What's better than a gripping, captivating, riveting read? Another one, of course. That's where the sequel comes in. A sequel is a piece of work complete in itself, but continuing the story or narrative of a work that came before it. Sounds pretty simple but it can become complicated. A literary sequel can occasionally be more loosely defined. For instance, some books that contain the same or related characters as the previous work, while focusing on an entirely different narrative or theme, can still be considered sequels. Sometimes an author will write a book introducing earlier, backstory of a work he or she has already written. The book is written after the original, but takes place earlier in the story (think the Star Wars movies). This is a prequel.
Sequels can be the second book of two, or the second book in an ongoing trilogy or series. While fans are generally delighted at the prospect of a sequel to a well-loved read, it can also be nerve-wracking for both the reader, who often gets emotionally invested in the story, and the author, who feels pressure to write a second book as good as the first. In the case of crtically-acclaimed or bestselling books, that can be daunting.
That could in part explain why so many authors choose not to write a sequel, despite the highly elevated chance of commercial success. One can imagine how many fans and publishers must have pleaded with Harper Lee for a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird.
An author's refusal to write a sequel, however, seldom means that a sequel does not exist. Often, other writers take matters into their own hands and write versions. Sequels and parallel works by other authors cover a wide range of legitimacy, quality and fame, from well-regarded parallel novels, to middle-of-the-road versions, known as unofficial sequels, unauthorised sequels or informal sequels, to entirely amateur fanfiction.
Some stories have real staying power, achieving an almost timeless status, with legions of fans, fan clubs, discussion forums and more. These are the books most often retold, parodied, and heavily borrowed from. Take Pride and Prejudice for example. This legendary novel by Jane Austen has had countless authors try their hands at sequels and parallel novels, from the well-known (like Helen Fielding, whose Bridget Jones' Diary was a sort of modern adaptation, and P.D. James, who penned the recent Death Comes to Pemberley) to virtual unknowns.Gone with the Wind is another classic work to inspire numerous sequels and retellings. Margaret Mitchell herself never wrote a sequel, but her estate authorised two: Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley and Rhett Butler's People by Donald McCaig. But a third which got attention, The Wind Done Gone, by Alice Randall, was not authorised by Mitchell or her estate, and Gone with the Wind's copyright holders attempted to block the book’s publication, which was a retelling of Gone with the Wind from the point of view of Scarlett’s alleged half-sister, a slave. The courts found in favour of Randall, however, ruling that the book was a parody and therefore legally publishable.
Some sequels written by others are well-received and achieve acclaim as a stand-alone work based on their own merits, such as Jean Rhys' work The Wide Sargasso Sea. It was written as a post-modern prequel to Charlotte Bronte's 1847 classic Jane Eyre. Rhys wrote the work in 1966, from the perspective of Rochester's first wife, exploring how she became the “madwoman in the attic” eventually introduced in Jane Eyre. If it’s true that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Bronte would likely be flattered indeed, as The Wide Sargasso Sea has won several awards, and has been named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels since 1923.
Some of the imitation out there might be slightly less flattering, particularly for authors who don’t want others borrowing their stories and characters. In 2009 a legal and literary hubbub exploded when a nobody of a writer calling himself J.D. California (actually a publisher called Fredrik Colting) published an unauthorised sequel to J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye called 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye halfway through 2009. Salinger, infamously private and reclusive, sued furiously and printing was halted very quickly. Debates, appeals, injunctions and more days in court battled on, and in early 2011, a year after JD Salinger died, the book won the right to be published.
Still further down the ladder is the genre known as fanfiction. A simple internet search for the title of a popular book plus “fanfiction” or “fanfic” will turn up endless examples of writing by fans about their favourite characters. While some is surprisingly good, much of it seems to stem from fans’ desires to see various characters romantically linked.
While all of these offer potential enjoyment, and a much-needed fix for die-hard fans, there is little debate that the best sequels are those written by the author of the original work. With that in mind, we've put together a selection of some of the best literary sequels out there. Enjoy.