Accident or Design?

Date: 14 December 2013

Books Completed: 205

Yes, I’ve reached and surpassed my goal. I’m continuing to track what I read and I’ll post some thoughts and comments about it all at the end of the month.

 

Not surprisingly, I subscribe to Goodreads, along with several of my friends. I love it when I get an update about books they’ve read or want to read. I always look through their choices to get suggestions for myself. Of late, I have noticed an incredibly frequent trend: series. For the past several years I’ve seen this with children’s books as I manage the collection for my library. Now it seems to be quite prevalent with g-u books, too. So I have to wonder, what’s behind all the series? Does the success of one book beget another (accidental series) or did the author plan for the story to continue over several books (design series)? Ultimately, does it matter?

With this in mind, I’ve been thinking about some series with which I am familiar, both g-u and children’s. I’ve recently been indulging in one of my guilty pleasures, Barbara Taylor Bradford’s Emma Harte series. Well, the two books in the series that I like to reread. I actually really don’t like the first book, Woman of Substance, but instead prefer its sequel, Hold the Dream. I am convinced that WoS was written as a stand-alone and its popularity inspired Mrs. Bradford to create this accidental series. The giveaway? Inconsistencies. In WoS, working class Emma struggles her entire life with the toffy-nosed Fairley family, eventually wreaking her revenge, with the support of her dear friend Blackie O’Neill, and all but obliterating them. At the end, the two clans are peacefully united in the engagement of Emma’s granddaughter Paula to Edwin Fairley’s grandson Jim. Definite closure there. But in HtD, Paula’s marriage to Jim falls apart and Paula eventually finds her true love in Shane O’Neill, Blackie’s grandson. Terribly fitting, since Blackie actually loved Emma his entire life. So, in the end, the O’Neill and Harte families are united, not the Hartes and the Fairleys. And this is only one inconsistency, albeit the most glaring.

A good 15+ years ago I was into the Kay Scarpetta series by Patricia Cornwell. I don’t remember which one I read first, I only know it wasn’t the first in the series. It’s been at least 10 years since I read any of those books, so I don’t know how the series progressed in later years, but I think Miss Cornwell wrote the first as a singular novel, and wrote more as popularity demanded. The giveaway? The mysteries were discrete and solved by the end of the novels. Typical of the genre, true. However, I think eventually Miss Cornwell planned on using more than one tome to complete a story arc. In some of the later books there was a carry-over with the cases Dr. Scarpetta worked on, and of course there was always some carry-over concerning her personal life. So perhaps the Scarpetta series is a hybrid of accident and design.

I think that same hybrid is present in the Narnia series. (Warning, I’m about to mount my high horse again). In the past 20 years or so, publishers have renumbered the order of books in the series to reflect the chronology of the Narnian adventures. However, if you read them in the order Mr. Lewis wrote them, as they SHOULD be read (reining in the horse now) a case can be made that the series was first designed as a trilogy. The giveaway? The conclusions of the first three books. As the Pevensies return to England at the end of LWW, the professor reminds them that “once a King in Narnia, always a King in Narnia” as he assures them he believes they will return. And indeed, the Pevensies return for more adventures in PC. At its conclusion, Peter tells Edmund and Lucy that he and Susan cannot return but that the two younger children certainly might. Which of course they do in VDT. At the end of that book, though, Edmund and Lucy are told they cannot return, and nothing is ventured about Eustace. In fact, Mr. Lewis gives a bit of a sum-up for both the Narnian and English adventurers, leading the reader to believe that the series is done. I believe that this is when popular demand stepped in and we got some “accidental” books added to the series.  Readers wanted more of Narnia, so Mr. Lewis obliged. But out of the four additional novels, only 2 continue the story. The other two are anachronistic, one being a creation story and the other taking place within the very large time frame of LWW.

Another hybrid is the Willow Falls series by Wendy Mass. As I’ve already discussed that in some length (see Same Old Song) I won’t rehash my thoughts about that one.

There is one series I am convinced was designed as a whole, and that is Mrs. Rowling’s Harry Potter saga. The giveaway? So many! For starters, the very set up—Harry goes off to a school where he is to spend the next seven years—attests to this. Then there is the gradual reveal. The series is ultimately about the conflict between Harry and Voldemort, and each installment discloses more and more of what Harry (and the reader) needs to know to prepare himself for the final confrontation. And then there is the foreshadowing (again, too many examples for a thorough discussion!) throughout the series, not just within a book. Those little carelessly thrown bits of information that come back, such as in SS Harry has the feeling that Snape can read his mind and then in OP we learn that Snape is a legilimens. In OP the kids find a locket that won’t open which is revealed to be a horcrux in DH. In CS Harry learns the expelliarmus spell which will save his life in both GF and DH. In GF, Dumbledore is pleased when he learns that Voldemort used Harry’s blood to come back to his body and in DH it is revealed that in doing this, Voldemort unwittingly gave Harry his greatest protection. I could go on, but you get the idea.

So does any of this matter? For me, to some extent, I think it does. I call the Emma Harte series a guilty pleasure because those books are truly not well-written, yet I keep going back to them. But Mrs. Bradford’s other bad writing habits would be far easier to overlook if her stories were consistent. My favorite Scarpetta books were the ones that have the carry-over I mentioned, otherwise I grew tired of thinking that a medical examiner gets put into mortal peril far too often for credibility—hence why I gave up that series. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that 2 of my three favorite books in the Narnia series are LWW and PC (with VDT a close 4th). Miss Mass clearly wrote 13G with the intention of following it up with LP, which turns out to be my favorite book in the series.  And Mrs. Rowling’s DH is a masterpiece because something from every preceding book in the series plays a significant role in this final installment.

So while I have had some “accidents” in my life that actually initiated some series of very fortunate events, when it comes to my reading tastes I seem to prefer the design school of thought. Go figure.

One thought on “Accident or Design?

  1. Never could get into fantasy, which is why I’ve never read Narnia. Or Harry. But I LOVE historical fiction. But not it there’s a time-travel element.

    I didn’t care for Hold the Dream because Paula was perfect. Much preferred Woman of Substance, which I just randomly picked-up as a paperback in the Rexall’s in Virginia Beach. However, my favorite BTB novel is Voice of the Heart – as far as I know, a stand-alone.

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