Meet the Prequels: The Fascinating Backstory to 8 Great Novels

These books will shed new light on old characters and introduce you to some you haven’t met before.

By Jessica Dukes

There are two kinds of prequels: one written by the author of the original work; one written by authors who didn’t conceive the original story but admire it so much they wrestled with its themes themselves. Whether presented to us by the original writer or fresh from the imagination of a new one, we always welcome the gift of a good backstory.

Prequels Penned by the Original Authors

Fire and Blood by George R. R. Martin, prequel to A Game of Thrones

This is the history of the House Targaryen, creator of the Iron Throne, ruler of the dragons that once flew freely over Westeros. Khaleesi’s ancestors survive bloody civil wars to establish their kingdom, force neighboring cities to bend the knee, and grow into the mighty House we meet in Thrones. Rich with thrilling dragon battle scenes and political intrigue, we’re happy to report that Fire and Blood is the first of two House Targaryen prequels.

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman, prequel to Practical Magic

In Practical Magic, sisters Gillian and Sally Owens are lucky that their Aunties Franny and Jet can step in when they land in a horrible struggle with the undead. In The Rules of Magic, we see Frannie and Jet make the same youthful mistakes as Gillian and Sally—falling in love, for example. Even though they were warned to avoid witchcraft, we see why these two decide to embrace their charmed ancestry, one all Owens women have shared since 1620.

Skagboys by Irvine Welsh, prequel to Trainspotting

Trainspotting, Welch’s explosive debut novel, assembles the most misanthropic and defeated group of addicts you may ever read. In scattershot scenes told from a number of points of view, we’re horrified as characters land in jail…or worse. But they weren’t always this way. In Skagboys, the guys aren’t junkies quite yet. They’re still trying to survive unemployment when getting high becomes the new escapism for some of them. It’s almost painful to read, knowing the outcome.

Garden of Shadows by V. C. Andrews, prequel to Flowers in the Attic

In the name of indulging guilty pleasures, we have to include Garden of Shadows, the prequel to the cult classic series that begins with Flowers in the Attic, a saga of incest, evil grandmothers, and child abuse. Just when we thought that wealth and greed were the family’s biggest burdens, along comes Garden of Shadows. Here, we learn why grandmother Olivia is so spiteful toward her daughter Corinne and the children she eventually locks in her attic. (Hint: it involves more incest.)

Prequels Imagined by New Authors

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, prequel to Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre’s heart is broken when she learns that she can’t marry her true love, Mr. Rochester. The problem is his insane wife, Bertha Mason, who he hides from the world on the top floor of his mansion. Jean Rhys tells Bertha’s story—one of literature’s more disturbing characters—starting with her real name: Antoinette. Wide Sargasso Sea traces Antoinette’s painful trail from her rocky childhood in post-colonial Jamaica, to being married off to Mr. Rochester and her slow slide into madness.

Spade & Archer by Joe Gores, prequel to The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

Iconic gumshoe Sam Spade wasn’t always the hard-boiled ladies’ man from The Maltese Falcon. In Gores’ prequel, Spade has just hung the shingle at his detective agency, scrambles after every case that walks in his door, and eventually makes his first hire: his on-again off-again friend, Miles Archer (the center of the mystery in Falcon). Gores, a Hammett expert who once worked as a private detective himself, answers key questions about Sam Spade—how he met Iva Archer, for example—explaining his behavior in both novels.  

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire, prequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

No one is born wicked, and witches are no exception. Despite her strange green skin and unfortunate pointy teeth, Elphaba of the West is a studious, caring child and tries hard to fit in. However, under the dictatorial Wizard of Oz her options in life are limited. To make matters worse, her prissy roommate at boarding school, Glinda of the North, is a bully. So, when a house mysteriously falls from the sky and kills her sister, Elphaba sets out on a journey to find the girl from a faraway land called “Kansas” who caused it. Along the way, Wicked leads us to question the nature of evil, and see Elphaba with new, sympathetic eyes.

Finn by John Clinch, prequel to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Twain’s Huck Finn is wise for his young age. He has figured out that school and “sivilzation” are a sham, and his decision to escape his alcoholic and abusive father kick-starts his famed adventure. One-hundred and twenty years later, Clinch drags the Finn family’s skeletons out of the closet, taking a bleak but honest look at Huck’s father, Pap Finn. The revelations are grisly—a man with no desire to reign in his violent impulses, even with his only son—told from the point of view of the adults in the room who are tasked with protecting children like Huck from life’s horrible realities.

Start typing and press Enter to search