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5 Prequels With No Equals

Sorry about the title of this post. I just couldn’t help it.

Coming off having read Wide Sargasso Sea, I thought it might be fitting to talk about some of the more prominent prequels in literature.

I’ve got to admit: I’m a little leery of prequels. I think George Lucas might have ruined them for me with all of the Star Wars prequels. A lot of them, at least in the movie industry, feel a lot like money grabs to capitalize on the success of an earlier movie.

But after doing a little research, I realized there are some pretty good ones out there.

Wide Sargasso Sea: Yes, it’s that novel again. Jean Rhys’ novel tells how Bertha Mason became a crazy woman and how Mr. Rochester was a crappy, spineless dirtbag—or something like that.

The Hobbit: If you haven’t read The Hobbit, that’s as equally sinful as my not having read Jane Eyre. Don’t you want to know how Bilbo found the ring and slayed a dragon?

Gods and Generals: Okay, I haven’t read this one, but I have read Killer Angels—the main story. Gods and Generals was written by Jeffrey Shaara—the son of Michael Shaara, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning Killer Angels, which is set during the Battle of Gettysburg in the U.S. Civil War.

Finn: Who has a big enough pair to write a prequel to Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn? Jon Clinch does. And, amazingly, he actually pulled it off. This isn’t throwaway fan fiction. Finn was named one of the best novels of 2007 by The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and The Christian Science Monitor.

The Magician’s Nephew: This is truly a legit prequel because it was actually written by C.S. Lewis, not someone else who attempted to add on to his story. The catch with this one is how it’s ordered in the series. Some volumes list it as the sixth book (because that’s the order in which Lewis wrote it), even though it tells backstory.

A good prequel can make a good series into an extraordinary one. Take a look at The Hobbit. The Lord of The Rings would still be epic–in the true sense of the word–without it, but The Hobbit adds so much depth to that series. It’s brilliant.

What say you about prequels? Any thoughts on this list or others?

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. I do agree about the Star Wars movies. That’s why I read you. It makes me laugh! Thanks


    May 30, 2012
  2. Usually I enjoy prequels. Especially if written by someone other than the original author. It helps provide additional context for the chronologically subsequent story, and even if not particularly satisfying, often provides a different perspective, helping me see things in the story I might not have seen or considered.


    May 30, 2012
  3. The Hobbit was published in 1936 and The Lord of the Rings was published in three volumes between 1953 and 1955. Therefore, The Lord of the Rings is a sequel to The Hobbit and the idea that The Hobbit is a prequel is ridiculous.

    Many authors have written on a single theme or character without following strict order. One of the more obvious is Gregory McDonald and his Fletch series. McDonald wrote sequels, prequels, and whatever you call in-betweeners. Note the publishing dates versus the timeline order of the novels:

    Fletch Won (1985)
    Fletch, Too (1986)
    Fletch and the Widow Bradley (1981)
    Fletch (1974)
    Carioca Fletch (1984)
    Confess, Fletch (1976)
    Fletch’s Fortune (1978)
    Fletch’s Moxie (1982)
    Fletch and the Man Who (1983)
    Son of Fletch (1993)
    Fletch Reflected (1994).


    May 30, 2012
    • I’ve always thought of the prequel in the sense of timeline, not publish dates. Hence the “pre.”


      May 30, 2012
      • Yeah, it’s kind of pedantic to argue based solely on publication order. Especially considering that many people were made aware of LoTR by the films, which are indeed getting a prequel in The Hobbit. Two of ’em actually.


        May 30, 2012
      • Actually, it’s the other way around: the movies were made because of the popularity of the books. Believe it or not, many people read The Hobbit before The Lord of the Rings and long before the movies were made, and if you want to use the movies for proof, the original movie of The Hobbit was made long before the movies involving Frodo and the Ring (we are all aware that Peter Jackson was not the first to make a movie from The Lord of the Rings?).

        If it’s the position in the timeline that determines what makes a prequel, then Shakespeare’s Henry V is a prequel to All Quiet of the Western Front … which is a prequel to The Naked and the Dead … which is a prequel to The Bridges at Toko-Ri … which is a prequel to The Things They Carried … which is the prequel to Star Wars.

        Does any book that predates any other book in the fictional timeline then become a prequel? Actually, “prequel” is a coined word that the OED does not recognize before 1958 and which didn’t come into general usage until the 1970 and ’80s.

        Although it is a rather convoluted definition, here is what Wikipedia says:

        “A prequel is a literary, dramatic, or filmic work whose story precedes that of a previous work, by focusing on events that occur before the original narrative. If Y is a prequel to X, then Y’s storyline precedes X’s, yet Y is released at a later date than X. Therefore, a prequel is a work that forms part of a back-story to the preceding work. Like sequels, prequels may or may not concern the same plot as the work from which they are derived. Often, they explain the background which led to the events in the original, but sometimes the connections are not as explicit. Sometimes, prequels play on the fact that the audience knows what will happen next, using deliberate references to create dramatic irony. The term is a 20th-century neologism, and a portmanteau from pre- (from Latin prae, “before”) and -quel as in sequel (a supplementing work, especially one with a setting later than its predecessor’s, from the Latin sequela, that which follows).”

        Let’s emphasize this: “a prequel is a work that forms part of a back-story to a preceding work.” The Hobbit simply tells an earlier story which became the basis of the later books: it is not a prequel by any definition.


        May 30, 2012
  4. Have you read or seen the play Wicked, the prequel to Wizard of Oz? I tried to read it, but didn’t even make it halfway through.


    May 30, 2012
    • There appears to be big money in writing books using a character or event from an establish novel to springboard the new fiction. Wicked, and all those other take-offs, is saddled with having been written by Gregory McGuire who is a hack at best.

      The phenomenon I see is that one or two of these novels become popular, dozens of other authors jump on the bandwagon and saturate the market, and eventually the fervor burns down until yet another literary scam comes along. I have heard these books called imaginative but I think they show a decided lack of imagination. They are fleas on the body of literature … they suck a little blood and then you crush them with your fingernails.

      Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter?


      May 30, 2012
    • I heard the book was awful, but I have seen the musical (twice) and really liked it. You should check it out if you haven’t seen it.


      May 31, 2012
  5. I think that all good prequels have one thing in common: the books they precede after the fact were really good stories that didn’t tell everything. They were written with a little mystery in mind, unlike a lot of modern works, which are written tediously in depth and are usually alarmingly drawn out (example: The Hunger Games Series, it did not need to be three books long). It seems in a lot of popular fiction that the writer doubts the reader’s intelligence and just HAS TO tell us everything and never imply anything.

    I love this post. All the prequels you mentioned were perfect examples of your point. No argument here. Great post.


    May 30, 2012
  6. Let’s see . . .

    I love the STAR WARS Prequel movies. I feel that they have enriched the saga and are good morality plays on how each individual is his/her own worst enemy.

    I’m not a fan of “GODS AND GENERALS”- and I speak of both the novel and the 2003 movie. I find them inferior to both the literary and movie versions of “THE KILLER ANGELS”/”GETTYSBURG”.

    I love the first LOTR movie. but I have great difficulty with the second and third films. I only hope that “THE HOBBIT” will be better than “THE TWO TOWERS” and “RETURN OF THE KING”.


    June 8, 2012
  7. The Silmarillion, a prequel to one of your prequels, The Hobbit. It isn’t for everyone though. Serious Tolkien fans like myself will enjoy it, but it reads more like a history textbook. Tolkien was obsessed. And since you mentioned Jon Clinch’s Finn, let’s remember the prequel to Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. (Or, is it not a prequel if it was written first?)


    May 31, 2014

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