In Praise of (Some) Prequels

I once wrote a post about sequels. Today, the sequel to that piece is about…prequels.

Many prequels are by the same authors who previously wrote the set-later-in-time novels, while some are by writers who penned their books after the original writers died.

Prequels have the positives of offering readers more insight into characters (by seeing them again, in their younger years). Readers also get the chance to have their curiosity about those characters further sated. And prequels have other advantages I’ll bring up as I offer some specific examples — now.

I recently finished the latest Jack Reacher novel, 2016’s excellent Night School, and, as in The Affair, author Lee Child goes back in time to show Reacher in the 1990s. We learn more about the charismatic Jack’s military career before he became a roaming vigilante loner without a permanent home. And we see Reacher once again in his mid-30s, when most other recent Child novels have depicted Jack in his 50s. Obviously, when you fight bad guys with not only your brain but lots of physicality, it helps to be two decades younger…  🙂

Wide Sargasso Sea
is an example of a prequel — to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre — written by a different person. That would be Jean Rhys, who penned the novel long after Bronte died. Rhys’ idea was to give Jane Eyre‘s “madwoman in the attic” her due — showing her earlier life before and after meeting Rochester, and showing that she was a more complex character than portrayed by Bronte. Wide Sargasso Sea is a compelling, richly written book, but nothing beats the riveting Jane Eyre.

The Deerslayer was the last written of James Fenimore Cooper’s five “Leatherstocking” novels, yet it shows white woodsman Natty Bumppo and his equally impressive Native American friend Chingachgook at their youngest. Nineteenth-century readers were undoubtedly thrilled to finally learn about the early years of those two memorable characters, and to “see” New York’s wilderness in a mostly undeveloped form. Plus I think The Deerslayer is the best of those five Cooper novels — including much more famous The Last of the Mohicans.

Another advantage of prequels is that they give authors a creative change of pace that can help them keep things fresh. Heck, maybe they don’t have many more things to say or plot variations to offer about their protagonists in those characters’ present day.

Disadvantages of prequels? In some cases, they might be written mostly to make money. Or perhaps we’re getting too much of the characters. Or maybe we’d rather leave their earlier lives to our imagination.

What are your favorite prequels? What do you think of the idea of prequels?

My 2017 literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece, partly about August 21’s major eclipse, is here.