When I was a child, I read Winnie-the-Pooh while sprawled in the shade of a laburnum tree with parrots shrieking in its branches. Then we moved and I found myself hiding away in a banyan tree and sighing over the ending of The House at Pooh Corner. It was a sad sigh and a satisfied one all at once, an early encounter with emotional ambiguity that I can still remember. I firmly believed that the Hundred Acre Wood was thick with lacy yellow flowering laburnum trees, and banyan and peepul and neem. Never mind the iconic pictures of the gentler English version of the thing, my wood was in my mind and Milne's words placed it there. This is how some children read, bringing their own worlds to the page in a fiercely possessive way.
So decades later I'm worried, along with Flying Pig Bookstore owner and VCFA alumna Elizabeth Bluemle, about the new authorized sequel by David Benedictus, an English writer who has written novels and a new memoir. Benedictus said in his interview with the BBC that he immersed himself in Milne's world in order to write these stories, characterizing this process as one of an actor rather than a writer, trying to get under Milne's skin. His exposition, I must say, does carry echoes, even if they're a bit faint, of the fabulous "contradiction" that prefaces The House at Pooh Corner. And I don't find myself shuddering the way I did when Disney took Pooh on and made pastiche out of him, so that generations of children no longer know the Shepard images. This sequel, if it leads us back to the real Pooh, will be a good thing, so I'm going to defer judgment until I read it.
Will the words be as good? That's the big question. And if they're not, will we forget that visceral quality they had, that drew me so deeply into the stories that my trees became the wood in the pages and I inhabited the skins of those characters?