Poisoned chalice: A band of brave authors has taken on the unenviable task of writing sequels to classics such as Winnie-the-Pooh

'Hitchhiker's Guide', 'Winnie-the-Pooh', 'Where the Wild Things Are' – sacred cows all. Yet a band of brave authors has written their sequels. What's driving this explosion in the 'update' genre? And are the results as outstanding as fans will demand?

For the first time in decades I feel the uncertainty that I last felt in my teenage years." The Irish author Eoin Colfer isn't talking about the birth of a new child or the dawn of a new relationship, but rather tackling a book full of characters and ideas that weren't his own.

Even for a seasoned author such as Colfer, taking on the late Douglas Adams' phenomenally successful Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series – five books that have sold more than 16 million copies worldwide – was not something to be taken lightly. And even now that his And Another Thing..., billed as the sixth book in the series, has been published, it is apparent that Colfer's anxiety has lessened only slightly. "There are still a lot of, almost, threats. As if people are saying, 'This had better be good.'"

Colfer's book joins a list of recent "authorised sequels" to classics, in which some brave authors have written the further adventures of characters from Peter Pan and Dracula to James Bond and Winnie-the-Pooh. And there are more on the way. This week, for example, sees the publication of The Wild Things, by Dave Eggers, to coincide with the eagerly awaited film adaptation of the Maurice Sendak original, Where the Wild Things Are.

It is easy to understand any anxiety over such a seemingly thankless task. These writers are expected not only to get into the mind of the original author, but also, in the same stroke, to take the story on in their own voice. If they fail, they risk invoking the wrath not only of their publishers and the literary estates that have bequeathed them their fictional worlds – and which expect a decent financial return – but also the legions of fans of the originals.

David Benedictus, who first came to the public consciousness in the 1960s with his controversial novels The Fourth of June and You're a Big Boy Now, recently published an addition to one of the best-loved children's series of all time. But when it was announced earlier this year that he would pen the sequel to Winnie-the-Pooh, 80 years after AA Milne and the illustrator EH Shepard first brought Christopher Robin and the little yellow bear to a generation of children, knives came out in the blogosphere. "Shameless, utterly shameless! Reading old copies of Punch and walking in a wood will never make the author into another Milne," sniped one. And those who owned the rights weren't spared the fury: "It's not the bear who has 'very little brain' but rather the Trustees of the Pooh Properties."

Benedictus is surprisingly equivocal in his response to this vitriol – "What's the worst thing that can happen, that I'll be torn apart by wild journalists? Happened before and I survived" – but he does admit that, "At worst everyone will hate me and I'll just crawl under a bush and hide."

No matter what the fans might think, not just anyone is allowed the opportunity to be involved in this sort of project. Just obtaining the literary rights to a novel or a character can be a legal and ethical minefield. Benedictus spent eight years persuading the Milne estate that he was the man for the job, while, for the latest James Bond instalment, Devil May Care, many people needed convincing that the otherwise wildly successful Sebastian Faulks was up to the task. The rights to James Bond belong to the Broccoli family's EON Productions, so permission had to be sought there as well as from the Fleming estate.

"It's a delicate and sensitive situation for someone who controls an estate with such a huge reputation," says Alex Clarke, a commissioning editor at Penguin Books who sanctioned both Faulks' Devil May Care and Colfer's And Another Thing... "Anyone who goes into this kind of project has to have a huge amount of respect for the originator's concept or characters."

So why do writers put themselves through it? Is it more than just a commercial opportunity? "The fact is that these characters are too good, too full of potential to be left alone. If they can be brought back sympathetically, then it's a great thing," says Jon Howells at Waterstone's. "But yes, the books are good for publishers financially as they are proven properties with years, if not decades, of the nation's love behind them. James Bond, Hitchhiker's Guide and Winnie-the-Pooh are some of the best-known franchises in the world, so they do have an advantage."

