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When An Author Returns To An Old Series

A photograph of the three books that make up the His Dark Materials trilogy

As I was reading La Belle Sauvage, it struck me how relatively inaccessible it was to new readers. I say relatively because it is accessible; it’s a case of there being a lot left unsaid that relies on you having read His Dark Materials, but what’s left unsaid isn’t anything that would actively detract from the experience of a new reader, who would quite likely not notice. Pullman achieved a good balance.

Should a new book for a series that started (and ended) years ago – thinking, of course, of situations like older trilogies and new ones – be written for the original audience only – since grown up and thus creating the situation wherein you want an adult book for what was once a children’s series – or should the new book be written with an eye to the new generation?

What responsibility does the author have in the context of ages? If they were to call the new book an adult book then the intention would be clear but the result would be a book that may well not be appreciated because the original audience would be looking for more of the same – the same magic that was in the previous books.

In that way, writing in the same fashion – for children – works for both original and new readers. You want the magic of the original series; in many ways you’re actively looking for a children’s book. (With all the debates about adults reading Young Adult books, a point must surely be made about YA books in a series that started long ago. Certainly the buzz around La Belle Sauvage suggests that’s perfectly acceptable.)

There’s also a basic responsibility the author surely has – that previous fan base is most likely where sales will begin. And it’s the adults who have been waiting or, if not actively waiting in the case of a new book being a more sudden occurrence, the most appreciative.

Should we or can we expect new, younger, readers, to start with the older books? The young readers who will likely be most interested in the new books are those who have been introduced to the older books by parents, siblings, and so on, so they’re effectively in the same boat. If they haven’t read the original books yet but planned to/have had them put on their reading list by an enthusiastic adult, we can assume they’d not be ‘allowed’ to read the new book until they’d finished the originals.

This naturally moves on to content – should prior details be regurgitated? Pullman didn’t do this – if he had it may have been more of a filler book that it is – but how much is detail needed? Should the length of time between books be considered or is it safe to assume that fans who feel they’ve forgotten will have re-read the original series prior to the new release? I think it is.

Of course the lack of old details – in Pullman’s case there isn’t a long description of the ‘bad guys’ and not much world-building – may stop new readers starting with the new books. That could well be argued to be a good thing.

A lot of all this depends on the individual – what they remember, how much time and inclination they have to re-read, and whether they’re happy with any big changes. But considering the fact that there are lots of books that do include repetitive details in series – in my experience the worst is another old series, The Babysitter’s Club which effectively paraphrases or copies and pastes (I always skipped them so can’t say either way) the same first several pages of the first books continually, presumably to aid memory but actively making it look as though there’s more story – a book that doesn’t has the effect of trusting the reader to remember instead of creating the unfortunate other effect of making the reader feel the author doesn’t trust them to remember.

I think continuing for the original readers is a good thing. And it provides another book for them to introduce to the new generation (or provides the excited conversation that would intrigue a young reader to look for the older ones themselves… we can hope!)

Your thoughts?

 
 

Jeanne

January 29, 2018, 2:20 pm

Readers should always start with the older books–that’s what books are for, to exist in the world and fill in the parts of stories we don’t know. I’m okay with starting a series in the middle, as long as I know I can go back to the beginning if I want to know more of what’s already happened in that world.

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