Sequels

Saturday is always a difficult blogging day. The kids and the spouse are underfoot, and I don’t have my usual rhythm of sitting down immediately after they leave for school and work. Instead, it’s “Mommy this” or “Bookworm that,” sentence openings that always scatter my thoughts to the four corners. Since I haven’t had the chance yet to limber up my brain this morning, I’m going to start with some light blogging, on a light subject: Sequels.

When I like an author, I like to read any other books the author might have written. And when an author I like has written a series, I’m all over it. A moment here for a definition: to me, a series comprises a set of books, written by the same author, that follow the same characters through a grand adventure, with the last book being the culmination of the sequence. Each later book is the sequel to the previously written book. Some of my favorite series, dating back over the years to my childhood are:

1. Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain

2. The Narnia series

3. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House series

4. The Harry Potter series

5. The Horatio Hornblower series

6. Sharpe’s Tigers

I also like books in which an author recycles good characters, something that’s fairly typical in murder mysteries. Thus, I love Lord Peter Wimsey, in the Dorothy Sayer’s books, and can happily read and re-read Agatha Christie Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple books. If one goes for incredibly clever, wacky fantasy, one can’t do better than Jasper Fforde’s Tuesday Next or Nursery Crimes mysteries. The characters’ predictability is soothing, and I always enjoy the author’s voice.

That last phrase is key: “the author’s voice.” Whether I’m reading a series of books, taking a set of characters from beginning to end in a grand adventure, or separate books that nevertheless revolve around one or more of the same characters, the link is the author. No one else can have the same vision of the character as the character’s creator.

The reason I’m obsessing about this is because the Times has announced that there is a new and almost fitting sequel to one of the all time great books ever written: Gone With The Wind. The original book has gone out of fashion now, because of the really embarrassing and appalling racism, but it’s a rip-roaring good story about a headstrong woman, about the subjugation of women, and about one really passionate romance, distinguished by self-knowledge on one side (that’s Rhett), and no knowledge on the other side (that’s Scarlett). The new book (which Mitchell’s estate commissioned), is told from Rhett Butler’s point of view, and makes him a politically correct, noble figure. Rhett wasn’t. He had all the prejudices of his upbringing, but was an honest scalliwag, who was not impressed by the pieties of those surrounding him. That is, he wasn’t a PC prince, he was a cynic, albeit a charming and physically attractive one.

Because the new book’s author has a completely different vision of the character, this cannot be either a sequel, a prequel, or simply a book sharing the same lead character. Instead, it would have to fall into the category of books “inspired by” other books. This is something even the Times reviewer understands:

If one is to rescue Rhett for the modern reader, one must explain away this and several other details that Hollywood conveniently left out of the film. McCaig, the author of two other novels set during the Civil War period, was chosen by the Mitchell estate to write this sequel. He works hard to cleanse Rhett of the stains on his reputation that Mitchell considered compliments. That McCaig so admirably succeeds is both the strength and weakness of his tale and helps illustrate the risk of attempting a sequel to one of the most popular novels in history.

Frankly, I doubt I’ll read the book. I’m never comfortable seeing tried and true characters, fully realized by the original author, reshaped in another writer’s hands. (That’s why I can never get past the first chapter in all those novels that try to be sequels to Jane Austen books, or that try to tell the story of otherwise minor characters in those books. The voice is wrong, the value systems are usually different, and the whole thing invariably comes off flat, trite and coy.)

7 Responses

  1. Hi BW,
    I enjoy the fact you like the Hornblower series. I have re-read it at least four times. The theme of a commander operating far from his superiors, in a hostile environment, whose strategic demands are changing, is an intellectual and action challenge and feast. Have you read Forester’s description of the creative process? And have you ever thought of writing a finish to his final volume of Hornblower?
    Al

  2. […] 3, 2007 Posted by ymarsakar in Books. trackback I don’t know why folks who have read all of HOrnblower’s series don’t mention Honor Harrington by David Weber. Those two series were made to […]

  3. The author’s remark that he wants to “save Rhett” for the modern reader is highly mysterious. The whole point of Rhett Butler is that he’s the only character in Mitchell’s novel who _does_ have a modern sensibility. While all of Scarlett’s other beaux are getting themselves killed in heroic Walter Scott-inspired ways in defense of the Southern fantasy of aristocracy, Rhett is off somewhere making money.