The benefits of playing off classic novels became clear as long ago as 1966, when Jean Rhys emerged from decades of obscurity and into public prominence when Wide Sargasso Sea, her prequel to Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, became an award-winning triumph. And, as Rhys showed, by basing her novel around the "mad woman in the attic" from Jane Eyre, the central character of a new piece doesn't necessarily have to have been the lead in the original. RN Morris, for example, is about to publish the third in his series of St Petersburg-set detective novels that have taken the shadowy magistrate Porfiry Petrovich from Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment and given him a starring role.

While publishers have been maximising the similar potential of Jane Austen's legacy with titles such as Mr Darcy Presents His Bride, there is a quite understandable fear regarding the uncontrollable beast in which this slew of authorised books has its basis: fan fiction. This phenomenon can be traced back to the 1960s, when Star Trek devotees published fanzines such as Spockanalia. But with the internet, the genre has taken off. Sites such as fanfiction.net include millions of stories in dozens of languages. Many take their favourite characters and write new novels around them. Without actively encouraging it, most authors turn a blind eye to what goes on in this new, electronic literary world – but it does have the potential to hamper the sales of officially sanctioned efforts such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

It remains to be seen whether the latest round of updates will be as successful as the last James Bond incarnation. But, if all else fails, readers will still have the originals: "I didn't feel I was doing anything particularly dastardly," concludes Benedictus. "If you're doing a new production of a Shakespeare, you can take great liberties with it – because, in the end, the play will still be there."

The new 'Where the Wild Things Are'

Fleshing out Maurice Sendak's story of Max and his journey to the island where the wild things live, Dave Eggers has created a novel like childhood itself: sometimes weird, sometimes dark, and full of wonder.

Max lives in the suburbs with his divorced mum and older sister, and is assaulted by the stupidity of adults. After a climactic confrontation, he escapes to the island and encounters the huge monsters of the original, now with names, beautifully drawn personalities, and real, volatile, dangerous power.

Max becomes their king but it is a precarious throne, his subjects ready to eat him the moment the rumpus stops being fun.

Like the original, this is far from the cosy world kids are often fed, but it has real heart – Eggers using simple but superbly effective prose to suggest that childhood has to be lived without cosseting for us to grow up with any semblance of a normal personality.

Doug Johnstone

'The Wild Things', by Dave Eggers, is out on Thursday (Hamish Hamilton, £14.99)

The new 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'

At times, reading And Another Thing... is like having Douglas Adams back with us. This sixth book in the Hitchhiker's series is similarly chock-full of fanciful, inventive one-liners and asides, brimming with a burning sense of the ridiculousness of life in the face of galactic indifference.

Occasionally, Eoin Colfer tries too hard at the daft stuff at the expense of emotional engagement, but on the whole this should keep the fan hordes happy.

Once more, the Earth faces imminent destruction, in a plot that takes Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, Trillian, her daughter Random and Zaphod Beeblebrox into adventures with immortals, gods, dark matter, the viciously bureaucratic Vogons, a fake-Irish property developer and a really large slice of cheese.

The plot isn't all that convincing, but in an imaginative romp to the end of the universe and back, Colfer makes the ride worthwhile.

Aidan Gilchrist

'And Another Thing...' is out now (Michael Joseph, £18.99)

The new 'Winnie-the-Pooh'

There may be no AA Milne or EH Shepard, but thankfully in David Benedictus's further adventures of Pooh, neither is there any red T-shirt, purple Eeyore or any of the other travesties that Disney wrought upon the clan.

Rather, what we get in Return to the Hundred Acre Wood is a delightful chance to revisit some Very Old Friends – as well as Lottie the pearl-wearing Otter, a new character who pops up, one can't help feel, to soothe any qualms about the forest's gender imbalance. All else is as it was: Tigger is as bouncy as ever, Pooh as obsessed with honey, and Eeyore as gloomy.

If there is one criticism to be had, it is that this reads a little too much like it was written in the Noughties: there is fear of a honey shortage after the bees mysteriously disappear. But these are mere quibbles when Benedictus has clearly done a Very Good Thing in reuniting Pooh with his friends.

Susie Mesure

'Return to the Hundred Acre Wood' is out now (Egmont, £12.99)

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth


Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee