearing a Tigger suit, but because he believes in himself he's alive again and then the wind blows back Piglet's book of memories, open to the page showing when Piglet met Pooh and Christopher Robin gives a party.

J. L. Bell said...

Sam, that sounds so traditional!