The Last Word: Write or Not?

Article | Issue: Jul 2022

Books that are loved across generations and which stand the test of time are described as classics.

In this feature, we consider the age-old debate of whether it’s ethical for authors to write sequels and prequels to established literary works. AKINA HANSEN tells us why we should embrace this.

 

When we talk about classics, we’re referring to books that are beloved across generations for their enduring and timeless qualities. So, when a sequel or prequel is made there is often a universal feeling of trepidation and dread, and some readers find themselves thinking: ‘What if this taints the original book?’ or ‘No! Just leave it alone! It’s perfect as it is!’

Imagine then, how you might respond to the idea of a sequel being written by an author who didn’t write the original book or when an author dies writing mid-book, and it’s left to another author to finish it.

In fact, this happens more often than we realise. Classics such as Gone with the Wind, The Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, and works by Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters have all had sequels written by other authors.

Personally, I’m not particularly thrilled by the idea of an author other than Austen herself reimagining the life of Darcy and Elizabeth, nor do I feel that Nick Carraway needs his own backstory when I’m far more interested in the enigmatic Daisy.

In fact, I find these writing attempts curious. Why not just craft something completely original and avoid the possibility of spoiling a beloved classic? Yet I appreciate that there’s a time, place and space for these endeavours.

Series such as Ian Fleming’s ‘James Bond’ and Robert Ludlum’s ‘Bourne’ have cult followings and have gone on to become large film franchises. There’s obviously a place for these types of sequels that have the backing of their large fan bases and, in turn, serve as icons in Western popular culture.

There’s an abundance of these books, both sanctioned and unsanctioned by author estates. And while most of these books fail to achieve the same literary status as their predecessors, if executed well, there’s no reason why a sequel or prequel by another author can’t achieve stand-alone success.

The best possible example for this is Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, a prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre.

When I first read Rhys’s novel, I felt that it satisfied an innate curiosity I had about Brontë’s character, Antoinette Cosway. In Jane Eyre, she is portrayed as a hysterical woman who is locked away in a room by her husband, Mr Rochester. Rhys recognised that many readers had questions about this character: ‘What was her backstory?’ ‘What was she like prior to their marriage?’ and ‘How did she end up there?’

Wide Sargasso Sea created a new world from Brontë’s book. Written from the point of view of Antoinette herself, the book is set in Jamaica during her youth and provides a feminist and post-colonial viewpoint, which adds a new element of complexity and provides insight into a previously unexplored world. It’s a work that stands on its own, and that is perhaps what is at the crux of the success.

Ultimately, I think if a writer can create a prequel or sequel that serves a purpose or transcends its predecessor, then I welcome the idea of other writers reimagining the works of literary classics.

Agree?

Author: Ian Fleming

Category: Classic fiction (pre c 1945), Crime & mystery, Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945), Thriller / suspense

Book Format: Paperback / softback

Publisher: VINTAGE ARROW - MASS MARKET

ISBN: 9780099576853

RRP: $19.99

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