I’m sure I’m not the only avid reader who often finishes a book, or an entire series, yet still wishes to know more about the characters and the fictional universe they inhabit. Specifically, I wonder about what happened in their pasts. This is where prequels come in.
I’ve done a lot of pondering about the world Suzanne Collins created with The Hunger Games trilogy. How did it get to the state it was in? Were the games always so technologically advanced? Some backstory was woven into the original three books, explaining the origins of the deadly contest for which the series is named. Readers saw many details about the mechanical and political workings of the games as experienced by teenaged protagonist Katniss Everdeen and dictated by the ruthless leader of Panem, President Snow. Now, in “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” a recently released prequel that is set 64 years before Katniss became a District 12 tribute, we get a look at how things were done in the early days, when Coriolanus Snow was a teenager eager to restore his family’s ever-slipping position of power in society.
Collins is far from the first author to travel backwards in time to provide readers with new stories. Philip Pullman decided two of the most colorful characters from the “His Dark Materials” series deserved their own adventure. “Once Upon a Time in the North” recounts the first meeting of aeronaut Lee Scoresby and the armored bear, Iorek Byrnison, who team up for thrilling exploits involving sea captains and hired killers, all in the midst of political upheaval.
“The Rules of Magic,” is Alice Hoffman’s companion to her bestselling stand-alone title, “Practical Magic.” In the first book, most of the action centered on sisters Sally & Gillian Owens, who were raised by their eccentric aunts. All of the Owens women have inherited magical abilities, but also a dreadful curse. The prequel takes us back to the Aunts’ younger years, showing how their powers, along with the family curse, shaped them, influencing their child-rearing decisions.
Sometimes, a prequel is penned by a writer other than the original author. Gregory Maguire has built a career creating engaging backstory for characters from classic children’s literature and fairy tales. His first novel for adults was “Wicked,” a sympathetic life story of the Wicked Witch of the West, first introduced in L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” Jean Rhys’ 1966 novel, “Wide Sargasso Sea,” let readers know there was much more to the first Mrs. Rochester’s life than was ever revealed to the governess in Charlotte Bronte’s classic, “Jane Eyre.” And sticking with the popular prequel theme of how villains develop, Jon Clinch shone a light on the life of the abusive ne’er-do-well father from Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Clinch’s book is simply titled, “Finn.”
While physical travel is limited, I hope we can enjoy revisiting some of these literary worlds.