The End Is Just the Beginning

Last night I was having a very important IM conversation with my friend Caryn, and she sent me a link:

Nine Depressing True Life Adult Counterparts of Beloved Children’s Books (my favorite is Ramona Quimby, Failed Graphic Designer)

It’s a pretty funny list, and it made me think about how often times, the ending is not enough. A lot of the time when I get to the end of a book, reading the last page is just a jumping-off point for my imagination to wander through all the possibilities of what might happen next. (And just as many times, I am relieved to get to the end of the book because reading it was such a horrible chore, or I am angered by the ending of a book because I can’t believe I read everything and that was the way it ended — I’m looking at YOU, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, or I would be if I had not thrown you across the room and left you in the corner six years ago in a different house. But these are different subjects for different days.)

Anyway, what is it with us? That the end isn’t good enough? That we have to pick up where the story left off? As much as I understand it, there’s an equal part of me that doesn’t get it at all. While I will watch movie sequels (for example, I have every Die Hard movie ever made on DVD, and shut up, they’re awesome), I’m not a big fan of book sequels. Perhaps this is because when I was 13, I read Scarlett, Alexandra Ripley’s sequel to Margaret Mitchell’s classic, Gone With the Wind, and hated every second of it. (My habit of talking back to books was born then; I kept saying “Oh come on” to the text as I read.) Since then, I have never read a sequel to a book that wasn’t written by the book’s original author, and most of the time, I skip the same-author-penned sequels too.

I don’t know if I’m necessarily a rare case, but when I was looking around for information on stories that follow-up books that have already been written, I came across a hell of a lot of fan fiction (and accidentally stumbled across some of the gay Harry Potter variety, hoo boy). I knew there was all kinds of this stuff out there, from Anne of Green Gables fanfic to the most famous example (that I can think of, but then I am a Jane Austen nerd), Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, a sequel to Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I haven’t read it, but apparently after Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy get married, they have lots and lots of super hot sex. A boinkfest, if you will. And if you’ve ever read Pride and Prejudice you totally know that’s going to happen anyway, even without a written sequel.

Now, I’m not against fan fiction or sequels at all, but I don’t think they’re my kind of thing. I guess for me, while I might like to think from time to time about what happens to characters after I’ve read the last sentence of a book, I don’t want anybody to tell me what they think happens, nor do I want to tell anybody else what I think happens. It’s sort of a personal thing, or at least it’s individual, kind of like the way I imagine what characters look like as I read (and then film adaptations, no matter how good they are, always get it wrong).

It’s an interesting thing to do as a writer, I think, taking on a world of characters that has already been created and making something new from it. It’s not something I would do, because I have enough trouble with the stuff I make up on my own, but I’m sort of fascinated by it. Is it devotion, disappointment with the ending, a need for the characters to keep going, that drives people to write sequels to books? Why not just write something completely new? (And what exactly is the dividing line between a sequel and fan fiction?) I’m curious.

And while I’m in question mode, and because I think it might be interesting, what books can you think of that need sequels?

6 Responses

  1. I don’t think any books need
    I don’t think any books need sequels.

    There was an interesting attempt at this, a while ago, however. Nicholas Meyer wrote a book which revived Sherlock Holmes. It was called “The Seven Percent Solution” and it was billed as “a lost manuscript from John H. Watson MD”. It was amusing, and eventually made into a film.

    This brings up another point: for me, Sherlock Holmes *is* Basil Rathbone in the old British films. I spent many a Sunday morning sitting in front of re-runs of those movies, and I still can’t get enough. Don’t ask me why.

  2. I think there’s a difference
    I think there’s a difference between sequel and series.

    A literary novel, in the classic sense, should probably never need a sequel. It will contain a theme, which the plot, characters, and action will impart that theme to the reader. If you need a sequel, maybe you really needed a longer novel.

    A series may or may not contain a theme. I don’t mean that a series can’t also be literary ficiton. I say “literary” for lack of a better term. Apparently, John Updike’s Rabbit series is considered literary, though I can’t comment, having never read them.

    A series takes characters and/or some other recurring items, and places them in a variety of situations. Like James Bond, Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, Hercule Poirot, or A Series of Unfortunate Events.

    I have heard it whispered that novel sequels are sometimes written to make money. I can’t think of any novels I want to see a sequel to, but here is a list some novels that I will be glad to write sequels to, if the pay is right:

    1. Ulysses, Day Two
    2. Of Mice and Reanimated Men – Lenny’s Revenge
    3. The Turn of the Screw II: Keep On Toinin’
    4. Atlas Shrugged II: Subprime Solution
    5. Crime and Punishment After Prison, the Uneventful Years

    Michael, I’m with you on those movies with Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Watson. I dug ’em as a kid and dig ’em still. You know Nicholas Meyer wrote two other Sherlock Holmes books, The West End Horror and The Canary Trainer. I even thought about writing one myself. For some reason, certain characters resonate with people in such a way that we never want their stories to end.

  3. Yeah, Bill, the series is
    Yeah, Bill, the series is different. Trilogy, multi-volumed work, what have you. It means the story must be told over a large spans of books. Add The Lord of the Rings, In Search of Lost Time, The Forsyte Saga.

    Elementary, my dear Ectric.

  4. What’s your asking price for
    What’s your asking price for the “Crime and Punishment” sequel? I’d be willing to start a fund of some sort.

    I have very mixed feelings about fan fiction and long-after-the-fact sequels (primarily because most of them — “Scarlett” and (shudder) “Lo’s Diary” — are so unfathomably awful). I do, however, think you’ve nailed the impulse behind it — and it’s something of a sweet one. Like Bjork in “Dancer in the Dark,” who leaves the theater right before the movie ends, so that in her head it can go on forever.

  5. Hahaha, Milton, you called my
    Hahaha, Milton, you called my bluff.

    Interesting thing, though: I recently noticed that the ending of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange reminds me of the end of Dostoevsky’s Crime & Punishment

    When A Clockwork Orange was first published in the United States, they left off the ending where Alex outgrows his violent behavior and yearns for a wife and kids, knowing too that his children will probably go through destructive phases of their own. The movie version leaves that out as well.

    The last paragraph of Crime and Punishment says, “But that is the beginning of a new story–the story of the gradual renewal of a man, the story of his gradual regeneration, of his passing from one world into another, of his initiation into a new unknown life. That might be the subject of a new story, but our present story is ended.”

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