Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
(illustration: Nick Wasnerski)

When Richard Russo published Everybody’s Fool last week, he joined the club of authors who waited more than a decade before publishing a sequel. Whether this group took their time creating a rich fantasy world (like J.R.R. Tolkien), checking in with characters to study the passage of time (à la Harper Lee), or for no easily decipherable reason (several examples on this list), long-gestating follow-up work demonstrates the power authors have over their readers. Though some sequels are celebrated works, others span the spectrum of benign disappointment to downright heresy. We take a look at the good, the bad, and the unnecessary.

17 years: J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord Of The Rings (1954)

Like many of the best works of children’s entertainment, The Hobbit was a huge hit with readers of all ages, and the demand for a sequel was immediate. But J.R.R. Tolkien took his sweet time writing his epic, three-book follow-up, The Lord Of The Rings, because he committed to an obsessive level of detail in fleshing out the world of Middle-earth, writing and re-writing hundreds of pages of indices to accompany each book, and creating almost 1,000 pages of ancillary material. Meanwhile, The Hobbit’s core audience of young children had 17 years to grow up, live through the horrors of World War II, and become highly literate. Good thing too, because the little kids who read the simple fantasy of Bilbo Baggins and his magic ring in 1937 might not have been quite so enamored with the dark maturity of Lord Of The Rings. The story-world shifted in much the same way that a child’s perception of the real world shifts; Tolkien’s now-adult fans got a follow-up in keeping with their advanced ages, and this understanding certainly contributed to the sequel’s extraordinary success. Whether or not Tolkien planned for this effect, modern authors have certainly followed his lead, like the other most beloved fantasy series of all time, Harry Potter. Though J.K Rowling was working with a much shorter, and more contracted, aging process, she also treats her readers and her subject matter with increasing maturity as the series progresses. [Gus Spelman]

17 years: Blake Nelson’s Girl (1994) and Dream School (2011)

In many ways, Girl reads like an R-rated version of My So-Called Life. The 1994 novel centers around the spiritual and sexual awakening of Andrea Marr, a smart-but-restless high schooler who finds solace (and occasional romance) in the grungy downtown Portland music scene and its resident rock star, Todd Sparrow. Still, the heart and soul of Girl is Marr’s longing to be as cool as her enigmatic best friend, Cybil. (Her approach is both painful and charming—for example, this process involves plenty of thrift shopping and fro-yo shop visits.) After some hefty drama and trauma, Marr decides being an alterna-teen isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be, and buckles down so she can attend a good university. Dream School picks up where Girl left off, as it follows her hit-and-miss attempts to fit in at her chosen school, tony Wellington College. [Annie Zaleski]

18 years: Mark Twain’s The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer (1876) and Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894)


While Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn has a not-undeserved reputation for being the ultimate great American novel, there are those who prefer his earlier Tom Sawyer, which is about as purely joyful a work as a reader can encounter. Though Sawyer and Finn share characters, they’re tonally and thematically different enough that it’s fair to view them as fundamentally separate. Sawyer’s true sequel—the first book to extend the original’s deliriously fun take on childhood—comes with Tom Sawyer Abroad, an odd concoction that’s as much spoof as it is its own work. Twain uses his characters (Sawyer, Finn, and the freed Jim) to parody Jules Verne, hot air ballooning the trio to Africa, where they see the sights and escape the local wildlife. The book is paper thin, as is the 1896 prequel Tom Sawyer, Detective, but even in diluted form, Twain’s signature wit is a pleasure. [Ryan Vlastelica]

19 years: Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club (1996) and Fight Club 2 (2015-16)

Fight Club’s notoriety and that of author Chuck Palahniuk are arguably tied more to the cult phenomenon of the film adaptation than the novel itself. But the book’s tale of an unnamed narrator who fakes illness to join support groups and meets a man named Tyler Durden—with whom he launches an underground fight club through which men try to reconnect with their primal selves—started it all. Nineteen years later, Palahniuk gives his narrator a name, as Sebastian jumps back into his now-stale relationship with Marla Singer and faces the resurgence of an old friend, whom medications could not keep at bay for Fight Club 2. The twist is that Palahniuk decided to make the sequel a comic book series, with art by Cameron Stewart, which just wrapped up its 10-issue story arc in March. The decision is far from the only jarring twist Palahniuk delivers in the sequel. [Bill Jones]


21 years: Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show (1966), Texasville (1987), and Duane’s Depressed (1999)

Beyond-prolific writer Larry McMurtry often gets attached to his characters, leading to many years-later sequels like Lonesome Dove’s Streets Of Laredo and Terms Of Endearment’s follow-up, The Evening Star. But the residents of Thalia, the northern Texas town McMurtry introduced in the slim, semi-autobiographical novel The Last Picture Show, may have resonated with the author most of all. He created a town full of fleshed-out characters, from former football hero Duane to teen queen Jacy to unhappy coach’s wife Ruth Popper. The 1971 Academy Award-winning Peter Bogdanovich movie only helped cement Thalia on the pop-culture landscape. So, even two decades later, the follow-up Texasville wasn’t a surprise, even though the novel’s theme was: While most standard sequels would have Duane finding love with his high-school sweetheart Jacy again, instead Jacy returns to town and starts hanging out with Duane’s wife. A surprise oil boom has helped the Thalia residents’ fortunes, but, not, as the much longer novel explores, their psyches overall. Not done yet, McMurtry eventually gave Duane his own volume in 1999’s Duane’s Depressed, effectively capping decades of exploring how one main character looks at life from this specific Texas setting. [Gwen Ihnat]


