This month has brought news of not one but two “authorised sequels” to books which I adore, Winnie-the-Pooh and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In both cases sequels are highly undesirable; Winnie-the-Pooh is a ageless treasure, something that needn’t and shouldn’t be added to (it’s hard enough to cope with what Disney has done to it), whilst the Hitchhiker’s trilogy was rounded off unexpectedly perfectly by Douglas Adams in Mostly Harmless in a way that left all stories tied up and all characters dead. Moreover, these are beautiful and rare jewels of literature and the last thing we need is some fake plastic jewels on display next to them.
If the alarm bells are not already ringing, then this interview ought to set them a-clanging. Let’s list the ways in which Eoin Colfer demonstrates his unsuitability to write a sequel to Douglas Adams’ book:
1. He sought inspiration in the music of the 70s – because that’s right, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is very much a product of the 70s, isn’t it? And not the timeless product of a genius whose style and references cross time, place and genre in a way that was completely unlike anything else in that decade…
2. ‘The Irish author holds up his hand and references a joke from the first novel: “And I got my digital watch, of course!”‘ – bloody hell, the man makes shit Hitchhiker’s in-jokes, is that what the book’s going to be like?
3. …um, yes, it rather looks like it is. ‘There are witty Guide entries, the Vogons and their awful poetry, the Infinite Improbability Drive and, of course, Arthur Dent and his companions Ford Prefect and Zaphod Beeblebrox.’ In other words, it’s a book that recycles a whole load of Douglas Adams jokes.
4. As if to confirm quite how recycled the jokes are going to be, Colfer reveals his pride at a new character called Hillman Hunter. Geddit? It’s the name of an old car! Like Ford Prefect! Almost like it’s the same fucking joke!!!
5. He describes the original as Monty Python meets Mel Brooks in space, which epitomises his lack of understanding of what made it great. Douglas Adams’ writing has more in common with Laurence Sterne and Lewis Carroll than Mel Brooks, and the similarities with Monty Python are only superficial. When you try to do Monty Python meets Mel Brooks in space you get… well, you get the film version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Remember how successful that was?
It comes as no surprise that Colfer reveals ‘For me and a group of friends in Wexford, it became our Monty Python. We had all of these little one liners and we would contrive to get the number 42 into as many conversations as possible.’ What you mean to say is you’re a fan, Mr Colfer! A rather frightening geeky fan too, who contrives to get the number 42 into as many conversations as possible and thinks it’s really, like, clever! I’ve been there myself but I was 12!!!
What we have here is a piece of fan fiction, in the worst possible sense of the word. Of course it is – why else would any author try to write their own version of somebody else’s idea? Neither would I wish to deny the likes of Eoin Colfer the right to do so, it’s the domain of every fan to indulge in that kind of thing.
But what makes me SICK is that, undoubtedly for the sole reason that it guarantees them a quick buck, a publisher is actually going to print and distribute this fan fiction so that it is somehow legitimised, allowed to sit on the shelves alongside a modern classic and cheapen our memory of something genuinely special. The estates that allow this to happen, who no doubt also take a significant cut of the ill-gotten gains, ought to be ashamed of themselves. (I know little about the Winnie-the-Pooh one except that there’s a new character called Lottie the Otter who is said to be “feisty” – I’ll bet she needs to be to hide the sound of A. A. Milne turning in his grave.)
It’s time we stopped letting publishers take us for mugs; I urge you to boycott these unimaginative money spinners, dust off the books already on your shelf remind yourself what original writing really looks like.