A Talk About Sequels

The Crimson recently talked to Christopher Cerf '63, former member of the Harvard Lampoon and co-author of The Book of Sequels. The following are excerpts from that conversation.

Q: What led to the idea of a book of sequels?

A: I think just the glut of sequels. There was one specific piece of news...that there'd been an auction conducted by the Margaret Mitchell estate, to auction off the rights to let some publisher do a sequel to Gone With the Wind [for $4.9 million]...And it did occur to us that if we were to do twenty sequels in one book, we could write a proposal suggesting that they might be worth a hundred million dollars. And, uh, they weren't quite, but it was actually a way of making a lot of parodies we wanted to do anyway timely.

Q: What was the initial brainstorming like? There are some things, like the prologue to A Tale of Two Cities, which seem ripe for parody, but others appear a little less obvious.

A: That's true. Well, there were several different formulas, if you like, that seemed to be fun directions to write in. One was all the books that were impossible to do because the hero was dead at the end. A Tale of Two Cities was an example of that, even though the style was obvious. And Romeo and Juliet--it was obviously Shakespeare's triumph, and everybody wants to try their hand at iambic pentameter. But the fact that everybody was left dead on the stage was kind of a challenge. And it struck us that you should take as your main point those sequels that even Hollywood would not dare to do, for obvious reasons, either because the book is such a classic that it's sacriledge or because it's impossible--like Anna Karenina, even we couldn't figure out how to do.


Q: In terms of great stories that you believe deserve a sequel, were there any that you didn't cover?

A: I don't think there's anything that we were dying to do that we didn't get around to...We actually had something called "Bambo," for a minute, which was: they killed his mother and now it's time to get even. And we made a little postcard that we gave away at a book convention in Las Vegas. But the Disney lawyers got a hold of the postcard and suggested that this book might have a very fast injunction on it if we included "Bambo," so that project kind of went away.

Q: So was this restriction typical? Obviously no one's going to come after you for "Pride and Extreme Prejudice."

A: Jane Austen's estate, even at this minute [laughter]. There really is no strict definition of what is going too far with parody. Parody is generally okay, but characters are trade marked, they're not copyrighted. And we actually had Bambi with bullets around her neck and we took the skunk and made it into a cigar-chomping sergeant, and that's stuff we probably couldn't have done. It would have been interesting to test the case, but not with our own money.

Q: Do you think that some of these stories that you are obviously writing in a light-hearted vein could be taken as serious? Do you think the industry is so sequel-hungry...

A: Almost. I don't think really, but I hope we came close. Something like "The One Bullet Manager," which we claim we got Pol Pot to write for us--that's not too far from a book that has a management theory that I could think of. And if somebody came in there and said that they killed their employee to scare them into performing better...Well, not quite, but almost. There are books, like Winning Through Intimidation, and how far is that from ours?

The fact that everyone was left dead on stage was kind of a challenge.