Book world slowly grasping value of sequels to classic tales

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With the new Winnie-the-Pooh book arriving in bookstores on Monday, the ghost of Lt. Harry Colebourn is grinning sheepishly.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/10/2009 (4810 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

With the new Winnie-the-Pooh book arriving in bookstores on Monday, the ghost of Lt. Harry Colebourn is grinning sheepishly.

Perhaps even bearishly.

Colebourn, as every real Winnipegger knows, is the First World War soldier responsible for inadvertently providing the inspiration for the cuddliest ursus of children’s literature.

A veterinarian by profession, Colebourn named the orphaned bear cub he bought in 1914, from a hunter in White River, Ont., after the city in which he had been living.

He took Winnie with him to England. The bear ended up in the London Zoo, where author A. A. Milne took his son Christopher for outings.

In 1926, Milne released his charming book of stories, Winnie-the-Pooh, illustrated by E.H. Shepard, about the "silly old bear" and his animal friends Tigger, Piglet and Eeyore.

The second and final story book, The House at Pooh Corner, came out in 1928. But it wasn’t until the late ’80s that a Winnipeg Free Press reporter Heidi Graham unearthed the Winnipeg connection.

Her spadework resulted in a million articles and TV reports, a TV movie, the local purchase at auction of a $200,000-plus sign painted by Shepard and a failed attempt to erect a Pooh museum in Assiniboine Park. (Graham herself went on to become the spokeswoman for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.)

Thus Winnipeg has as big a stake as any place in the English-speaking world in Pooh’s latest literary chapter, The Return to Hundred Acre Wood.

Its publishers, Egmont in Britain and the Penguin children’s imprint Dutton in North America, have released the first chapter to whet our appetites.

The author, a Pooh devotee named David Benedictus, and the artist, greeting card illustrator Mark Burgess, have approached their task with reverent fidelity to the original.

Still, they have introduced a new character, Lottie the Otter. As we speak, reporters with visions of a Graham-like scoop are scouring Whiteshell biological records to see if Lottie belongs to the northern river otter species Lontra canadensis, known to swim around Otter Falls, Man.

Even though this sequel has the blessing of the so-called Trustees of Pooh Properties — and therefore the Disney Corporation, which owns the rights to all things Poohy — not everyone thinks a new book is necessary 80 years after the fact.

An Associated Press story out of London this week quoted a Cambridge Pooh scholar as saying Milne had closed the second Pooh book exactly as he should have, with Christopher Robin leaving childhood behind him.

"This is an absolutely perfect ending," Maria Nikolajeva said, "and doing anything beyond this is pointless."

Pointlessness, mind you, has never been a stumbling block for sequels — witness the hundreds that Hollywood churns out each year.

In book publishing, where a quick score is harder to come by, it has taken executives longer to grasp the value of milking the tried and true. There have been exceptions, most notably the sequels to Margaret Mitchell’s 1937 Civil War classic Gone With the Wind.

Earlier this year, the recluse J.D. Salinger succeeded in blocking the American publication of a novel by a Swedish writer who had imagined Catcher in the Rye‘s teenaged protagonist, Holden Caulfield, as a 76-year-old nursing home escapee.

Here in Canada, the estate of L.M. Montgomery has got into the act. On Oct. 27, Penguin will release The Blythes are Quoted, an unabridged version of the stories Montgomery intended as the ninth volume in her Anne of Green Gables series.

Montgomery supposedly submitted the manuscript to her publisher the day she died in 1942.

So, north of the border, at least, the fall is shaping up to be a battle between the pigtailed Prince Edward Islander and the bear named Winnie.

Winnipeg-based McNally Robinson Booksellers are holding a Thanksgiving Party with Winnie Oct. 10 in their Toronto store.

Why not in Winnipeg? Who knows? But the Thin Air Winnipeg International Writers Festival has booked the Canwest Performing Arts Centre for a Pooh party of its own on Nov. 8.

Since Penguin is publishing both The Return to Hundred Acre Wood and The Blythes Are Quoted, Anne Shirley could very well muscle in.

And if not her, expect the ghost of Lt. Colebourn, who will be grinning bearishly.

morley.walker@freepress.mb.ca

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History

Updated on Wednesday, October 7, 2009 12:18 PM CDT: Correction: L.M. Montgomery died in 1942. Incorrect information appeared in a previous version of this story.

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