Stephen King the other day mentioned that he had an idea for a sequel to “The Shining” which would deal with a grown up Danny Torrance, in his forties, helping old folks cross over and betting on the horses. Now, in some ways it might make for an interesting book, but I for one ain’t so sure.*
Sometimes you just need to let an idea go. Sometimes you don’t need to know “what happened next”. You know everything that you need to know.
I get it, I do, and I know it’s what fuels the “series” market, this need to know what happened next to beloved characters, but honestly I don’t think we always need to know. I think sometimes we’re better off not knowing. Or just figuring it out in our own heads.
Now, I loved The Shining, but I don’t give a toss what happened to Danny forty years later. For a start, forty years later he ain’t gonna be that same wee lad whose dad went mental and who had to face shape-shifting bushes, killer wasps and some bloody weird spooks hanging around the Overlook Hotel. He’s going to be an entirely different person and not one that I’m sure I want to know, particularly, at least in the sense that I’d know he was also that terrified wee kid. Now, maybe I could take a return to the Overlook, but honestly I just don’t want to know what happened to any of the folks we met there first time around. Far as I’m concerned, their story was done and dusted, and in the way that King tells his germ for the story, I don’t see why it couldn’t just be some other guy with some cool psychic powers he was writing about.
Here’s the thing; some characters just need to be around for one story. Or maybe a few more if they cry out for it. I’m not against sequels. Just against ones that feel redundant (and boy, there are a lot of those around). I’m not even against series (Technically I’m writing one), but I am against those that outstay their welcome and their relevance.
I always admired the chutzpah of British writer Ray Banks who created a character that lasted over four books. And then he put him away. No fooling. And that’s cool, because he told the stories that needed to be told with that character. I’m a fan of sequences in fiction, but not necessarily of series, which I think can often play themselves into the ground or, even worse, start repeating after a while. There is at least one top-selling writer I can think of whose more recent books I have started skipping over because, while I have fun with them, I know exactly what’s going to happen and have no fear that everything will turn out right in the end. I mean this guy is now writing the same damn novel every time and while that’s cool and a bit of “fast food for the brain”, it is beginning to really irk me because I’m a reader who doesn’t want to know what happens next, who wants the unexpected and occasionally the unwanted if it makes for a good and unpredictable reading experience.
I couldn’t go this far without mentioning George Pelecanos, of course, who tends to drop series after three or four books, ultimately creating some of the most memorable characters you’ll ever read. Despite a cameo in a later novel, I’m glad he left Nick Stefanos behind and I think he was right to drop off the Strange Investigations books where he did because, man, those stories said what they needed to say and said it well. Just because some characters were still living does not mean that I want to follow them to death.
Maybe its because I have some kind of literary commitment issues. Or maybe its an extension of my need for brevity and clarity in writing which has previously been applied to the length of novels. I don’t know, but I don’t always see the need for sequels unless they advance the themes and/or characters in some way that feels natural and pertinent. Its one of the reasons I talk about McNee only lasting a certain number of books, because I wonder just how long I can evolve the character before he starts repeating himself. I still remember the crushing disappointment of the day I realised one of my favourite series characters had quit evolving, had started standing still, had resorted to cheap tricks to keep me interested.
And I wished that his story had ended one book earlier. Knew that if it had, the sequence of books as stood would have been perfect.
*it should also be noted that King hasn’t fully “committed” to writing “Doctor Sleep” as he tentatively titled the novel. But it serves as a nice jumping off point for me here.