Prequels, Sequels and Spin Off’s…

I mentioned when earlier in the week when I discussed adaptations that I had been to see the musical ‘Wicked!’ again with The Converted One, my mother, my little sister and her best friend. Now many of you thought it was for the second time, it was actually the fifth!! Anyway it started me thinking about prequels, sequels and spin offs NOT written by the original author and this discussion has come up again a few times in the last week so I decided I should bring the discussion on here too. I hope you will all join in?

It was actually ‘The Wizard of Oz’, and therefore ‘Wicked’, as opposed to instant titles you might think of that have been spinned such as ‘Rebecca’ or indeed ‘Pride and Prejudice’ that got a conversation started on just this subject between myself and one of my fellow Green Carnation judges Nick Campbell when we were out at a book launch on Tuesday night. You see as a child I was rather obsessed with the film ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (and indeed ‘Return to Oz’ though I think people thought that film was rather uncool so maybe I shouldn’t admit to that) ask Granny Savidge Reads… I used to insist on watching it once a week apparently. It seemed that so is Nick and not just of the films but of the books. So I of course asked if he had read ‘Wicked’ by Gregory Maguire and ‘Was’ by Geoff Ryman (the answers were yes and no).

I personally loved ‘Wicked’ when I read it several years ago and it has indeed become one of my very favourite books because it took something I adored and turned it on its very head (making Elphaba a misunderstood witch who was actually best friends with Glinda at university in Shiz not far from Munchkinland. Interestingly though I was then really rather disappointed when I went onto read Gregory Maguire’s sequel to his ‘Oz’ spin off ‘Son of a Witch’ it didn’t cast the spell (pun intended) that I wanted it to once more. Maybe ‘A Lion Among Men’ will? I wonder if I would be such a fan of ‘Wicked’ if I had actually read the original Oz books or would I instead consider it some kind of barbaric sacrilege?

I mean most of the people I know who love ‘Pride and Prejudice’ think anything that is a spin off of that novel they hold in such high esteem is the work of Satan simply doesn’t cut the mustard no matter how good it is. The very fact that it is a spin off of from such a successful story is deemed an author cashing in or writing a book rather lazily to be honest (not my words a rather toned down watershed version of some of my friends actually). Is this the case or are their some gems out there they are simply being too snobbish to admit to? I mean look at ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ by Jean Rhys which has become rather an acclaimed novel and yet is a prequel of sorts to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre’.

I applied the notion of prequels and sequels written by another author to my favourite book which is of course ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier. Whilst I have copies of Sally Beauman’s ‘Rebecca’s Tale’ and Susan Hill’s ‘Mrs De Winter’ I have not touched either of them or really been tempted to and considering the latter is one of my favourite authors I am wondering if there is something in this. Can I simply not bear the idea of my favourite book being ruined by another great author who no matter how good or how hard they try simply cannot recreate the atmosphere Daphne did? I suppose I won’t know the answer till I try… but just having looked at them again, I got that same unsure feeling, so I don’t think I will know for quite some time.

Are there any prequels, sequels or spin offs by your favourite authors or the ones mentioned above that have really, really worked for you and managed to embody/channel the voice from the original? Have any ever been better than the original itself? Which prequels, sequels and spin off’s really should never have happened?

11 Comments

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11 responses to “Prequels, Sequels and Spin Off’s…

  1. Annabel

    The only two I can think of that I’ve read, are P&P&Zombies and Dracula the Undead.

    P&P&Zombies was great fun (the joke wasn’t really sustained throughout the book though). Purists largely hated it, I enjoyed it – and it did catch the public imagination and spawn many other mash-ups so has a lot to answer for.

    Dracula the Undead – was co-written by a descendant of Bram Stoker himself, and was execrable!

  2. I too have mixed views about prequels/sequels. Having always liked Susan Hill’s writing, I was bitterly disappointed in ‘Mrs De Winter’ which I thought was rubbish. The Sally Beaumann book was infinitly better, and was a good read in its own right, even if you didn’t know anything about ‘Rebecca’. In fact I think that is the secret of a good pre/sequel, it must stand on it’s own merits.
    The most successful example I can think of is Jean Rhys’s wonderful novel ‘The Wide Sargasso Sea’ which is what Hollywood would call ‘the back story’ of the first Mrs Rochester (aka the madwoman in the attic) from ‘Jane Eyre’.

