If you’re a book lover, like me, you have a favorite author (or several). And at some point, you will have read all the works by said author. What happens then? Do you sigh sadly, make a cup of tea, and begin writing yourself? Perhaps you check out a new author from a reading list, or ask a friend for a recommendation. You could even read a book about the author (I have two such books on my reading list, biographies of beloved authors Elizabeth Goudge and Bess Streeter Aldrich) or make a pilgrimage to places they lived, wrote, or wrote about.
Or, you can read a sequel by another author.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a great deal of variation in the quality of such “sequels.” Not to step on the toes of those who enjoy them, but if you love good writing, I think you’ll notice a jarring contrast between, for example, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books and the “Little House on Rocky Ridge” series by Roger Lea McBride. Now there are even more additions to the stories, written by Melissa Wiley and Maria Wilkes. While Laura’s books are well-written and enjoyable for adults as well as children, the modern titles would be unlikely to hold the interest of anyone over the age of twelve. Admittedly, that is the market they were written for, but it saddens me to see the decline in writing skill throughout.
Not only are many modern attempts poorly written, they are often full of glaring historical inaccuracies. The obvious factual errors (such as someone having a telephone before they were invented) are bad enough, but what really annoys me is how often the characters think and act like they were transplanted from our current time. Were there independent-minded girls in the 1800’s? I’m sure there were. Did they really talk back to adult men at the age of 12? I doubt it.
That’s why I was excited to discover a “new” Jane Austen – an unfinished fragment called “The Watsons” which has been finished by at least three different people, including Jane’s niece. The most recent attempt was in 1996, by a woman named Joan Aiken. Despite the promising reviews (“Others may try, but nobody comes close to Aiken in writing sequels to Austen” and “seamlessly continuing where Jane Austen left off”), I was once again very disappointed.
Not only is the writing style completely unlike Austen and the story line far from plausible, there are so many historical errors that it is quite maddening. Would a young lady have driven her sister (in a carriage, of course) to a ball? Would a young man confess, “She’s the one for me!” about the lady he admired, or say “I reckon?” I could go on for a long time, but instead I’ll recommend a far better alternative: The Watsons, by Jane Austen and John Coates. Truly outstanding. Mr. Coates not only writes well, he treats Austen’s work with great respect and finishes her book in a manner that does not leave one wondering what century is being portrayed. Find it if you can – it is a delightful read.
All of this begs the question: why are there so many poorly-written sequels to wonderful old books?
I think in some cases, the author of the “new” books simply want to continue the story for those who loved the books as much as they did. Sometimes they want to emphasize the “Christian” aspects of the books, aspects that were more subtle in the originals. (Eric Wiggin’s adaptation of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is a good, although annoying, example of this.)
But it often seems that the motivation is money. I’m thinking particularly of the recent outpouring of “Jane Austen sequels” in the wake of all the movies – books which for the most part, unfortunately, do not belong on a Christian’s shelf. And I suppose if money is the motivator, it makes sense that the authors could be careless. Put “Mr. Darcy” on the front and it will sell. Most people either don’t know or don’t care enough to be bothered by inconsistencies or wrong information.
No, sequels are not equals. And while I’m sure I’ll try a few more that look promising, for the most part I’ll stick to the originals.