Here are abridged versions of some much-loved children’s books. Can you guess which ones? 1) Rabbit gets chased, escapes, goes to bed. 2) Pilot meets boy, boy meets lots of people, boy dies. 3) Bear hangs out with friends, sings, eats honey. Gold stars for everybody who got The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Little Prince and Winnie the Pooh.
Sorry I didn’t give any spoiler alerts for the first two, but at least I didn’t need to bother for Winnie the Pooh, because, let’s face it, not a lot happens, does it? But that’s the beauty of AA Milne’s writing; nothing much needs to happen to make the books so appealing. Pooh’s world is delightfully gentle and whimsical, and while neither of these qualities are much respected by authors today, they have kept readers entranced for nearly 90 years.
Unfortunately, the next generation of readers won’t necessarily be getting true Pooh. This week, publisher Egmont is releasing a new iPhone and iPad app that will bring Winnie the Pooh to a new, more technology-savvy audience. Nothing wrong with that, except that these 20th century stories are being given a 21st century makeover.
Now, they’ll be faster paced, and shorter. Abridged, you might say. Again, nothing wrong with that if you like your stories fast and short, but that’s not what AA Milne was all about. Pooh likes life sweet and slow. These apps are much more suited to Tigger.
The developer of the new versions of the stories has said: “Today’s children’s attention spans are slightly different to how they were in 1926. We have a minute to get them on board. If not, they will move on to the next app.” A minute? Really? Then as far as literature is concerned, all is lost. If a child’s attention must be captured within 60 seconds, it’ll never read Moby Dick when it’s grown up.
I know from experience that it is difficult to get some children to sit down and read a book, especially when they’ve been raised to absorb their entertainment instantly, from various screens. I read and adored The Hobbit when I was six, but I’m ashamed to say that when I tried reading it to my seven-year-old – God forbid he should pick up a copy himself – he was bored. “It takes too long,” he moaned, but what he really meant was, when are we going to stop hearing about Bilbo’s family tree and see some real goblin action?
I fear for Pooh because action isn’t high on his list of priorities. If these lovely stories are going to be speeded up to machine-gun pace, just to please the lazy little wasters of today, what will become of them?
I simply don’t believe that the Pooh stories need to be dragged into the Digital Age. They were fine as they were. Why can’t we change our habits and train our children’s brains to be a bit more disciplined, rather than re-moulding great writing in the vain pursuit of “relevance”? I’m already having visions of apps for The Crack House at Pooh Corner, or When We Were Very Drunk. Then maybe there’ll be computer games: Grand Theft Pooh Sticks, perhaps, or World of (Hundred Acre) Woodcraft.
Then again, if I can stop shuddering long enough, perhaps I can see a light at the end of this tunnel. For a start, these app versions can’t help but be more true to AA Milne’s vision than the diabolical Disney cartoons ever were. As the original Pooh has already survived the saccharine onslaught of Hollywood, perhaps he’s more robust than I’m giving him credit for.
Hopefully, these apps will attract a new audience for these old books. Maybe they will act as a doorway to discovering the real stories, rather than simply becoming replacements for them. I hope so. Trouble is, I want to spend more time reading with my child, not less, so shorter, snappier stories are not really what I’m looking for.
I’ve always seen the Pooh books as a refreshing refuge from an increasingly hurried pace of life, so to allow Pooh to be pimped is nothing less than sacrilege.
Besides, what parent wants to hear themselves say: “Come on my cherub, time for your bedtime app”?