For a long time I’ve been trying to figure out where the line is between thievery and homage; if I wrote, for example, a ‘sequel’ to Dorian Gray, carrying on where the last one left off (maybe the painting gets found and repaired in the modern world and Dorian comes to life as a sort of hedonistic zombie or something), would this be proper? Or would I just be abusing the literary legacy of Oscar Wilde because I really want to be Oscar Wilde?

This “reimagining” of The Famous Five is the latest one I’ve noticed. Also I’ve found a ‘sequel’ of Treasure Island, a murder mystery book with Oscar Wilde as the sleuth, a children’s series featuring James Bond as a child, and of course the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics. There are probably hundreds more that I can’t remember right now.

Sometimes I find it acceptable, but other times I don’t. The Extraordinary Gentlemen is okay because by mixing lots of literary characters, there’s no way you could possibly say “this is a natural continuation of the stories of Bram Stoker/Robert Louis Stevenson/Ralph Ellison”. Jasper Fforde’s novels work for a similar reason. But to sincerely have Oscar Wilde working as a detective seems like a corruption and an unforgivable liberty to me; so does the idea of a ‘sequel’ to Treasure Island. This is no longer a homage; this is claiming a famous name/title as your own to boost your own career. It no longer has artistic value. It’s commercial fanfic.

And then there are other things to consider, such as: what about movie/television adaptations of books? In the case of the new Famous Five TV series, what about an adaptation of the extrapolated ‘future lives’ of the characters? I can imagine a lot of Famous Five fans loving the idea of seeing their characters in adulthood, but would Enid Blyton be happy? Hergé said there would be no more Tintin books. How would he feel about the movie? Was it just comics he was talking about, or any medium featuring Tintin?

I’ve written William Dampier into my novel, I’m assuming it’s okay because it’s clearly in no way a sincere attempt to ‘continue’ the life of William Dampier or ‘amend’ it in any way; but I have my qualms. I was also going to include George Orwell but decided it would be overkill.