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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 October 2006, 12:36 GMT 13:36 UK
Problems of revisiting a classic
Greig Watson
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Pride and Prejudice
Pride and Prejudice has attracted well over a dozen spin-offs
Children's author Geraldine McCaughrean says some people have treated her newly-published Peter Pan sequel as like "rewriting the Bible".

But she is just another in a long line of authors who have decided to take the familiar characters of a classic and give them a new lease of life.

Anyone picking up a pen, or striking a key, in homage to an established tale walks into a potential minefield of sceptical critics, sacred cows and jealous fans.

McCaughrean herself has played down the scale of the undertaking, telling BBC News: "People kept asking me whether I was daunted but I was having too much fun to feel that.

"Neverland is a place that draws you in, somewhere you can get lost in.

"It's a dark and dangerous place but that is why it is so fascinating."

Charlotte Bronte
There is simply no way of stepping back into the mindset of someone from the 18th or 19th Century
Philip Womack, Literary Review

As critics and authors alike bemoan, there is nothing new left.

Don Quixote, published way back in 1605, was the subject of at least one unofficial follow up, prompting Cervantes to write his own sequel where he tied up any loose ends which might attract further attention.

The genre has gained serious momentum in recent years. Once copyright laws have yellowed with age anyone can have a go at disinterring the corpse of a fictional grandee and making it dance to their particular tune.

Works by the Brontes and Jane Austen are favourites, with one website listing 17 sequels and spin-offs to Pride and Prejudice alone.

But the reach is large, with follow-ups to Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, Wind in the Willows and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

And it can turn nasty.

Nine years after Scarlett, the official sequel to Gone with the Wind, was published, the estate of Margaret Mitchell tried to block the publication of The Wind Done Gone, a version of the story told from the slave's point of view. It was eventually settled out of court.

Faults forgiven

Philip Womack, from the Literary Review, said: "It is incredibly hard to effectively write something like this.

"There is simply no way of stepping back into the mindset of someone from the 18th or 19th Century.

"And because these books are period pieces we forgive them things we wouldn't forgive a modern novel. And they don't even have to be that old. Imagine someone writing an Enid Blyton now.

"These books seem to be written because either the authors feel an irresistible draw to the characters or simply there is an undeniable demand from the public."

The results, while often popular, have received mixed responses.

A statue of Don Quixote
There hasn't been a really powerful literary character written in decades
Emma Tennant, author

Scarlett attracted reviews such as "Frankly, it's damnable", but Jean Rhys's The Wide Sargasso Sea - a prequel to Jane Eyre - won awards and praise in equal measure.

Emma Tennant is arguably the queen of the historical spin-off, having written books inspired by Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma and Wuthering Heights.

She has just completed The French Dancer's Bastard, which also revisits Jane Eyre.

For her the reason for the classic sequel is simple.

"It's about characters. There hasn't been a really powerful literary character written in decades.

"These figures from the classics have such depth and potential that there is a need to find out more about them.

"It's a mistake to take on the task if you don't have a deep personal feeling for the book and its people and that feeling is what you have to tap into."

She also rejects any suggestion readers are annoyed about familiar books being rewritten.

"There was a lot of snobbishness when (Pride and Prejudice sequel) Pemberley came out in 1993 but now there are so many around it shows people want to read them and they have been pretty much accepted."

McCaughrean, who has never written a sequel to one of her own books, said she thought it was unlikely there would be any more Peter Pans.

"My head is still full of Neverland but I can't see another one."

Peter Pan sequel hits bookshelves
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20 Jan 06 |  Entertainment


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