LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Winnie-the-Pooh returns to Hundred Acre Wood on Monday in the first authorized sequel to A.A. Milne's beloved children's stories for over 80 years.
The honey-loving bear will be joined by new friend Lottie the otter in author David Benedictus's follow-up to the 1920s classics, melancholic donkey Eeyore becomes "more proactive" and the characters engage in a game of cricket.
"Return to the Hundred Acre Wood" hits the shelves on October 5 in Britain and the United States, and publishers will be hoping that a wave of nostalgia and a new generation of readers will justify a print run of several hundred thousands.
For Michael Brown, chairman of the Trustees of the Pooh Properties which owns some of the rights to the original stories, the book is the culmination of 20 years of effort.
"As far as I am concerned it started in 1988," Brown said, referring to minutes of a meeting of trustees where the idea of a sequel to "Winnie-the-Pooh" and "The House At Pooh Corner" was first raised.
"Some people would say: 'You really can't do that, you know, this is our cultural heritage'," he told Reuters. "It was something people had grown up with.
"But eventually in about 2006, talking both to our American publishers and English publishers, we found they were much more receptive to the idea."
The rights to Milne's creation Pooh, and the famous original drawings by E.H. Shepard, are complicated. But the stories and movie and merchandising spinoffs have been worth billions of dollars to the Walt Disney Co since 1961.
Countless writers offered their services over the years to take up where Milne left off in 1928, including many who submitted drafts of their ideas.
"Most of them were absolute rubbish," Brown said.
One who was not was Benedictus, chosen to pen the sequel.
"I loved doing it because there was no pressure, I started it off my own back," the author told Reuters.
"I took Milne's pattern of two volumes of 10 stories each, each running to about 2,500 words. What I did do was to make mine run on so they are continuous chronologically, beginning in July and ending in September."
Mark Burgess, who has also illustrated another famous fictional bear Paddington Bear, will provide the artwork.
While under instruction not to reveal too many details ahead of publication day, Benedictus did say that Eeyore would have a more proactive role than in the originals and that Christopher Robin would return.
At the end of "The House at Pooh Corner", Christopher Robin and Pooh depart in a touching ending which Benedictus said was probably Milne's way of saying goodbye to that world.
The author, who worked on the sequel intermittently for nearly four years, admitted his version would not be perfect.
In a short "exposition" released by Pooh's British publishers Egmont, he quotes Eeyore as saying: "He'll get it wrong", and adds: "Of course Eeyore is right, because I don't know; I can only guess. But guessing can be fun too."
Brown said Winnie-the-Pooh's lasting appeal lay in its sense of optimism and its verbal wit.
"It is a wonderful world," he said. "People have their problems, but at the end of the day it's a happy world."
Egmont releases the book in Britain and Dutton Children's Books, part of the Pearson-owned Penguin Group, in the United States. Return to the Hundred Acre Wood will be translated into 50 languages.
(Editing by Paul Casciato)