Writing Someone Else’s Characters and Other Controversies

sequelBook sequels, like film adaptations, can be troublesome things for the people who love the original work. They often incite passion, so if you’re not ready to be disagreed with, you’d best be advised not to bring them up. It’s a subject that should be added to the list of those you should not mention if you want a peaceful get-together – politics, religion, and book sequels.


Clearly disagreeing about a sequel.

We are currently in the midst of the release of two particularly controversial sequels. The first is the new Lisbeth Salander thriller, The Girl in the Spider’s Web. Though all of author Stieg Larsson’s colossally popular Millennium series books were published after his death, this is the first to be written after his death by fellow Swede David Lagercrantz.

spiderThe publisher and Larsson’s estate both gave their blessing, saying Lagercrantz is “uniquely qualified” to carry on the series that Larsson would have continued had he not died so young and suddenly. “He knows what he’s talking about, about the police or the intelligence units in the Swedish government, how they work.” But Larsson’s de facto widow of 32 years, Eva Gabrielsson, is less than thrilled as they never married, and she has no legal say. Gabrielsson says that “I wouldn’t have continued Stieg’s work. It was his language, his unique narrative… The worst thing is how saddened Stieg would have been. He never let anyone work on his literary texts. He would have been furious.”

I didn’t know this all this until a colleague told me about it the other day. I did know that many (many, MANY) people are excited about another Salander and Blomkvist adventure. Many agencies reported The Girl in the Spider’s Web passed 200,000 sales in a single week. In library land, we can see that demand is huge in our own way – as of this moment there are almost 300 people on the waiting list (and we’ve ordered 51 copies!).

watchman I was more aware of the other controversy this summer, which surrounds Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. Written before To Kill a Mockingbird, but depicting an adult Jean-Louise, there’s some question as to what prompted Lee to suddenly okay its publication after not doing so for decades. But Mockingbird is, I will venture to say, one of the most beloved novels out there (I may be biased – it’s one of my all-time favourites). So no amount of rain could dampen the parade of those wanting more of Scout and Atticus. Reviews of the book have not been overwhelmingly positive. Maybe give it a read, and let me know what you think…

A small sampling of other sequels that triggered hullabaloo include:

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King. This title is a sequel to The Shining, written 39 years after.

fight club 2Fight Club 2 by Chuck Palahniuk. A graphic novel sequel to Fight Club.

Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean. This sequel to Peter Pan was the winner of a competition by the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, to which J.M. Barrie had willed the rights to his works.

Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley, Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig and, most recently, Ruth’s Journey by Donald McCaig. All sequels to Gone with the Wind authorized by Margaret Mitchell’s estate, though Mitchell herself had not wanted to write a sequel.

And Another Thing… by Eoin Colfer. A whole new installment in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy “trilogy” by Douglas Adams.

Dracula The Un-Dead by Dacre Stoker. Sequel to Dracula written by Bram Stoker’s grandnephew.

There are, of course, many others. Do you have a favourite controversial sequel,  or one that you feel fell far short of the mark? What do you think, in general, of an author carrying on the work of another? Let us know in the comments!

Erica @ WPL

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