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A girl reads a copy of The Magic Faraway Tree
A new version of Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree is coming soon. Paul Webb/Alamy

When classic stories get reinvented, can they ever be a success? Five get reviewed

Enid Blyton’s children’s classic The Magic Faraway Tree has enchanted loyal readers since its 1943 publication. Children longed to befriend Silky, to slide down the slippery slip, to explore distant lands and be home in time for tea.

The news that Jacqueline Wilson is writing a new faraway tree story is welcome to many, if not to the Enid Blyton Society, who claim that new version will detract from Blyton’s originals.

Wilson has been careful to emphasise that The Magic Faraway Tree: A New Adventure will be a continuation of the series rather than a rewrite, and she makes the point that Blyton, a shrewd businesswoman, would have welcomed the extra publicity. Her decision is a reminder that there is a tradition of continuation and prequel novels by new authors. Here are five reviewed.

1. Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys (1966)

Wide Sargasso Sea is a prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s classic Jane Eyre and is arguably the most accomplished continuation of a classic. It focuses on Mr Rochester’s first wife Bertha Mason, who he famously imprisoned in the attic, and who stands in the way of his happy ending with Jane.

Frustrated by the stereotypical portrayal of Bertha in a novel which otherwise excels in its characterisation, Rhys uses her prequel to critique Victorian representations of women and mental illness. She gives the “madwoman in the attic” a voice and her novel serves as a horrifying reminder of what can happen when those with power mistreat those without.

2. Mrs de Winter, Susan Hill (1993)

“Last night I dreamed I came to Manderley again.” The opening of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca is one of the best known in literature - and film, thanks to Hitchcock. Unfortunately, while Susan Hill usually spins an excellent spooky yarn, her sequel to Rebecca falls flat. She does a good job of paying homage to De Maurier’s style, and the opening is suitably mysterious, but the main problem here is that Mrs de Winter ends up rehashing much of the original rather than adding anything new.

As in the first book, the new Mrs de Winter is haunted by the memory of her predecessor Rebecca, and without a new premise the novel quickly descends into been there, done that.

3. Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, Gregory Maguire (1995)

The Broadway show Wicked was based on a book of the same name by Gregory Maguire, which imagines events both before and after L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel The Wizard of Oz. Maguire fills in the back-story of Baum’s wicked witch in a novel which is much darker than its predecessor. Maguire said in interviews that his novel was prompted by the 1993 murder of two-year-old James Bulger and subsequent discussions about the nature of evil.

The singer Vajen van den Bosch stands as Elphaba during a photo rehearsal for Wicked on stage at the Stage Theater Neue Flora in Hamburg
The show Wicked on stage at the Stage Theater Neue Flora in Hamburg. DPA/Alamy

He tells the story of the witch, starting with the witch’s birth, ending with her death, and ramping up moral tensions throughout. Although it is not for the fainthearted, with themes of suicide, murder and family tragedy, the book was an instant hit – following in the footsteps of a master clearly worked for Maguire. As with Wide Sargasso Sea, the book’s success hinges on the sensitivity with which he breathes new life into an underwritten antagonist.

4. Scarlett, Alexandra Ripley (1991)

While Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel Gone with the Wind was critically acclaimed, Ripley’s sequel is one of the most criticised continuation novels. Scarlett sees the eponymous heroine trying to make Rhett “give a damn” again. Spoiler alert, she succeeds, and while this happy ending made the novel commercially successful, its saccharine note belied the grit of the original.

The novel also suffers from a lack of editing – it’s very long, despite a fairly tedious and uneventful plot. American novelist George R. R. Martin has called continuation novels an “abomination”, and he uses Scarlett as an example of everything that’s wrong with the genre. Ouch.

5. Death Comes to Pemberley, P.D. James (2011)

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is adored worldwide. The romance between the aloof Mr Darcy and the quick-witted Elizabeth Bennett has captivated generation after generation, spawning several successful romantic spin-offs and adaptations.

Crime writer P.D. James’ sequel, however, turns its attention from love to murder. The book returns to Darcy and Lizzie six years into their happy marriage. Preparations for a ball are interrupted when Lydia arrives unannounced and claims that her husband, the nefarious Mr Wickham, has been murdered. Lizzie is a little too earnest according to some critics, but P.D James is a real mistress of mystery and her sequel is enough of a page-turner enough to win most of them over.

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