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November 8th, 2012

Wombles of Wimbledon!

Summers in Italy had one serious disadvantage: no books, or, I should say, almost no books. I had my own two little shelves of books I reread over and over and over, and then, over (why I can still quote On the Banks of Plum Creek almost word for word today), and I had whatever book arrived from my mother's weekly American book club, which varied greatly in quality (Victoria Holt, kinda yay except no robots, The World According to Garp, not so yay AND no robots, like, DOUBLE FAILURE THERE, John Irving, and to this day, I haven't been able to warm to anything else he's written. Moving on.) It was HARSH, if moderately lightened when I managed to add some heavier books (The Complete Works of Lewis Carroll, which is why, yes, I have read through Sylvie and Bruno and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded. Don't follow my example.) It made the not particularly large school library seem like a paradise in comparison. (Although even there I had to sneak over to the high school section to find enough reading material. Of course that was in part because the high school section had more robot books.)

Which is why I was both enthralled and distressed when we discovered – shortly before we moved back to the States – a tiny little British library right there in Milano, which we had never been to. I rushed to the shelves, certain that they would have more Famous Five books since I could tell from the lists that I'd only read half of them. (Which, in retrospect, was just as well.) And then I saw them: books I'd never seen before. Never even heard of before.

Books featuring talking bears.

Ok, not robots. Not The Famous Five. But still. Bears.

It got better. As it turned out, these weren't just books. They had a radio show AND a song (and a TV show, which I still haven't seen.) And they were TRAVELLING teddy bears. AWESOME.

It was, alas, an all too brief moment: as I've hinted, we were soon to return to the States, where nobody, and I do mean nobody, had heard of the Wombles. (Or the Famous Five, although in the second case that was less "haven't heard of" and more "let's really work to suppress that interest.) I hunted for Wombles. Searched for Wombles. No good, until I returned to London years later. And by then I was rather terrified that if I opened another Womble book, the magic would be lost.

But that early sense of wonder and delight never quite left me, so, when I saw that the books had been reissued in the U.S. (in paperback and ebook editions) I decided that I owed it to myself to try a short reread for Tor.com. Not all the books – the local library in their innate wisdom has realized that not everyone is that interested in 1970s books featuring talking bears (who now look more like raccoons, but that's an issue I'll address in the Tor.com columns) and thus has only purchased four of them. But four should be enough to allow me to see if that magic remains.

Here we go. And for those I met at WFC who DIDN'T know the Wombling Song, I embedded a couple of renditions in the post.


xmas me
Mari Ness

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