There are, I suspect, many budding sequel writers at Harvard. After viewing the fifth Rocky movie, students may be tempted to offer their own suggestions for additional installments. Why not consider Die Hard 3: Not Dead Yet? Or maybe Run 2: Still Running? The possibilities are staggering.
Sadly enough, few students can transform these initial ideas into workable parodies. Henry Beard '67 and Christopher Cerf '63 are two who could. Former members of the Harvard Lampoon, Beard and Cerf helped found the National Lampoon and have since worked on a number of humor books. Their latest effort, The Book of Sequels, combines one-joke zingers with several inspired parodies of literary classics.
Written with Sean Kelley and Sarah Durkee under the aegis of the American Sequel Society, this book mocks contemporary society's penchant for ridiculous follow-ups. More than 1,000,000 possible sequels inhabit these pages, most of them creations of the "Make Your Own Sequel" game given at the book's end. The more extended treatments may be divided into two categories: quick laughs and substantial satires.
In Cerf's words, the quick laugh category consists of those sequels whose title provides almost the entire joke. Examples of this genre include "2000: A Space Illiad," "Pride and Extreme Prejudice" and "The Library of Yiddish Sequels." Presented as a spoof of pretentious book collections, the "Yiddish Sequels" page contains some of this book's most memorable one-liners. Among the 80 titles: "Oy, Wilderness," "Two Gentile Men of Verona" and "To His Goy Mistress."
The second category, less snappy but still humorous after several readings, is comprised of more lengthy parodies of an author's tone or manner. The writers have made some eclectic choices, and those readers unfamiliar with Tama Janowitz's works will be confused by the sequel to Gone With the Wind written in her style.
However, most of the parodies presented in this book are more recognizable. The new "happy ending" to Romeo and Juliet is a classic, written in iambic pentameter and faithful to every aspect of the original play except its conclusion. "Now go, and far and wide report these facts," the Prince declares in his final speech. "For lo, this story cannot have an equal/Unless perchance someday there be a sequel!"
And "Moby-Dick II: Raise the Pequod," this book's centerpiece, contains equally clever satiric moments. Fraught with East-West intrigue and improbable plot developments, "Raise the Pequod" mocks both Clive Cussler, author of Raise the Titanic, and Tom Clancy.
The hero, Dipp Schmidt, exhibits "that mixture of defiance and sheer bravado that gained him the instant respect of men and the passionate surrender of women." And General Cole Slaughton, the "brilliant, but ruthless" national security adviser, warns the president that if the Russians gain access to the wreck of the Pequod it could be "Salt-Watergate."
"Raise the Pequod" is a an exquisite parody, both humorous and accurate, and most of The Book of Sequels rises to this standard. The reader may occasionally conclude that certain sequels in this book did not merit the space assigned to them, but one more often wonders whether, given their considerable talent, the authors may soon be adapting in earnest for Hollywood those sequels which are here presented in jest.