By A. A. Milne
Published by Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Read by Peter Dennis
Winnie-the-Pooh is a masterful collection of stories. On listening to them for the first time in years, it struck me that A. A. Milne did not write them as stories for children, but as stories for adults to read to children. This, I think, is an important distinction.
These stories, and the ones in the other collections that serve as sequels, are also some of the few happy examples of stories adults think children want to hear that it turns out they do actually really want to hear. Mister Milne’s writing style is not particularly heavy even in some of the fiction he wrote for adults. In fact, the success of his children’s fiction and poetry frequently annoyed Milne, who apparently prided himself on writing whatever he felt like writing. I can identify with that.
Milne was a playwright and essayist as well as an adult novelist and poet, so the vast majority of his work was not for children at all, but it is Winnie-the-Pooh and the related stories that are most remembered today.
The characters in the stories are based on Milne’s son, Christopher Robin and his stuffed animals, some of which can be found on display in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (formerly the New York Public Library Main Branch) in New York.
This and its sequel The House at Pooh Corner are also snapshots of an idealized life during the Edwardian period in England and, even more specifically, a snapshot of Milne’s life, and that of his son, at that time. Did everyone live at the edge of the One Hundred Acre Wood (based on the Five Hundred Acre Wood in Ashdown Forest)? Well, no, of course not, but that wood and its environs and most especially the animations of the stuffed animals struck a chord that still reverberates today.
Forget the Disneyizations of these stories, though, and go back to the originals, along with Ernest H. Shepard’s illustrations. They are far more charming and enduring and your mind can imagine a far richer tapestry of color and emotion than a mere cartoon can give you. And if you have children, read these stories out loud. That’s what they are meant for.
The Audio Edition:
While poking around in preparation to writing, I discovered a sound clip in which Christopher Robin Milne commends Peter Dennis as Winnie-the-Pooh’s ambassador to the world. Mister Dennis reads these stories well and his smooth British accent is ideal. Listening to him will certainly allow you to forget Disney’s kiddie films, which I don’t think are bad, but are really just a shadow of what Milne wrote.
Certainly Mister Dennis is not the only reader of the Pooh stories. One of these days I’d be interested in hearing how Stephen Fry, Judi Dench and others read these stories. But Peter Dennis is considered among the best and, according to Christopher Robin, the one who captures “the real Pooh” that he knew.
Summing up this quite short review: Winnie the Pooh is worth reading at any age and Peter Dennis well worth listening to.