So I’ve been absent on the blog front for a while – what was meant to be a short break turned into something quite a bit longer! I’ll spare you the long (and boring) story and just say that other projects and work kept vying for my attention. Fortunately I’ve finally found time to get back to blogging, so I thought in the spirit of unforeseen long absences I’d kick things off again with a post on a related theme:
It’s a common enough phenomenon in the fantasy book world: the long-awaited sequel. I’ve heard plenty of frustrated readers complain about how long they’ve been waiting for the next instalment of a favourite series, and when books get made into hit TV shows like Game of Thrones the wait often makes headlines.
I must admit, since I started using Goodreads I haven’t experienced much impatience myself – perhaps because the long list of new books I want to try and series I want to continue distracts me sufficiently during the waiting period.
Things were different in my teens though. One series (The Obernewtyn Chronicles) had me constantly stopping at my local book store to ask when the next book would be out. I was promised release dates only to be disappointed each time. In the end, the next book took 9 years, and by that time I’d long given up asking.
A 9-year wait might feel long, but when you look at the genre’s history, there have been longer ones. So I thought I’d find some examples of the longest spans of time between the publication of books in a popular fantasy series (by the same author) and see how they compare.
Of course, sometimes there are unexpected additions to series – prequels or sequels that weren’t exactly being waited on, because the story was resolved in previous books. However, these sequels do continue the story and are often welcomed by fans, so I’ll be including them in the list below, and admittedly most fall into that category.
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings: 17 Years
The Hobbit was published in 1937, and while it was a fairly resolved tale, its popularity meant that people were keen for a sequel. One World War and 17 years later, they finally got one: The Fellowship of the Ring was published in 1954 (followed by the next two books in quick succession).
Tolkien took his time to craft the The Lord of the Rings and expand the mythos and world surrounding it… but I think most people would agree it was worth the wait.
His Dark Materials and The Book of Dust: 17 Years
As a teenager I adored Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy – made up of The Golden Compass (aka The Northern Lights), The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, the last of which was released in 2000. So when La Belle Sauvage came out in 2017 I was intrigued.
Admittedly it’s the beginning of a companion trilogy called The Book of Dust, rather than a direct continuation, though I hear it’s a kind of prequel. I haven’t read it yet, because I’m doing a His Dark Materials re-read first that I’m in the middle of now, but I will soon.
Earthsea Cycle: 18 Years
18 years after Ursula Le Guin released the The Farthest Shore (1972)– the third book in her Earthsea Cycle – she added a fourth book, Tehanu (1990), to her incredibly popular series. The result is that I often see the series interchangeably referred to as a ‘trilogy’ and a ‘quartet’.
I’ve only read the first three books, but one day I’ll try Tehanu, because it features the main characters from my favourite book of the original trilogy – The Tombs of Atuan – all grown up, and I’m curious to see what that’s like.
Watership Down Series: 24 Years
Apparently Richard Adams’ 1996 sequel Tales From Watership Down is quite different in style and tone of his 1972 book Watership Down. It’s more of a collection of different stories, though these stories do relate to the original world and characters.
I was disturbed by the film rendition of Watership Down as a young child, but one day I do plan to read the book. I’m not sure if I’ll read the sequel too.
Eastwick Series: 24 Years
This is another case where the author has unexpectedly revisited an old work. It jumps forward in time to show the characters in old age. I haven’t read this one, but I know it’s been adapted into films and TV shows.
The Shining Series: 36 Years
This is another book where readers didn’t necessarily expect a sequel, but were excited to get one. Stephen King’s The Shining was published in 1977. It’s sequel, Doctor Sleep, was published in 2013 and seems to have been enthusiastically embraced by fans.
Tales of Alderley Series: 49 Years
This was one I stumbled across when I was looking into 1960s fantasy books: I saw that Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (1960) and The Moon of Gomrath (1963), both popular at the time, had been followed up by a sequel called Boneland in 2012.
Garner has written other books in the mean time, but still – I did the math and realised that was probably the longest break between two books in a series I had ever heard of!
In contrast to the above, the waits some fans are currently enduring (e.g. 7 going on 8 years so far for George R.R. Martin’s Winds of Winter) don’t seem quite as long… that said, most of the series I’ve listed had resolutions in the previous book, so readers weren’t really kept waiting for an ending – and probably would have been very annoyed if they had been! However, I did look at the publication dates of a few other fantasy series that were not yet resolved, and 5 or 6-year waits between books, while definitely not the norm, were not all that uncommon. It’s at about the 10 year mark that they get much rarer.
The reasons for the delays in sequels are myriad: sometimes the author has health issues or a nervous breakdown, or things happen in their life that keep them from writing. Sometimes they are perfectionists who take a long time to ensure the book and world-building are perfect. Sometimes, I suspect, they simply lose passion or inspiration for the series, or feel overwhelmed or even put-off by the pressure. And of course occasionally, as in many of the cases above, an author decides to return to a beloved series years after everyone thought it was finished.
Unfortunately, pleas to hurry sequels along never seem to have much success, so all we readers can really do is try to find something else to read in the mean time… and hope that once that next book finally arrives it’ll have been worth the wait.
Have you waited a long time for a fantasy sequel, or are you still eagerly waiting on one? Or do you know of any other record-breaking breaks between books in series? Let me know in the comments.