  3. Curzon Tussaud

    Tom Holt’s additions to the E.F Benson Mapp and Lucia books are seamless and sanspareil (Lucia in Wartime and Lucia Triumphant) and we have been recently blessed with Major Benjy by Guy Fraser-Sampson, which “fills in” between two of the Benson books. Jane Austen is altogether harder to pull off and one can only admire Diana Birchall is inhabiting the author’s skin so perfectly in her Mrs Elton in America and Mrs Darcy’s Dilemma. There are many new Sherlock Holmes books, but my favourites are the Laurie R. King “Russell” series which replaces Watson with a young American girl, Mary Russell: find the first “The Bee-keeper’s Apprentice” and try it on to see if it fits. D.L Sayers’ wondrous Lord Peter Wimsey solves more cases thanks to Jill Paton Walsh (one of these at least was the completion of a D.L.S manuscript which she had left unfinished).

  4. Curzon Tussaud

    Sorry: should read in inhabiting, not is.

  5. I hadn’t heard of Was, but it is now on my wish list. I wasn’t a huge fan of The Wizard of Oz, but I did see Return to Oz a few years back and quite enjoyed it 🙂 I absolutely love Wicked though. It is definitely a favorite novel of mine, because there are just so many different topics explored, and it takes a familiar story and makes it so much more real. Love love love love love 🙂 I do have to say though that A Lion Among Men is worse than Son of a Witch, unfortunately. I still want to know what happens next though!

    As for other spin-offs or sequels, I haven’t read many. I do absolutely adore Scarlett, a sequel to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, as well as Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson (written as a prequel to Anne of Green Gables). I haven’t read any spin-offs though, only pre- or sequels.

  6. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys is the best prequel in my opinion. It truly captured the essence of the characters from Jane Eyre and helped me to truly take a clearer look at Jane Eyre. It got me to recognize what a selfish brat Jane turned out to be and that she deserved a jerk like Rochester. Jean Rhys’ work is excellent and Wide Sargasso Sea is a prime example of that. Love it!

  7. When I first read Wicked, I mistakenly thought that it was inspired by Baum’s numerous and wildly imaginative Oz books, and so was disappointed to find that it was in fact based on the relatively limited material of the film (with a few additions from the books).

    Wicked makes the most out of the imaginary world of the film, but I feel as if the dependence on a film as source material gives it a distinctly limited feeling, a too narrow reliance on specific details of sound and sight. I can’t help but feel that the Oz of the film – and of Wicked – is a constructed stage set, while the Oz of the books is a world that can change over time and stretches out beyond the stories told about it.

  8. I don’t think I’ve ever read or watched a spin off that I really disliked, but some have been much better than others. One I loved was actually a tv spin off ‘Lost Austen’ where a fan of Pride and Prejudice switches places with Elizabeth Bennet only to discover not everything and everyone is like Austen portrayed them, very funny! It had what I love most in spin offs, 1) it did pay hommage to the original with references 2) it also did completely new things. Spin offs are very dull for me if there just the original with a few difference, should be something new with references back.

    (Not to worry I obsessively watched Return to Oz as a child too…to be honest I still have a copy of it but atleast now I’m not petrified of the wheelers!)

  9. Revisionist fiction has become so well established in my mind as a positive thing since uni days that I’m finidng it hard to get back into the head space of someone who considers it evil 😉 I’d say I’m much more happy with revisionist fiction like Rebecca’s Tale, Wicked, or Wide Sargasso Sea than I am with direct sequels. Revisionist works are so useful for giving voices to unheard characters and negotiating the danger of one single story, but I do remember a time when I was horrified that Jane Eyre had been ‘re-written’.

    Maybe it’s because I’m so used to modern adaptations of my favourite classics that taking the same story and rewriting it from a different perespective seems more natural to me. But then I’m totally happy with ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ which posits a fictional history before Jane Eyre ever started, so maybe I’d be fine with other prequels. Sequels – eh I’m not so sure about them, but I do like a good fan fic sequel so I’m not sure why I’m resistant to sequels written by professional writers.I just know I can’t quite bring myself to pick up the sixth sequel (what do you even call that?) to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

  10. I have seen Wicked: the Musical twice so far and could delightedly watch it over and over again; I LOVE it so much and regularly sign along to Defying Gravity (especially the Glee version!)

    Personally I love reworkings of novels/elements of novels rather than fully-fledged spin-offs i.e. The Hours by Michael Cunningham and Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys; I like the intertextuality that works on its own level and in its own right as something original.

    I must, must, must read Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series.

  11. One of the most innovative spin-offs is Geraldine Brooks’ March, in which the main character is the father of the 4 Little Women. This book may appeal to most of those who have already commented, because it does not revisit Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth, but rather describes the experiences of their father while he is away at war — the Civil War — trying, but largely failing, to be a chaplain in the army. There are very few references to his familiar family, so this is very much a case of the author exploring an extremely minor character in Alcott’s previous novel. The book won the Pulitzer Prize, probably for its depiction of a little-known aspect of American history — what happened on and to plantations when slaves were suddenly granted their freedom. Although it didn’t strike me as a momentous enough book to win the Pulitzer, it is a little gem and well worth reading.

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