On Authors Who Make Sequels to Their Classic Novels

With news of Harper Lee’s intention to release a sequel to the 1960 classic, To Kill A Mockingbird, it brings up the question of why so many authors who received renown for a certain book feel the need to tamper with its greatness by contributing a follow-up to the story. According to Lee herself, “I hadn’t realized [Go Set A Watchman] had survived, so was surprised and delighted when my dear friend and lawyer Tonja Carter discovered it.” So while she may have written this particular novel even before To Kill A Mockingbird, the book clearly wasn’t that important to her if she’d managed to forget that it still existed.

Cover of To Kill A Mockingbird
Cover of To Kill A Mockingbird
Whether or not this bodes well for Go Set A Watchman, which finds Scout Finch as a grown up, is arbitrary. Considering Lee claims that this book was slated to be released before To Kill A Mockingbird, and that the latter was designed as a prequel, one would imagine that this novel might not be all that riveting considering the editor who looked it over was more interested in adult Scout’s flashbacks to her youth. This prompted the editor to give Lee the direction to write another novel from the perspective of Scout as a child, hence To Kill A Mockingbird.
Still from movie version of To Kill A Mockingbird
Still from movie version of To Kill A Mockingbird
And so, while Go Set A Watchman might be a perfectly wonderful novel, it obviously wasn’t able to outshine To Kill A Mockingbird even from the outset. With Lee’s decision to release the book in July, this strange risk that authors enjoy taking in terms of trying to create something comparable to their masterpiece is highlighted more than ever.

Let’s take, for example, Charles Webb’s sequel to The Graduate, Home School. While, of course, the film was always more of a masterpiece than the book, it’s still a clear-cut instance of an author tainting his most notable work with a subsequent story that doesn’t really need to exist. In Home School, we pick up eleven years after Ben plucks Elaine out of her wedding. Now living in New York to be appropriately far away from Mrs. Robinson, Ben and Elaine have decided to home school their children, an act that was both illegal and extremely controversial at the time. Based on this plot alone, it’s easy to discern that Home School can’t surpass The Graduate–both with regard to story and salacious factor. Does anyone want to see Ben and Elaine with kids? No. It ruins the entire magic of the final scene from the original.
Home School cover, relying on the same tactics as The Graduate
Home School cover, relying on the same tactics as The Graduate
And this, too, is the problem in Doctor Sleep, the sequel to Stephen King’s 1977 The Shining. Here, we see Danny–now just Dan–in his adulthood as he encounters another woman with the same gift as him. Yeah, that all sounds very enlightening, but again, does the reader want to think about Danny/Dan in a state beyond childhood? Probably not. Because it soils what the original meant.
Cover for the sequel to The Shining
Cover for the sequel to The Shining
Unlike, say J.D. Salinger, who constantly revisited characters from the Glass family, or Bret Easton Ellis, who peppers all of his stories with characters that appeared in another book, sequels are the ultimate sign of literary flaccidness, showing an inability to move away from what made one famous and onward toward something that will prove one is famous with good reason. Furthermore, sequels are for book series like Twilight and The Hunger Games, not classic works of literature. But I guess even that needs to have an audience gimmick now.