New authors produce sequels to famous books written by others
Thursday, October 22, 2009
In bookstores this week, Arthur Dent is hitchhiking through the galaxy again. Dracula glides through the London fog once more, still in need of overwrought young women with plunging necklines and exposed veins. Winnie the Pooh is back to toddling around the Hundred Acre Wood.
This would not be remarkable were it not for the fact that the authors who created these literary icons -- Douglas Adams, Bram Stoker, A.A. Milne -- have been dead anywhere from eight years to nearly a century. But in the twilight world of officially sanctioned sequels, death is not an impediment to character development.
In three new books -- "And Another Thing . . . ," the sixth volume of the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" series; "Return to the Hundred Acre Wood," the new Winnie the Pooh book; and "Dracula: The Un-Dead" -- the estates of the deceased writers (or their descendants) have hired writers to breathe new life into these characters, whether their creators would have wanted them biting people on the neck again or not. It's not a new practice, but this troika of high-profile revivals, all within a 10-day period, brings these after-death sequels to a new level of prominence.
Jane Belson, Adams's widow, was cheerfully blunt when asked if her late husband would have wanted anyone tampering with, say, Marvin the Paranoid Android.
"I have no idea," she said, "he's not here."
She paused, then gave a good-natured laugh. "He hated writing books, but he loved having written them. . . . I'm not sure how he would have reacted to someone doing it for him. But it seemed like a good idea."
The literary creations of authors stopped being sacred territory roughly 20 years ago, when the estates of late authors began leasing out the copyrights to old works. Scarlett O'Hara rose to meet another day years after Margaret Mitchell died; James Bond has had endless adventures since the demise of his creator, Ian Fleming; and Peter Pan flew again a couple of years ago, three-quarters of a century after J.M. Barrie passed away.
Michael Brown, the chairman of the Pooh Properties Trust for the past three decades, says he never would have greenlighted a new Pooh book when he joined the trust, which oversees the Milne literary estate. Back then, the mention of a Pooh sequel would have had everyone from publishers to the public throwing "up their hands in horror," he says.
"But there's been a change in the attitudes of society," he continued. "There's a sense that nostalgia is fine, but you can bring these things out of the cupboard. . . . Of course, there will still be the purists, or Eeyores, who'll say it's a rotten idea before they open the front cover."
How the new writers approach their jobs is as varied as the works they're reviving.
The Pooh trust decided to hire someone to create new adventures for the little yellow bear with the honey habit and methodically went about a selection process. They eventually turned to David Benedictus, 71, who had produced all-star audio adaptations of the original Pooh stories and who had submitted a couple of new story ideas for Pooh and Tigger several years ago. Brown said they did not want any updates to the sensibility of the story, which is kind and friendly and gentle and "very much not the 21st century," he said.
Benedictus, in turn, immersed himself in the 1920s world of Milne, trying to imagine the stories the man himself might have written, even visiting Ashdown Forest, the actual setting for Hundred Acre Wood.