CBC Arts recently published its Year in Books recap, examining the biggest publishing stories of 2009. Judging from the list, it wasn't the greatest year -- but when you factor in Sarah Palin's memoir and a follow-up to The Da Vinci Code, it gets downright ugly.
However, the list missed another insidious trend that emerged in the latter months of the year, and one that got surprising little coverage: 2009 was the year of the sequel.
Okay, that's not the whole story. Sequels are not inherently bad. But the strange and lamentable trend that exploded in 2009 was the sequel-by-another-author. Iconic characters Jacob Two-Two, Winnie the Pooh, Holden Caulfield, Anne of Green Gables, Dracula and Arthur Dent and company (of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) all got the sequel treatment this year and, with the exception of Holden Caulfield`s creator J.D. Salinger, the authors who thought up those characters are all dead.
Interestingly, Salinger fought for, and won, an indefinite U.S. publication ban on the unauthorized sequel to his 1951 novel Catcher in the Rye. This should tell you something: the one living author whose work was affected by this trend fought hard to stop it.
Another clue that this might be a bad idea is when a person writing the sequel admits they wouldn't want it to happen to them. Budge Wilson, the author of the new book in the Anne of Green Gables series, told CBC News that she wouldn't want "someone doing this with one of my characters in one of my books."
At times, sequels are justified. When he died in 1953, the brilliant gothic mystery writer John Bellairs left some unfinished manuscripts and other book ideas. His estate commissioned a new writer to complete them. Fair enough. However, Mordecai Richler, A. A. Milne, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Bram Stoker and Douglas Adams didn't do that. They finished their stories. The Anne of Green Gables situation is especially egregious since it's a prequel. In the original books, Anne's background is barely covered. But if the character's creator wanted to cover that or thought it was important, she probably would have done it herself. Maybe she wanted to let readers create their own mythology. Who knows? But if the writer never attempted to continue their stories, it's safe to assume they didn't want to, or felt it wasn't necessary. Other writers should respect their wishes, and the characters they created.
Unfortunately, we can't make New Year's resolutions for others. But for any aspiring writer or author in search of inspiration who may be reading this, please find new ground to explore and leave the classic characters alone.