    Or is this author planning to turn Rhett into some kind of crusader for racial equality? It makes him nicer by modern standards, but it’s such a deformation of the character I can’t imagine anyone who liked GWTW would stand for it.

  4. One other thing I forgot to mention. Which sort of preludes what I am going to say about how the Left views progress and improved civilization as opposed to how the military vanguard views things.

    I cannot speak for every serie which you have listed, Book, but I do remember the first novel in the Hornblower series clearly. The idea of honor and loyalty is based upon your ability to do violence to others that attempt to violate it and to do violence in order to defend that which you value above all. This is seen in the example of the Code Duello. A person could actually have a better chance of surviving if he did not face up to such life and death decisions, but in the end he will not become a leader of men that men would wish to follow. This is important because human civilization is not built upon ideology, philosophy, and paper. Instead, human civilization, something that can actually lift up the human condition beyond base suffering and misery, is built by human beings and the leaders of humans. Good leaders are required, not simply leaders like Hitler that will take everything down with him when things go wrong.

    The Left doesn’t seem to believe that violence, the science of studying how to destroy human beings and physical matter, is useful towards building a better world. In Hornblower, that is completely the opposite of things, Book. Which may be why you like it so much. Probably also why you like the Marines, as well. Aggression not for aggression’s sake but for the benefit of others that lack aggression or power. The Left believes in sharing. If only the powerful, whether the US or terrorists, would share then things would be okay. The military and Jacksonian wing of America believes different.

    The basic belief is simply that in order to build a better world, you must create better people. Better people, however, are only created through strife, conflict, suffering, and death. Such is the law of nature and the jungle, which still commands the majority of humanity on this planet. Military discipline is designed to create useful individuals from a mob containing only raw potential.

    Hornblower and various other series like it, tells the story of an individual facing challenges and becoming stronger. This is contradictory to what the Left believes, which is that if you try to face down challenges and use violence to try to trump the violence others do, you will eventually lose out in the end and take everybody with you.

    If the survival strategy of the Islamic Jihad and fascism is to eliminate all competitors, a basic large predator/carnivore strategy, then the survival strategy of the United States is cooperative hunting. That leaves only parasitism to the Left, since everything else was taken. Instead of facing down competitors and trying to eliminate them via unilaterall or multilateral means, the Left decides instead to simply make the strong share strength with the weak. The parasite survives based upon the health and strength of the host, not itself for parasites are weak at heart.

    Many of the novels Baen published was based upon the excellence of violence as applied by cooperative hunting. Cooperative hunting means just that, a bunch of hunters cooperating together to hunt larger and more dangerous prey. Cooperation creates a whole that is more than the sum of its parts. Cooperation is unity, it is nationalism and patriotism. The willingness to die for your country is mirrored by the human willingness to die for family and loved ones. It is the implicit knowledge that family members would die to protect you, for they are invested in you as an individual and as a member of a whole. Cooperative hunting can be enlarged to the size of nations, as well. This creates a functional hierarchy in which one American will die to protect another American, even if they should be strangers without any blood relations at all. The implicit knowledge is simple. An American will die to protect another American because every American knows in their heart that the nation will protect their families should they fall. Or that another American would do the same for you, should you be in trouble. This is cooperative hunting, the combining of individual talents and resources to create a greater unified purpose.

    Classical liberals and those interested in military history see the world through the eyes of a cooperative hunter, as opposed to a predator or a parasite. When people fight, it is an opportunity to cement trust and understanding because both sides use their own version of cooperative hunting, i.e. warfare and the band of brothers. It is this belief in the brotherhood of humanity, not based upon socialist ideology, that creates the inevitable schism and difference we see present. One segment of the American population believes that good will and human harmony can be created through peace and sharing. The other segment of the American population believes that peace will not come without a well fought war. That enemies will not become friends unless you demonstrate that your version of cooperative hunting is superior to their version of cooperative hunitng. i.e. your war machine is superior to their war philosophy. When you demonstrate your superiority and then offer your hand in a gesture of Grand Alliance, friends can indeed be made from the bitterest of enemies. It is not a coincidence that Japan needed Emperor Hirohito to smooth the way for a new future, just as Al Anbar needed wise and enlightened leaders to steer them away from self-destruction. Both meant allying with the superior war fighters, the United States. If the US had lacked in fighting skills and honor, such alliances would never have been made, let alone maintained.

    Such stories are retold a hundred fold through the Belisarius series, the General series, and John Ringo/David Weber’s March series.

    The Left sort of believes that redistribution will create harmony and good will, so they inevitably see warfare as exploitation and taking what does not belong to you. Of course cooperative hunting is not really about redistributing anything. Cooperative hunting is about improving your personal skills so that you can contribute more to the group, and thus improve the life and health of your brothers and sisters. It is about becoming strong enough to protect that which you love. It is not about latching upon someone stronger than you and slowly leeching health to the point that both organisms are equally fair and alike. Nor is it about going alone out into the wilderness to try to slaughter as many people or animals as you can, and then eating what you can while throwing away the rest. That is the predator survival method.

    The predator will gobble up an animal, parasites included, with one swallow. Cooperative hunting is the only method that allows herbivores or omnivores to protect themselves against predators. It just so happens that people of the Leftist persuasion disagree. They believe their method is the best to bring humanity forward into the teeth of predators and carnivores.

    A byproduct of this is that they cannot fight for justice because they are too busy leeching off of politicians and internal issues. A parasite’s only offensive tool is to leech the strength out of organisms. This would work wonders on the predators, such as fascist Nazis and Islamic Jihadists, except for the fact that parasites only move hosts when the previous host is dead or just about. Predators tend to have a nasty ability to kill parasites or make use of them, given human ingenuity. So most of the parasites are thriving in the West, because the climate is better. This inevitably means that the organism the parasite is leeching is the organism responsible for protecting human justice and dignity.

    The Leftist blog I mentioned before actually said pretty much exactly that, which I will include in a more complete post on the subject.

    March Upcountry by David Weber and John Ringo is sort of kind of similar to Sharpes, since it features ground combat and the character improvement of the protagonist via violence and war.

    Humans being humans, these systems tend to be more of a general guideline than a genetic destiny. There’s good, bad, and the ugly. However, one thing that doesn’t change is the fact that no matter how good the individual, it still won’t change the craptastic political system his people have to live under. The potential for human good is limited by the political oppression, or rather banditry, present in most of the world. The Left recognizes this and claims that the Right sees it as well, it is just that the Right is more parochial and centered around matters close to the United States.

    Yet the behavior of the Left with Iraq would tend to belie this statement of fact.

    I believe I have hit the limit on how much I can string this out based upon the topic of good characters and plots in series.

  5. I will also give the thing a miss, I suspect. I dislike going back and changing – or “updating” if you will (if you must) events, or characters, to please current sensibilities.

    Rhett Butler needs no 21st century apologists, and he doesn’t require being rendered politically correct according to current standards: he was a creature of his time and was as politically correct as he needed to be for that time. His character is certainly not in need of “rescuing” to please our generation, and if such a job is carried out, then he will no longer be him – in which case why would anyone wish to read about him?

    Flat, trite,a nd coy indeed.

    If you like characters and stoies continued, spend some time with Galsworthy and Trollope.

  6. Bookworm,
    I hate being on the road so much lately, because I miss being able to comment in a timely manner. But, going back to my childhood, I remember the Hardy Boys for their good character and the importance of doing the right thing, helping the unfortunate and right thinking.
    For just plain gentle folk, I was introduced to the Dragons of Pern when I was in my forties and when I read the last of those, I felt as if I had lost good friends. Anne McCaffrey had been a favorite of mine in young adulthood, but I had missed the Pern books until much later.
    Another favorite series of mine is Louis L’Amour’s Sackett family. Many people poo-poo him as a pulp writer, but his sense of the old west and his ability to convey the landscape is based on his intimate knowledge of the places his characters inhabit. He also knew some of the old lawmen and Indians of the late 19th century. His unrelenting themes are self sufficiency, honesty, honor and family. Many of his other books are fine reading as well, especially “Last of the Breed”.
    Then, of course, there is Horatio Hornblower. I met him as a child and cannot pass anywhere within smelling distance of a navigable waterway without looking for a sailing ship of some kind. If time permits, and I can find a place to park a tractor-trailer, I’m on board. I confess, even as a child, to impatience with Hornblower’s self-doubt. It got tiresome to run into so much of it, but over time I recognized it as something peculiarly English. However, he always triumphed! Hurray!
    Time to end before I get too far off topic. Thank you for providing so much food for thought.
    Mark

  7. The Horatio Hornblower Series is such a great collection

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