Classic Remarks: Which classic book should have a sequel?

Which classic book do you wish had a sequel, and why?

In trying to brainstorm a list for this post, I was assaulted by the feeling that I have not read enough of the classics of world literature. Which classic book do I wish had a sequel? First off, which classic books have I actually liked? Well, let’s see.

  • The Hobbit? Already has a sequel.
  • The Three Musketeers? Ditto, and more than one.
  • Anything from Shakespeare? No, he ends his stories properly, they don’t need to be continued.
  • Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson? Already has a sequel.
  • Treasure Island? Hmm…one could argue that there is a story to be told in what happens to Long John Silver after he rows away, or that perhaps Jim Hawkins has another adventure when he is older. But I can’t imagine such stories being worthy of Treasure Island, which ends rightly without any clear hook for a new story of any significance.
  • The Iliad? What is The Odyssey if not a sequel to that?
  • To Kill a Mockingbird? It has lately received a sequel, the reception of which has been controversial, to say the least.
  • Crime and Punishment? Again, Dostoyevsky ends it perfectly. A sequel would be pointless.
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer? Twain already gave it a sequel, in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Wait a moment. Let’s consider Huckleberry Finn again. I haven’t read it since childhood, but I do remember that the book ends with Jim recognized as a freed man, and left to make his own life. I like the book, and I like the character of Jim quite a bit. No doubt there is a worthwhile story to be told about his struggles to make a good life as a freed man in pre-Emancipation Proclamation America.

“Right is right, and wrong is wrong, and a body ain’t got no business doing wrong when he ain’t ignorant and knows better.”

Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Where would Jim go? Would he remain in the South, with slavery still legal there, or would he try to make a new life in a Northern state? And where would he be when the Civil War breaks out? Would he enlist in the Union army? Would he try to avoid the conflict altogether? His story seems only beginning when Huckleberry Finn closes out his book. It would provide an excellent way for Mark Twain to confront the difficult lives of free blacks in America, through Jim’s own unflinching perspective, with no childlike filter to cover up the nastiness of racism.

Honorable Mention

Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is already recognized as something of a modern classic. Set in an alternate Victorian England where magic and Faery are making their belated returns, it is a long, elegant, and at times wild novel. I loved it. Its ending was excellent and satisfying, and yet left me begging for a sequel.

*SPOILERS for the ending of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke*

The book ends with both magicians, Strange and Mr. Norrell, trapped in the magic tornado called the Darkness, which was the result of a curse that a malevolent Faery gentleman had put on Strange. The Darkness follows them everywhere, but also, it seems, makes it possible to travel to other worlds. The final page of the novel has Jonathan Strange bidding passionate farewell to his wife, Arabella. She wishes to go with him, but while he wants to be with her, he is unwilling to submit her to the possible dangers that lie in wait for him and Norrell. So he kisses her goodbye, promises to return to her once he and Norrell have found a way to lift the curse, and departs into the Darkness to explore new and magical worlds.

The Darkness representing eternal night, as depicted in the BBC series “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell”

What an ending! And what a great hook for a potential sequel! Where does the Darkness take Strange and Norrell? What new worlds do they explore? What new magic do they learn? Such a quest would surely be filled with wonders. The two magicians would also change and grow throughout it; their character arcs, both individual and that of their relationship, are far from over at the end of the book. Clarke would have her work cut out for her in matching the success of her debut novel, but I do not think I am the only reader who would welcome her attempt.

What about you, dear reader? Would you be interested in a Mark Twain-penned story that told of Jim’s attempts to make a free life in slavery-ridden America?

Or perhaps, in a sequel to Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell?

11 Comments

  1. I would like to see a sequel to Mrs. Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) – and while we’re at it, a movie of the novel. With the possible exception of Dracula, to me it is still the greatest Gothic novel and really popularized the form.
    Tyler Tichelaar

  2. I agree that a sequel to Huck Finn, following Jim’s adventures, would be great.

    I heard all the hoo ha about Go Set A Watchman and determined not to read it. Then someone else told me that it was pretty good, so I read it. I think it was perfectly fine. Not a sequel exactly, though. Apparently it was written before To Kill A Mockingbird, so some of the events from Scout’s childhood actually differ between the two books. TKAM fleshes out Scout, Atticus, and the whole town much more, adds the character of Dill, and many other things. It is clearly better. I would almost say Watchman is like a rough draft or preliminary character sketch for Mockingbird.

    Which just shows that sometimes a classic is, in fact, the author’s big life accomplishment and all the other stuff they wrote was like practice for it.

    I haven’t read that many classics, I guess. I loved Anna Karenina, but its ending does not lend itself to a sequel. I guess you could follow Vronsky, and Levin and Kitty, through the Revolution.

    The second book in a series is famously difficult to pull off. I am currently working on book 3 of a series and having trouble making it big enough to satisfy as a series finisher.

  3. I admit I didn’t read all the post as I haven’t read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell yet. But I do think a sequel to Huck Finn could be wonderful. I think Twain is generally trying to get readers to recognize the ugliness of racism, but he does it in such a subtle way that it’s not always clear. It would be interesting to see what he could have done tackling the issue more directly.

    1. Agreed.

      Read “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” post-haste! It felt like a Dickens novel that got invaded by mischievous faeries and dangerous magic.

      1. I did read another book by Clarke– I think it’s fairy tales set in the same world–and I loved her prose style! So perhaps I will have to tackle Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell sometime. I might need to check it out from the library quite a few times, though!

  4. I kind of love the idea of a Strange & Norrell sequel, but part of what makes the book such a moving experience is how self-contained it is. I kind of like how it leaves us with those mysteries. Naturally, if Clarke ever delivers a direct sequel, I will barricade myself in an isolation tank to read it.

    Generally speaking, I feel like most books that really needed a sequel got one eventually, even if the original author didn’t write it. And in a lot of cases, even when the sequel was written by the original author, it still didn’t quite… Well, let’s just say that I don’t fancy Paradise Regained quite as much as Paradise Lost. Though that may be down to me not having the requisite knowledge to appreciate it fully.

    When I think of great books that I wish had sequels, I find myself gravitating to books that were left unfinished. How about Vergil living long enough to complete the Aeneid? Or Murasaki teasing out the saga in Tale of Genji a bit longer? Or Jane Austen completing Sanditon?

    1. Great points, and I do agree. Actually, I’ve just thought of another candidate: Maske: Thaery by Jack Vance. The plot is standalone but barely explores the fantastic and detailed world that was developed for it. I read that Vance was planning other books to flesh out the setting more, but never got around to them. I would love to read the books he was planning!

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