23 years: Richard Russo’s Nobody’s Fool (1993) and Everybody’s Fool (2016)


Literary novelists are fond of checking in on everyman characters over time, using them as constants with which to study an ever-changing world. Here, Richard Russo’s Donald “Sully” Sullivan joins the ranks of Rabbit Angstrom and Frank Bascombe, though as the pluralized title indicates, the sequel casts a wider eye, with Sully reduced to supporting player in a population still struggling for happiness and prosperity. In Nobody’s Fool, Sully was a rascal who was showing his age, but retained enough spark to make some progress with his estranged family and the various women in his life. He seemed to be near the end of his rope, but the end is much closer in Everybody’s Fool, which reveals early on that he doesn’t have much time to live, a diagnosis he takes in stride. Russo’s underlying theme is simple and potent: The more things change, the more they stay the same. [Ryan Vlastelica]

24 years: Richard Adams’ Watership Down (1972) and Tales From Watership Down (1996)


In Watership Down, the mythology of Richard Adams’ anthropomorphic rabbits is somewhat of an afterthought, the tales of their trickster hero, El-ahrairah, serving as interludes to the violent quest of the main narrative. In the belated sequel, Tales From Watership Down, that formula gets reversed. Rather than feature a central arc about rabbits looking for a new home, most of the work is episodic, with two-thirds devoted to fables told by members of what should be the main cast. The yarns, while entertaining in their folksiness, are also light when compared to the novel’s predecessor, more akin to Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories than a bloody-bunny epic that invites comparisons to The Odyssey. Even when the first book’s characters start playing a bigger role in the back end—most notably the doe Hyzenthlay—Tales never has the weight, adventure, or nightmare fuel of Adams’ original. [Dan Caffrey]

25 years: Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero (1985) and Imperial Bedrooms (2010)


In the opening of Imperial Bedrooms, narrator Clay describes how Less Than Zero didn’t accurately capture the detached hedonism of him and his privileged L.A. friends. Yes, most of the events happened, but because the writer resented Clay’s relationship with his then-girlfriend Blair, he depicted him as being “incapable of love and kindness.” That sly metafictional trick allows Bret Easton Ellis to undercut the more immature voice of his first novel as well as the sanitized film adaptation that followed. But as Imperial Bedrooms progresses, it becomes clear that the real-life adult Clay is actually more monstrous than his younger, semi-fictional counterpart, capable of emotional manipulation, torture, rape, and eventually complicit in a murder. This makes the prolonged sorta-sequel not a vindication for the original book, as Clay wants the reader to believe, but a chilling confirmation—make that escalation—of all the worst parts of his personality. [Dan Caffrey]

29 years: Isaac Asimov’s Second Foundation (1953) and Foundation’s Edge (1982)


Technically, this is two delayed sequels in one: When Isaac Asimov returned to his deeply influential sci-fi take on the fall of the Roman Empire with 1982’s Foundation’s Edge, he also began merging it with his equally popular Robot novels. And while none of the sequel or prequel novels Asimov wrote during this later period of his career—stretching from Edge to 1993’s posthumously published Forward The Foundation—had the clear-eyed approach to sociology, history, and human nature that made Foundation or The Caves Of Steel such compelling, lasting reads, they aren’t without merit, either. Among other things, Asimov took some clever swipes at his own aversion to populating his worlds with non-human (or non-robotic) life, and the ultimate fate of his most beloved character—stalwart positronic protector R. Daneel Olivaw—lends a real poignancy to the delayed finale of one of science fiction’s most beloved tales. [William Hughes]

30 years: Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby (1967) and Son Of Rosemary (1997)

Rosemary’s Baby is brilliant because it deals with two deep and powerful fears: the idea of Satanism and the occult—which were in the air in the late ’60s—and more primal fears about parenting and pregnancy. The book tapped into the panic parents feel about protecting their offspring, as well as the myriad of feelings expectant mothers can have about the life growing inside them. Son Of Rosemary hints at something similar—the fear of how one’s children turned out—but without any tension. The sequel’s needlessly convoluted plot (much of which feels lifted from The Omen III) concerns Rosemary waking from a 30-year coma and worrying her son is the Antichrist. While there are some truly daring narrative choices, their impact is obliterated with a terrible anticlimactic ending. Why was no sequel made to the classic film? Because the book is stupid. [Ryan Vlastelica]


33 years: Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 (1961) and Closing Time (1994)


