WITH THE PROLIFERATION of sequels and trilogies, it got me wondering how prevalent they were prior to the last 20 years. What was the first book trilogy? Isn’t it obvious? – only the number one bestseller of all time – The Bible. They knew all about marketing whoever wrote that…
Well, the first trilogies in film appeared way back in the early 1900s. The earliest book trilogy I could find was Booth Tarkingtons Growth trilogy dating from 1915 around the same time. There’s J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia and Isaac Asimov’s Foundations in the fifties. Of course there are book series, that had countless printings from The Hardy Boys, The Famous Five to Goosebumps. Formulaic but highly readable, they did the job. And children’s books seem to get away with being turned into sprawling series. As a kid, I definitely liked the familiarity.
But why the flood of trilogies in modern times? It’s mirrored in film as well. There have been some outstanding books published in trilogy format such as Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy, Phillip Pullman’s, His Dark Materials and plenty of hugely successful Young Adult fiction like The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner. Those books acheived massive sales, not forgetting J.K. Rowling’s heptalogy (seven books!) – in a category of its own.
Clearly a large part of the appeal isn’t just for the readers, but for publishers, notably The 5 Marketeers (Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster and Hachette) – hell – even the author has their work cut out recasting known characters into a new adventure. Is it lazy? Is it interesting? Am I simply just sick of hearing the words ‘sequel’ and ‘trilogy’ ? Possibly. Generally, I think trilogies point to a larger problem. Publishers don’t like risk any more than film makers. If book A sells, then chances are book B will too from the same author. The big money makers don’t want to take a chance on anything so we end up with vampires, super heroes and the inner workings of E.L. James’ mental sex dungeon.
Originality is at a premium in fiction. But originality doesn’t necessarily sell. Then if it does, it becomes the template for authors for a decade. What happened to one book and on to the next? I love coming up with new material, new ideas, different settings, twists and plots. Am I alone?