Idiot's Guide takes a look at the effect of unauthorized derivatives have on classic literature.
"As far as I know, there aren't that many sequels – or prequels to Moby Dick" – Alan Moore.
When asked about his opinion about the just-announced prequels to his acclaimed Watchman series, Alan Moore, the writer of the series who has since separated himself from the work, issued a scathing reply, noting that no one had written a prequel or sequel to the Herman Melville classic whaling novel Moby-Dick. Many fans have expressed their disapproval of the Watchmen prequel, noting that the series enjoys a heightened status that should preclude it from being subjected to watered down derivatives made without any input by the original creative team.
I find it a little humorous that the timing of this announcement lines up with the release of Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, a movie featuring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and adapted, in part, by Jules Verne's The Mysterious Island. The Mysterious Island is one of Verne's lesser-known works and is a direct sequel to his more famous novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. In fact, Journey 2 directly references the Nautilus in its television commercials, with one clip showing the famed vessel at the bottom of the sea.
There are many famed literary works that have had lesser-known sequels. The Three Musketeers was the first of four novel featuring D'Artagnan and his allies, culminating in The Man in the Iron Mask. Ender's Game was also the first in the series, none of which came close to matching the popularity of the original Orson Scott Card series. Tom Sawyer becomes a detective in one of Mark Twain's last novels. While some might argue that these secondary titles somehow lessened the appeal of the original, the more famed works' ongoing popularity says otherwise.
Even more literary classics have had sequels written by authors not affiliated with the original writer. The Count of Monte Cristo had three sequels written, two of which were written while Dumas was still alive. James Bond's adventures have continued on through the use of six different writers after Ian Fleming died in 1964, several of which were adapted into movies. An unauthorized sequel to Don Quixote Volume 1 angered Cervantes so much that the writer lampooned it in the second volume of the book (the second volume, by the way, is often considered to be the birth of modern literature). Pride and Prejudice has spawned a number of unauthorized sequels as did Gone with the Wind. Of the many sequels to Dracula, one was even written by Bram Stoker's direct descendent. Even Moby-Dick spawned a sequel in which Ishmael hunted flying whales on spaceships. To come up with a full list of unauthorized sequels would take months.
The truth of the matter is that literature and entertainment is filled with derivative works. Is A Study in Scarlet lessened by the BBC Sherlock series? Is Morte d'Arthur somehow less of a book because of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court? Is Robin Hood ruined because of Ivanhoe? None of these novels have affected the original's popularity in any way and if anything has only increased awareness and interest in the original.
Going one step further, many characters have been given extreme characterizations far outside of their intended purpose in various unauthorized work. In Moore's work alone, Dorothy and Alice have engaged in a lesbian relationship, explicitly portrayed in the comic Lost Girls, James Bond is an attempted rapist and Voldemort from the Harry Potter series pushes Mina Harker to the brink of insanity and possessed by a demonic entity before escaping through Platform 9 ¾ as a youth.
One of the examples that I've heard about how the Watchmen sequels would affect the original's legacy are the much derided Star Wars prequels. However, I'd argue that the reason the Star Wars prequels are so disliked is because they were written by the original creator and failed to capture the magic of the original series despite the amount of money of promotion spent to make the project a reality. It should also be noted that Lucas always wanted to explore Darth Vader's history as early as 1977 and never gave up on the project, even after scrapping a sequel trilogy due to a nasty divorce. If anything, it is Lucas's continued involvement with the series and his continuous tampering with the work that "ruins" the Star Wars franchise, although the original series is still considered to be one of the greatest science-fiction movies of all time.
It would be accurate to say that the Watchmen prequels are a cash ploy by DC. It would also be accurate to say that Moore has every right to complain about DC using his property to make money. However, there is no foundation to back the claim that these Watchmen prequels will tarnish the legacy of the original series. If anything, these prequels only solidify its role as one of the great works of comics literature. To claim that is to say that the Torah has been ruined by the New Testament, that Hamlet was ruined by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead or that Moby-Dick has been ruined by the Wind Whales of Ishmael. Good literature will always be good literature and will outlast any inferior work no matter how cheap or poorly made they might be.
Written or Contributed by: Christian Hoffer