Hoff, Benjamin 1946-
HOFF, Benjamin 1946-
PERSONAL: Born 1946; son of Lloyd (a graphic designer) and Clementine Hoff; married Deborah Newman. Education: Evergreen State College, graduated 1973.
ADDRESSES: Home—Idaho. Agent—Natasha Kern, Natasha Kern Literary Agency, P.O. Box 2908, Portland, OR 97208.
CAREER: Writer. Worked variously as a tree pruner, antiques restorer, hospital orderly, musician, and investigative reporter.
AWARDS, HONORS: American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation, 1988, for The Singing Creek where the Willows Grow: The Rediscovered Diary of Opal Whiteley.
The Way to Life: At the Heart of the Tao Te Ching, Weatherhill (New York, NY), 1981.
The Tao of Pooh (philosophy), illustrated by Ernest Shepard, Dutton (New York, NY), 1982.
The Te of Piglet (philosophy), Dutton (New York, NY), 1992.
The House on the Point: A Tribute to Franklin W. Dixon and the Hardy Boys, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2002.
Contributor to The Singing Creek where the Willows Grow: The Rediscovered Diary of Opal Whiteley, by Opal Stanley Whiteley, Ticknor & Fields (New York, NY), 1986.
SIDELIGHTS: In an interview with the New York Times, Benjamin Hoff observed wryly that he is "probably the most unknown two-time best-selling author in the country." Hoff's relative anonymity is partly because his books, though successful, have not been promoted through massive publicity campaigns. The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet, both of which became best-sellers, borrow characters from A. A. Milne, the British writer who created such widely read children's classics as Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner. For his own popular books, Hoff has recast Milne's stories with an overlay of Chinese Taoist philosophy and a modern New Age quest for spiritual fulfillment.
Tao, pronounced "dow," is the Chinese word for "the Way." An ancient Chinese philosophy, Taoism considers thinking, knowledge, and the intellect as superficial, even dangerous; Taoism advocates in their place a simple, contemplative life, one that rejects the intellect and seeks a quiet oneness with the natural world. In The Tao of Pooh, this is precisely how Pooh lives. Without the abrasiveness of Eeyore, the clever calculations of Rabbit, or the dry scholarship of Owl, Pooh just is. Although the book eventually sold over a million copies, it was not until a year after publication that it began selling in any significant numbers.
Hoff continued to find a wide audience with the 1992 publication of The Te of Piglet, which almost overnight became a fixture on the best-seller lists. Quoting liberally from Milne's original stories, Hoff depicts Piglet's efforts to find te, the Chinese word for virtue. Both The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet have a spiritual message. Publishers Weekly contributor Genevieve Stuttaford called The Te of Piglet a "forceful New Age sermon" that also addresses, among other topics, environmental degradation, the danger of nuclear power, computers in classrooms, and conservatives in the White House.
Besides writing The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet, Hoff has been instrumental in reprinting the diary of Opal Stanley Whiteley, a young girl who lived in Oregon in the early 1900s. Originally published in 1920 as The Story of Opal: The Journal of an Understanding Heart, the diary was written with crayons on scraps of paper and was instantly acclaimed as the work of a genius. However, it soon became the center of controversy when critics began to question its authenticity, some believing that it could have been created only by an adult writer. The book fell out of print a year after it was published, and its author retreated into a world of fantasy until she was confined to a mental hospital outside London in 1948. Hoff investigated the controversy surrounding the book and reissued Whiteley's diary in 1986. The book also contains an introductory biography of Whiteley by Hoff and a description of his investigation into the controversy. Although he was unable to interview Whiteley, Hoff believes the diary to be authentic, and he says in the book: "In my imagination, I see young Opal now, a dark-haired little girl in a blue calico dress, standing at the meeting of the roads. The wind is blowing through her hair. In her pocket is a crayon and some folded pieces of scrap paper. She is setting out on an exploration trip. And when she returns, she will have stories to tell, in a diary unlike anything ever written, one of the most amazing creations in the English language. And every time I read from it, I celebrate the victory of Opal Whiteley."
After a decade-long hiatus from publishing, Hoff reappeared with another tribute to classic children's literature. In The House on the Point: A Tribute to Franklin W. Dixon and the Hardy Boys, he rewrites the second book of that long-lived and ever-popular series of juvenile mysteries, adding a foreword and afterword that take to task various contemporary ills such as rampant consumerism and the lack of arts education in the schools. As a reviewer for Publishers Weekly commented, Hoff presents a "weird clone-cumfulmination on the present state of American society in his updated rewrite." For Joe Hartlaub, writing on BookReporter.com, Hoff updates the classic mystery of smuggling, "making it at once new and fresh while retaining the wide-eyed innocence of the original." However, for a Kirkus Reviews critic, this update was less effective: "The result is a strange curio that neither reads like the original … nor represents a significant improvement in complexity or maturity." Booklist's Bill Ott noted that Hoff tries to give the book's characters "more depth" by "adding spunk" to the females and crafting a "touch of emotional life" for Frank and Joe Hardy. But Ott asks and answers his own question about the book's effectiveness: "Does it work? Not exactly." While finding similar faults in the novel, the reviewer for Publishers Weekly also had praise for Hoff's book, saying that it "evokes the music of the period in a way the original never did, with writing more fluid than the pseudonymous Dixon's."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Hoff, Benjamin, The Te of Piglet, Dutton (New York, NY), 1992.
Whiteley, Opal Stanley, The Singing Creek where the Willows Grow: The Rediscovered Diary of Opal Whiteley, Ticknor & Fields (New York, NY), 1986.
Booklist, October 15, 2002, Bill Ott, review of The House on the Point: A Tribute to Franklin W. Dixon and the Hardy Boys, p. 391.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2002, review of The House on the Point, p. 1178.
Publishers Weekly, July 20, 1992, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of The Te of Piglet, p. 238; October 7, 2002, review of The House on the Point, pp. 56-57.
Washington Post, December 2, 2002, Phil McCombs, review of The House on the Point, p. C10.
BookReporter.com, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (February 10, 2004), Joe Hartlaub, review of The House on the Point.