Runaway hits

I was working on a post about one-hit wonders of various kinds—both the pop song phenomenon and the runaway bestselling book version of that. The impetus, of course, was the upcoming release of the movie Fifty Shades of Grey based on the book of the same name that should be more accurately titled Fifty Shades of Converted Fanfic of Predatory Domestic Abuse because it started out as a literal fanfic of the Twilight series which is a collection of godawful books with a heroine who is actually nothing more than a stalking victim suffering history’s worst case of Stockholm Syndrome.

Not that I have any strong feelings about it

Anyway, I had this post in progress, and then I took a break to skim through Tumblr where I saw a pair of short posts by Neil Gaiman that made all of the points I was making, only much more succinctly.

So I abandoned the post. But then comes news of a new Harper Lee novel-fifty-four years after the publication of her first novel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird. And that made me think about the idea of a one time runaway hit in a new way…

First Edition cover of To Kill a Mockingbird.

What I find most intriguing about this news of a new novel from Harper Lee is that it isn’t a sequel to …Mockingbird although people are going to view it that way. It turns out that her debut novel, which is considered a modern classic and a masterpiece, was a prequel. Miss Lee originally wrote a novel about a young woman, but when she was trying to get it published, an editor suggested that the flashbacks to the young woman’s childhood were more intriguing, and suggested she write a novel about the character’s childhood, instead. So she did. And it was published, was met with critical acclaim, became a bestseller, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, was adapted into a movie that is also considered a classic, and has remained continuously in print since.

She had written short stories before those two novels. She did work on one other novel afterward that she eventually abandoned. She assisted Truman Capote in researching In Cold Blood, and she wrote and published a few essays over the years, but it seemed that her one novel was all we’d have.

The reason this other novel was never published? Miss Lee lost her manuscript. She thought all copies were lost, and had decided that maybe it was a sign. Until recently when the original was found attached to one of the typescripts of Mockingbird. And soon we’ll be able to read it for ourselves.

The news that To Kill a Mockingbird is a prequel that an editor talked her into writing intrigues me in several ways. One is how often prequels don’t work or fall far short of the quality of the original story, yet this prequel is extremely good. Is it possible the other novel is even better? Or were the instincts of the original editor correct that Miss Lee was telling the wrong part of the story? Is this a case where the author had to write one story before she could tell the better one?

To Kill a Mockingbird was a runaway hit, but unlike so many “one-hit wonders” it has proven for 54 years to have staying power. It’s the sort of novel that no one wonders why it was a bestseller. Whether Harper Lee’s other book will have the same staying power I can’t predict. But I am quite confident that fifty years from now, lots of people will still be reading To Kill a Mockingbird, and virtually no one will have heard of Fifty Shades of Grey.


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About fontfolly

I've loved reading for as long as I can remember. I write fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and nonfiction. I used to publish an anthropomorphic sci-fi/space opera literary fanzine. I attend and work on the staff for several anthropormorphics, anime, and science fiction conventions. I live near Seattle with my wonderful husband, still completely amazed that he puts up with me at all.

3 responses to “Runaway hits”

  1. Sheryl says :

    “But I am quite confident that fifty years from now, lots of people will still be reading To Kill a Mockingbird, and virtually no one will have heard of Fifty Shades of Grey.”
    One can certainly hope.

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