The art of the sequel

Peter Pan, part two, is about to fly on to the bookshelves, but can J M Barrie's successor reproduce the magic, asks Louise Jury reports
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To embark on a sequel is to ask for trouble; for every Godfather: Part II, a film widely acknowledged to surpass the original, there is a Pemberley - Emma Tennant's follow-up novel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice - which divided critics and fans alike.

To embark on a sequel is to ask for trouble; for every Godfather: Part II, a film widely acknowledged to surpass the original, there is a Pemberley - Emma Tennant's follow-up novel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice - which divided critics and fans alike.

So when Geraldine McCaughrean won a worldwide competition yesterday to write the sequel to J M Barrie's immortal Peter Pan, she was handed what could be a poisoned chalice.

McCaughrean, three times winner of the Whitbread Children's Book of the Year prize and the author of more than 130 books and plays, said it was only after beating 200 others to the commission that the pitfalls occurred to her.

Initially, she was "absolutely thrilled" at the prospect of breathing new life into Peter Pan and Wendy. Then she began to consider how proprietorial Peter Pan fans were likely to be, before finally resolving to make the most of the opportunity.

"I've just got to make sure I have fun doing it," she said when the result was announced at the London Book Fair.

At least in the case of Peter Pan II, a good cause is attached. The competition was launched by the trustees of Great Ormond Street Hospital, London, who have owned the intellectual property rights to Peter Pan since they were presented by Sir James Barrie in 1929.

But on the 70th anniversary of his death, in 2007, the original comes out of copyright in the UK. Creating a new work will give the children's hospital decades more royalties from their bequest, trustee Kit Palmer said. The sequel is expected to be published next year.

For any author, film-maker or television producer, the potential benefits of a sequel are clear. They can capitalise on a cast of characters which already has admirers, as Michael Dibdin did brilliantly with The Last Sherlock Holmes Story and the television series Frasier did with Dr Frasier Crane from the earlier comedy Cheers. In films, another factor in the success of a sequel appears to be the involvement of the original winning team, as occurred with Francis Ford Coppola and his Godfather trilogy.

Yet a pitfall for any follow-up lies in the very affection for characters that a successful original encourages. As Kate Mosse, the author and founder of the Orange Prize for women's fiction, said: "I have not read any of the high-profile sequels to [Margaret Mitchell's] Gone with the Wind or Pride and Prejudice or [Daphne du Maurier's] Rebecca quite deliberately, because they are all books I feel I have a relationship with.

"I don't have any problem when an author decides to take on his or her characters. That's completely legitimate. But when someone else does it, there's a feeling they're trespassing on my rights as a reader."

The one exception, she decided, was Peter Pan. "In that case, the rights were bequeathed to Great Ormond Street and it seems to me that Barrie already had a sense of the legacy of Peter Pan. He had made it clear that Peter Pan should achieve something in the real world - the world that the book is an escape from. And Geraldine is a writer who has consistently proven that she can take classic stories and re-write them."

McCaughrean's most recent success came in January when she won her third Whitbread Prize for Not The End of the World, a re-telling of the story of Noah's Ark. And she has produced an entire series of child-friendly versions of stories such as The Canterbury Tales and 1001 Arabian Nights.

However, she was far from alone in her desire to produce a successor to Peter Pan. The battle for the commission saw immense interest from Italy and submissions from as far afield as Australia and Canada. One writer flew from his home in South Africa to deliver his sample chapter and synopsis on the deadline day for entries.

David Barrie, J M Barrie's great, great nephew and one of the judges of the competition, said choosing a winner had been a "tough challenge" but he thought J M Barrie "would have liked her style".

Broadcaster Mariella Frostrup, another of the judges, praised McCaughrean's entry, which has the working title Captain Pan, for being "most incredibly imaginative and quirky and charmingly skewed".

McCaughrean, 53, said that she was making "no literary claim of the need for a sequel" and that she was not sure that J M Barrie would have sanctioned her to create a successor to his great work.

