Saturday is always a difficult blogging day. The kids and the spouse are underfoot, and I don’t have my usual rhythm of sitting down immediately after they leave for school and work. Instead, it’s “Mommy this” or “Bookworm that,” sentence openings that always scatter my thoughts to the four corners. Since I haven’t had the chance yet to limber up my brain this morning, I’m going to start with some light blogging, on a light subject: Sequels.
When I like an author, I like to read any other books the author might have written. And when an author I like has written a series, I’m all over it. A moment here for a definition: to me, a series comprises a set of books, written by the same author, that follow the same characters through a grand adventure, with the last book being the culmination of the sequence. Each later book is the sequel to the previously written book. Some of my favorite series, dating back over the years to my childhood are:
I also like books in which an author recycles good characters, something that’s fairly typical in murder mysteries. Thus, I love Lord Peter Wimsey, in the Dorothy Sayer’s books, and can happily read and re-read Agatha Christie Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple books. If one goes for incredibly clever, wacky fantasy, one can’t do better than Jasper Fforde’s Tuesday Next or Nursery Crimes mysteries. The characters’ predictability is soothing, and I always enjoy the author’s voice.
That last phrase is key: “the author’s voice.” Whether I’m reading a series of books, taking a set of characters from beginning to end in a grand adventure, or separate books that nevertheless revolve around one or more of the same characters, the link is the author. No one else can have the same vision of the character as the character’s creator.
The reason I’m obsessing about this is because the Times has announced that there is a new and almost fitting sequel to one of the all time great books ever written: Gone With The Wind. The original book has gone out of fashion now, because of the really embarrassing and appalling racism, but it’s a rip-roaring good story about a headstrong woman, about the subjugation of women, and about one really passionate romance, distinguished by self-knowledge on one side (that’s Rhett), and no knowledge on the other side (that’s Scarlett). The new book (which Mitchell’s estate commissioned), is told from Rhett Butler’s point of view, and makes him a politically correct, noble figure. Rhett wasn’t. He had all the prejudices of his upbringing, but was an honest scalliwag, who was not impressed by the pieties of those surrounding him. That is, he wasn’t a PC prince, he was a cynic, albeit a charming and physically attractive one.
Because the new book’s author has a completely different vision of the character, this cannot be either a sequel, a prequel, or simply a book sharing the same lead character. Instead, it would have to fall into the category of books “inspired by” other books. This is something even the Times reviewer understands:
If one is to rescue Rhett for the modern reader, one must explain away this and several other details that Hollywood conveniently left out of the film. McCaig, the author of two other novels set during the Civil War period, was chosen by the Mitchell estate to write this sequel. He works hard to cleanse Rhett of the stains on his reputation that Mitchell considered compliments. That McCaig so admirably succeeds is both the strength and weakness of his tale and helps illustrate the risk of attempting a sequel to one of the most popular novels in history.
Frankly, I doubt I’ll read the book. I’m never comfortable seeing tried and true characters, fully realized by the original author, reshaped in another writer’s hands. (That’s why I can never get past the first chapter in all those novels that try to be sequels to Jane Austen books, or that try to tell the story of otherwise minor characters in those books. The voice is wrong, the value systems are usually different, and the whole thing invariably comes off flat, trite and coy.)