October 17, 2012
Emma Thompson’s Peter Rabbit sequel
by Nick Davies
Beatrix Potter’s classic children’s story The Tale of Peter Rabbit was first published 110 years ago, and to mark the occasion, Frederick Warne & Co. has put out the first book featuring the beloved lagomorph since 1930’s The Tale of Little Pig Robinson—Potter’s last book to be published, though one of the first she wrote. The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit came out last month, written by actress Emma Thompson, who’s no stranger to writing, having picked up an Oscar in 1995 for her adaptation of Sense and Sensibility.
Thompson appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition last week to talk about the book and read some selections, complete with comical character voices. The new book, which follows the titular bunny on misadventures in the Scottish countryside, is the first authorized portrayal of Peter by anybody other than Potter, and the publisher approached Thompson about writing it in an appropriately whimsical manner, she told NPR’s Renee Montagne:
It wasn’t a formal letter as such. It wasn’t a “Dear Ms. Thompson, would you consider blah” from the publishers. It was a little box with two half-eaten radishes in it and a letter from Peter Rabbit. And the child part of me, I think, actually believed it had come from Peter Rabbit himself. And that got past my defenses and my fear for long enough for me to say, “OK, well, I’ll have a go.”
Thompson revels in Potter’s particular style of writing and tries to preserve it in her own book, including words that sound almost made-up like “joggling,” and turns of phrase that she describes as “Potter-esque” and “Victorian or Edwardian,” that add to the story’s charm. “It’s an old form, and I find it draws me into the books,” Thompson says, “I wanted to hold on to that.” She also expresses fondness for Peter’s disrespect for authority that leads him to mischief and adventures: “Peter’s sort of anarchistic, which I love.”
Asked for advice for parents who read to their children, Thompson advises, “Take it slow, much slower than you think. Give them plenty of time to look at the pictures and sort of extrapolate from the pictures.” The sentiment of taking the time to let your kids fully appreciate a book is a nice one, but Thompson concedes that she, like many parents, is guilty of cutting the occasional corner and skipping over sections while reading aloud. While reading to her daughter, she admits, “I had been cutting shamelessly, because I wanted to get downstairs to my glass of chardonnay!”
NPR has posted an excerpt of the book (complete with illustrator Eleanor Taylor’s drawings) online here if you want to check it out and decide whether add it to your holiday shopping list for the children in your life, along with other works from Thompson’s oeuvre, like Nanny McPhee, one of the Harry Potter movies, or Howard’s End.
Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.