Wednesday, September 8, 2010

To PRE or Not to PRE?

A while back in the comments of this post, I started to ponder the idea of “prequel.” It’s a curious thing, a prequel. For in order to be a prequel for the audience, the “original” needs to have come first. That sounds like a no-brainer. But consider some examples.

As I’ve said before (and also re-posted links to Danny Pitt Stoller’s great articles as such) The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis are often [and I feel erroneously] read in chronological order. Technically, of course, The Magician’s Nephew is a prequel to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. But for many, it’s not seen/understood that way, though it is most definitely a prequel as far as Lewis is concerned — he didn’t know the events himself when he wrote LWW!

George Lucas’s epic saga of Star Wars is famous for having prequels. But let’s face the facts. It’s a bit different than with C.S. Lewis. Here, they are not really prequels. Lucas had written out the grand scheme of the story he wished to tell from the start. Granted, it received rewrites and drop-outs, but on the whole, he knew the spine of the story. Due to feasibility concerns he began his tale in the middle. (Also because Episode IV - A New Hope is the only part that can manage to stand alone [in case it had been a flop.])  I cannot confirm that it is true, but allegedly Hayden Christensen wants to one day show his kids the episodes “in order,” meaning beginning with Episode I - The Phantom Menace. (I think that would ruin the suspense of the saga, just for the record.) Either way, the “prequel trilogy” is only such because they came out secondary to the “original” set.  According to Lucas’s musing and composition, they’re not — at least not in the same sense as Lewis.

Those are but two examples of this "phenomenon."

When I’d been writing Peter Pan: Betwixt-and-Between I always thought of it as an interquel (a sequel to one story and a prequel to another). I had just assumed that people would already know the story of Peter Pan (a.k.a. Peter and Wendy.) Anon pointed out to me that someone, however, just might not know that story and read the adventures of Peter Pan from “the beginning,” starting with Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (or The Little White Bird), moving on to my interquel and then on to the story most of us know. It didn’t really occur to me that someone wouldn't consider it an "adventure before." (To quote Slightly in Hogan’s version: Stupid of me.) But seriously, although unlikely, it’s bound to happen. Thus, in that sense, I did not write an interquel/prequel.

The status of “prequel” is relative.  Something to think about, eh?


Anon said...

Well, aside from very young children who haven't had time to be exposed to it, let's also not forget that even those who ARE familiar with Peter Pan are more likely to know the story from the movies/musicals than from the original J. M. Barrie story, especially in the States--and how many of those are accurate and would follow through from what Barrie wrote, much less from what you're writing?

As for the Star Wars prequels, while I won't nitpick and say that technically only Episode I was a prequel and Episodes II and III are interquels (since even that is debatable), I don't think it IS true that George Lucas knew the backstory before he made the new trilogy. He may at best have known the backbone, as you suggested, but I think even that has changed, and regardless, the fleshing out of the prequels most certainly came only after the original trilogy was complete.

Peter Von Brown said...

Regarding what you said about Pan, also very true.

Regarding Lucas, yes he did know the backstory. As as I said (and you said I said) he had the throughline at the very least. I heard that he began writing "This is the story of Mace Windu..." So, obviously things are different. But the idea of the life of Anakin Skywalker from boyhood onto being the scourge of the galaxy had always been present. Take for instance, the Battle of Endor. That fight pitting Nature against Machine had always been part of the story. But when he wrote it originally, the battle had been against the Wookies. By the time he got to it, he'd wound up with Chewbacca being too immersed in technology and technological know-how, so he had to scrap the Wookie part, but the epic battle remained. (And thus, instaed of making them very tall, he made them very small and flipped the name. wookIE Ewok.) Could hge have told you that Anakin had been a moisture farmer? Maybe, or perhaps not. But the diaboical plot of using clones vs. droids and having them turn on the Republic? That had always been in there, too. He knew all along how it went, regardless of how it turned out. We just began in the middle, as I said.

And as for II & III being interquels, touche.

Anon said...

I guess I've just come to trust Lucas less regarding what he'd "originally" planned since it seems to have changed so much....

Peter Von Brown said...

But the point isn't how it turned out or changed. It's that we came into the middle of the story no matter what - thus giving us stories that are prior only from our vantage point.

Jason A. Quest said...

I have to agree with Anon that Episodes I-III should be viewed as true prequels to IV-VI. While Lucas had a general idea of what the backstory was when he filmed IV, that was not the story he ended up filming years later. There's too much evidence of him making up the historical facts as he went to think that the actual plot of I-III was substantially formed in his mind in 1977. For example, Luke and Leia flirted a little too much for good taste before Lucas "revealed" that they were twins, and the "clone wars" Luke mentioned could have been anything. I'm not even convinced Lucas considered Vader and Anakin the same character at the time.

If the author of a novel has a half-formed idea for a possible follow-up story when he writes the first, but doesn't develop it into a plot outline until later, wouldn't that count as a "sequel" rather than just "part two"? Likewise if the setting is "before" instead of "after". By your argument, if the author spends any time at all thinking about the backstory of his characters (as he should), that story can't become the basis for a prequel... and that seems far too restrictive a definition.

By the way, I read an account a few years ago by a parent who showed IV-VI to his kid after they'd seen I-III together. The kid bought most of it ("Look! Obi-Wan is pretending he doesn't know R2-D2!"), but noticed that there were things that just didn't make sense.