Review of small press and independent books.
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I've just come across Elizabeth Beresford's original book of 'The Wombles' and its sequel, 'The Wandering Wombles' - in a new edition, but the real, pre-novelty-hit-single, not stop-motion animated and voiced by Bernard Cribbins and DEFINITELY not CGI'd, grass-seed bread and banana-peel cake-eating denizens of Wimbledon Common. What I'm wondering is, is it worth a. buying them and b. inflicting them on Little Troubleblossom? Were the Wombles really any good, or am I viewing them through the rose-tinted thirty-year telescope, and they should really have been left in the 1970s where they belonged?
This opens the whole can of insecure middle-aged worms: how much of the literature/media we coo over as 'classic' is actually still any good, and how much of it just seemed good at the time because there wasn't anything better? Are today's little media-students going to notice that Professor Yaffle could only be made to walk by nailing the foot his weight was resting on to the floor of the set, so the nailhead comes and goes from one foot to the other throughout the animation? Does anyone these days watch 'Camberwick Green' from behind the sofa for fear that Windy Miller, after a drop too many, will walk out into the circling sails of his mill, get his timing wrong and be killed? Can Topsy and Tim really, really still justify their existence? In days when Commander and Mrs. Walker would get arrested and John, Susan, Titty and Roger taken into care at the beginning of the book in which the parents put the children ashore with their camping equipment on some random stretch of the East Anglian coast and sail away and leave them for a fortnight ('Secret Water'?), is anyone going to find any meaning in Arthur Ransome? And don't even let's get started on Enid Blyton...
Some classics are actually much better than one realises. Case in point is Gullivers' Travels. One is so used to the bowdlerised versions that have been used in film and telly adaptations for so long, that the book itself comes as a real eye-opener. Of course, in its original version it's not even remotely suitable for small children. Same applies to the Jungle Book stories.
I've no idea about the wombles. Never read them, and when they became 'famous' I was too old to appreciate them. My gut feeling is: if the pictures in the book are good, then go for it. If they're dull, forget it. Today's small children know nothing of the cultural icons that wombles became, so they're reading the books in exactly the same way that small children did when they were first published.
Winnie the Pooh is still holding up strongly, I reckon, despite disneyfication.
The problems come with Enid Blyton, as you say...
Well, one concern has been obliterated: Little Troubleblossom has totally taken to Bagpuss! A-wombling we will go...
...and I'm happy to announce that 'The Wombles' is in fact every bit as good as I remember it being, and so right-on it's astonishing - except for the considerable changes in the value of money in the last a-hem years, and some slightly dubious gender roles, it could have been written last year.