Catch-22 is an astonishing juggling act, a whirligig look at the absurdities of life in wartime. The book tracks several characters, but its central figure is the bombardier Yossarian, whose desperate attempts to get out of harm’s way fuel Catch-22’s satiric and tragic undercurrents. Given the book’s plot is as circular as the logic of its titular paradox, the prospect of a post-war follow-up must have seemed dubious, but Closing Time takes a broader focus. Joseph Heller is no longer talking about life in wartime but life in general: Just because Yossarian is out of active duty doesn’t mean death has stopped coming for him. A different kind of book than Catch-22—less absurdist, more serious about religion and marriageClosing Time is an ideal kind of delayed follow-up, a look at how characters change over time and react under different stresses. [Ryan Vlastelica]

36 years: Stephen King’s The Shining (1977) and Doctor Sleep (2013)


The Shining is one of the great horror novels, a potent blend real and supernatural fears that drew on personal demons like Stephen King’s substance abuse. The key character is Jack Torrance, the tragic alcoholic in an unending struggle to not be a terrible man; the least-interesting is Jack’s son Danny, whose supernatural abilities don’t translate into a compelling presence. Perhaps this is why Doctor Sleep, which follows Danny as an adult, whiffed as badly as it did. Even with the potent theme of the father’s sins being revisited on the son, King shows little interest in deepening Danny’s psyche or probing the long-term impact of abuse. Meanwhile, material concerning a group of vampiric immortals lacks both clarity and tension. Doctor Sleep never shakes the sense that it was a tossed-off cash-in; King wrote it not to extend the story, but because polled readers voted it his next project. It shows. [Ryan Vlastelica]

37 Years: Walter M. Miller Jr.’s A Canticle For Leibowitz (1960) Saint Leibowitz And The Wild Horse Woman (1997)


For American science fiction, Walter M. Miller Jr. was Harper Lee and J.D. Salinger rolled into one: a briefly prolific writer of short stories who publishes a single landmark novel and then became the genre’s most notorious recluse; even his agent never met him in person. Set over a thousand years at a Catholic monastery devoted to preserving human knowledge in the post-nuclear Dark Ages, A Canticle For Leibowitz is a complex and perplexing mediation on cycles of faith and conflict, steeped in Miller’s religious yearning and his experiences in the ruined Europe of World War II. He worked sporadically on a follow-up for decades, often struggling with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and left behind a 600-page manuscript after his suicide in 1996. Completed by Terry Bisson, Saint Leibowitz And The Wild Horse Woman focuses on papal and courtly intrigues in the pseudo-medieval American Southwest of the 33rd century. It’s a fascinating companion piece to Miller’s debut novel, though hardly its equal. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

48 years: Robert Coover’s The Origin Of The Brunists (1966) and The Brunist Day Of Wrath (2014)


In his 1966 New York Times review of Robert Coover’s debut novel The Origin Of The Brunists, Webster Schott notes that “Robert Coover writes his first novel as if he doesn’t expect to make it to a second.” Accordingly, it took Coover nearly half a century to pen the sequel, The Brunist Day Of Wrath. Both books take place in the town of West Condon, where a mining accident kills every trapped miner but one, a simple soul named Giovanni Bruno. In the first book, an apocalyptic cult flares up around the man who lived, and residents look on in low-level horror as the group attracts slack-jawed adherents. The book ends with bodies and mayhem, and the Brunists are expelled from West Condon. A reenergized Brunist group returns to town five years later in the sequel, which Coover said was inspired by the Bush-era rise of the religious right in America. [Drew Toal]

49 Years: Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine (1957) and Farewell Summer (2006)


Though he lived almost his entire life in Los Angeles, writing about the fantastic, Ray Bradbury never let go of the small-town Midwest, often revisiting his early childhood in Waukegan, Illinois through stories set in the late 1920s in a fictional Illinois community called Green Town and centered on a Bradbury alter ego named Douglas Spaulding. Two dozen of these were combined and expanded in Dandelion Wine, a book that is as sentimental as it is potently evocative of the feelings of childhood. Though Bradbury went on to write many more Green Town stories—as well as the superb Something Wicked This Way Comes, which has a similar setting—it took nearly half a century for him to publish an official follow-up book. Farewell Summer, a coming-of-age novel expanded from a story published decades earlier, was followed a year later by another Green Town collection, Summer Morning, Summer Night. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

55 years: Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird (1960) and Go Set A Watchman (2015)


There will always be an asterisk next to Go Set A Watchman, questions surrounding the dubious circumstances the To Kill A Mockingbird follow-up was published under. Was it released with Harper Lee’s knowledge or consent? Was it actually a sequel, or Mockingbird’s very different first draft? Unfortunately, the circumstances surrounding the book are far more compelling than what’s actually in it. Watchman returns to the story of “Scout” Finch, now a twentysomething woman dealing with romance and the burgeoning civil rights movement—a backdrop that led to the book’s controversial depiction of the beloved Atticus Finch—but with none of the original’s heart or insight. Given that Mockingbird is perhaps the quintessential book of American literature, it was inevitable that any follow-up would disappoint, especially given the half-century-plus of expectations it ran up against. But Watchman is something sadder than a mere disappointment: It’s a footnote. [Ryan Vlastelica]

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