"Barrie didn't write one and the original is complete and entire in itself," she said. "But if someone needs to do it, then please let it be me, because it will be just such a treat to spend time in Barrie's imaginary world and to be associated with the phenomenon of Peter Pan.

"I went to see Finding Neverland two weeks after I had submitted the sample and I found myself weeping salt tears at the sheer possibility of being associated with Peter Pan. Mr Barrie, cover your eyes and count to 20 - I'm going to borrow some of your characters."

THREE THAT WORKED...

THE GODFATHER, PART II

Francis Ford Coppola's 1974 epic, released two years after the original, carried on with the tale of New York's Corleone crime family.

Al Pacino and Robert De Niro starred in the flick that wove seamlessly through 60 years and three generations. Lasting just more than three hours, it was hailed as a triumph, winning six Oscars and becoming the only sequel to win best picture. Luckily for the film-makers, the author Mario Puzo had more books up his sleeve to breathe further life into the franchise. By the time the third film arrived, die-hard fans knew to look out for the harbinger of death, the orange.

MARY REILLY, by Valerie Martin (a sequel to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde)

Valerie Martin retold the Robert Louis Stevenson classic story of Jekyll and Hyde from the perspective of Dr Jekyll's infatuated housemaid, Mary Reilly. The 1990 novel received critical acclaim. The author Margaret Atwood described it as "an astonishing tour de force". Six years later it was released as a film starring John Malkovich as an eccentric, reclusive physician with Julia Roberts a young Irish woman at his service. Directed by Stephen Frears, many critics were scathing about the film though it was nominated for an award at the Berlin Film Festival in 1996.

FRASIER, (a sequel to Cheers)

When the American comedy, Cheers, ended its run in 1993, the team took Frasier Crane off his bar stool in Boston and into Seattle as an agony uncle on a radio phone-in. Giving the pompous psychiatrist his own show was a gamble that paid off - he went from being a bit-part character in a great ensemble comedy to the leading role in a sequel already hailed as a classic. After garnering handfuls of Emmy awards throughout the 1990s, the show finished in May last year, matching the 11 series lifetime of its predecessor and becoming one of television's most successful follow-ups.

...AND THREE THAT DIDN'T

GREASE 2 (1982)

While everyone remembers John Travolta and a black Spandex-clad Olivia Newton-John boogying at the fairground in Grease, fewer recall Maxwell Caulfield and Michelle Pfeiffer's time at Rydell High. In the 1982 sequel, four years after the original, Caulfield played a British exchange student enchanted by the American "bad girl" Stephanie Zinone (Pfeiffer). Cynics mocked the tired inversion of the plot - in the original Newton-John was the "good girl" foreigner - while those members of the original cast who did sign up for the movie were looking distinctly long in the tooth. The actress Didi Conn, appearing again as the ditzy Frenchy, was on the wrong side of 30. Still, one good thing did come of it - Pfeiffer went from strength to strength.

PEMBERLEY, by Emma Tennant (a sequel to Pride and Prejudice)

Emma Tennant's sequel toPride and Prejudice was published 180 years after Jane Austen's classic. In it, Elizabeth Bennett takes up her position at Pemberley, the stately home of her new husband, Darcy. Tennantgives the heroine problems having a child. Austen devotees winced at the crassness. The effort was widely criticised, and some described the authenticity of Tennant's characters as "out of Dynasty or Days Of Our Lives". Around the same time Julia Barrett published another spin-off, this one based on Darcy's sister Georgina. Presumption: An Entertainment was not a hit.

GOING STRAIGHT (a sequel to Porridge)

Life on the outside was always going to be difficult for Norman Stanley Fletcher, the laconic old lag, played by Ronnie Barker, who injected such humour into the prison life depicted in the 1970s classic Porridge. But when the drama moved into civvy street after Fletch's release, the magic went missing, and even Barker's masterful delivery couldn't recapture it. Fletch found work as a night porter and despite having his faithful sidekick Godber in tow, the script lacked the comic tension of life within prison walls. The show flopped and was abandoned after just one series.

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