Sequels to classic works of literature by deceased authors rarely measure up to the originals, but that doesn’t stop different authors and publishers from trying.
Yet, the new novels often spark interest, especially by fans of the earlier works, and sometimes they even become bestsellers – only to fade while the original works continue to be celebrated. (Does anyone today remember Scarlett, a popular sequel to Margaret Mitchell’s still-read Gone with the Wind?)
The latest effort, recently announced and of special interest to Libertarian Futurist Society members, will offer a retelling of a Prometheus award-winner that ranks among the 20th century’s most influential and best-known novels: George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Julia, an upcoming novel by Sandra Newman, will refocus the events of the dystopian tale of totalitarian dictatorship, propaganda, mind control, newspeak and doublethink from the perspective of Winston Smith’s illicit love interest.
Orwell’s estate has approved the project as a “feminist retelling” of the 1949 novel. The story reportedly will cover roughly the same time period and overlap with the same events that Orwell’s hapless Smith experienced, only through the eyes of Julia, a fellow “thoughtcriminal” who secretly meets with Winston for an affair.
Kayla Kibbe, writing about books for Inside Hook’s website, reports on the news with a lighthearted and humorous tone:
“For those of you who weren’t paying attention in sophomore English class, Julia is the secretly sexually liberated ‘rebel from the waist downwards’ who Winston, the book’s protagonist, initially despises from afar, then begins an affair with after a secret love note reveals that she, too, is a fellow thoughtcriminal. They meet for secluded outdoor hookups in the country for a bit, then set up a little love nest above an old antiques shop. They have some illicit sex and dabble in obviously ill-fated plans to rebel against the dystopian regime, before being captured, tortured and ultimately betraying each other to the government. (Sorry, spoilers.)”
Perhaps, Kibbe adds, the new novel will illuminate some of Julia’s “arguably unclear” motives for her affair with Winston while also dramatizing how Julia survived earlier scrutiny while rising through the oppressive hierarchy of the communist party that Orwell modeled on the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin.
That sounds promising, although you never know.
Even an acclaimed author of another dystopian and Prometheus-winning classic tried his hand at a sequel to Orwell’s classic and came up short. (I’m referring to Anthony Burgess, whose A Clockwork Orange was inducted into the Prometheus Hall of Fame in 2008. Few people recall, though, 1985, Burgess’s sequel to Nineteen Eighty Four.
If Julia touches upon Orwell’s anti-authoritarian and libertarian themes through its feminist retelling, it might prove rewarding to read – and perhaps even worth nominating for a Prometheus Award. Who knows? (We won’t, until we read it.)
My hope is that Newman’s novel will probe deeper, exposing and illuminating Orwell’s cautionary and urgent themes in a more timely fashion for our era of increasing social control, Twitter-driven mob panics (often surprisingly similar to Orwell’s depiction of “Two Minute Hates”) and cancel culture.
For sadly, Big Brother is Watching again, in so many ways, around the world.
Newman’s novel might prove even more insightful and thought-provoking if it also dramatizes, as Orwell did in his classic novel and other writings, the key links between “facts and freedom – the deep psychological, social and philosophical connections between broad cultural respect for objective reality and respect for rights – while also showing how the corruption of science, truth, reason, academia and journalism makes tyranny more likely and workable by undermining the freedom, ability and “social space” for people to see and think for themselves.” (That’s an excerpt from the Prometheus Blog appreciation of Nineteen Eighty Four, worth reading in full.)
Even if Newman’s effort falls short of an enduring masterpiece, though, it could merit reading – especially for Orwell’s fans.
For such sequels offer fans of the original author an opportunity to read more in that vein, while following familiar and favorite characters – an opportunity that authors no longer with us can no longer provide.
This news prompted me to research some of the other sequels that have been written by different authors to classic novels. There are quite a few, it seems, offering sequels to Pride and Prejudice, Dracula, Treasure Island, War of the Worlds, Robinson Crusoe, The Catcher in the Rye, Winnie the Pooh, and many other classic stories.
Although a few initially prove popular (like Scarlett, a bestseller), almost all prove inferior, and virtually all fade quickly, ending up in the dust bin behind used book stores. Only a small handful receive a consensus of good reviews and are still remembered and read today.
THE BEST OF ‘SEQUELS’ – A SAMPLER
Here is a selective and somewhat subjective “top ten” list, with an emphasis on science fiction and fantasy, of the most highly praised sequels to classics written by other authors:
* A Feast Unknown, by Philip Jose Farmer (a blended 2012 sequel to Tarzan and Doc Savage stories, with Jack the Ripper thrown in)
* Grendel, by John Gardner (a 1971 retelling of the ancient tale of Beowulf from the monster’s point of view)
* The Further Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Greg Matthews (a 1988 sequel to Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn)
* Pym, by Mat Johnson (a 2010 sequel to Edgar Allan Poe’s Arthur Gordon Pym)
* Death Comes to Pemberley, by P.D. James (a 2011 murder-mystery sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice)
* Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys ( a 1966 prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre)
* And Another Thing…, by Eoin Colfer (an estate-approved 2009 sequel by the bestselling author of Artemis Fowl to Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)
* Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Tom Stoppard’s brilliant 1966 existential comedy-drama retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet from the perspective of two of its minor characters.
* Prometheus winners: For a full list of past winners – for the annual Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) categories and occasional Special Awards – visit the enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website, which now includes convenient links to all published appreciation-reviews of past winners.
* Read “The Libertarian History of Science Fiction,” an essay in the international magazine Quillette that favorably highlights the Prometheus Awards, the Libertarian Futurist Society and the significant element of libertarian sf/fantasy in the evolution of the modern genre.
* Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards, join the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), a non-profit all-volunteer association of freedom-loving sf/fantasy fans.