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Pooh classic, always a good read, now on DVD
By M.V. Moorehead

October 8, 2005

Two thoughts occurred to me when I noticed that Disney was releasing Pooh’s Heffalump Halloween Movie directly to DVD and video, an event that took place locally about three weeks ago.

First of all, the Halloween season seems to be starting earlier every year. And secondly, English author A.A. Milne, who died in 1956, could hardly have foreseen that his creation Winnie-the-Pooh would be the centerpiece of a multi-million dollar merchandising franchise so staggeringly successful that nearly 80 years after the first book of Pooh stories was published, it would still be grinding out holiday adaptations.

At least in his fiction, Milne was a sunny type; Halloween isn’t the sort of holiday one would associate with his name.

The closest to the macabre he ever got, probably, was his pre-Pooh detective story The Red House Mystery.

But even in a tale of murder, the prevailing tone is one of cheerful gentility and mild, self-deprecating humor. As the amateurs sleuths investigating a shooting at the country estate of the title sheepishly admit to each other from time to time, the whole affair makes rather an exciting diversion from the golf and croquet with which they’d otherwise be whiling away their summer days.

This 1922 novel, Milne’s only foray into the mystery genre, was a big success in its day, and it remains a charming quick read.

The central puzzle isn’t that hard to figure out—I’m very dense at mysteries, and I cracked it early on—but that may be due to the number of times it’s been imitated in the intervening years.

In any case, the conclusion matters less than the ride, into which Milne incorporates such classics gimmicks as the locked room, the secret passage, the wastrel brother and even the spectral visitation with impressive effortlessness.

The book is dated, to be sure—a quaint artifact of a time when an aristocratic character, referring to a maid, could casually remark “girls of that class make things up” without raising eyebrows. Much of the dialogue between our young hero Antony Gillingham and his friend Bill Beverly, visitors at Red House who have taken it upon themselves to look into the killing—the police, of course, are dullards who will never get to the bottom of it—now reads like pure (and entertaining) camp. “By Jove” and “Oh, rather!” are tossed around without apparent irony, and Tony and Bill self-consciously call each “Holmes” and “Watson.” In its day, however, this blueblood chatter probably seemed very sophisticated indeed.

Still, even though The Red House Mystery is unmistakably upper-crust in its sensibility, Milne does acknowledge the swanky idleness of the milieu with an edge of droll frankness in the very first paragraph: “…From distant lawns came the whir of a mowing machine, that most restful of all country sounds; making ease the sweeter in that it is taken while others are working.”

The Red House Mystery is inexpensively available in a nice paperback edition from Dover.

For those living on an even less aristocratic budget, it can also be found online, as a free e-text from Project Gutenberg.





















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