It's not all that often somebody tries to write a sequel to a classic like this. It's a really big risk - tough to avoid looking like you're just totally crassly trying to cash in on the love and affection for the original book... or else you just look like you're writing fanfic. I'm sure there are any number of "Arwen and Aragorn's Honeymoon" manuscripts languishing in the depths of your laptop's hard drive. And rightly so. Do not print that thing out. Ever.
Usually the only sequelae of this sort that see the light of day are parodies, or metafiction, or homages. The Wind Done Gone comes to mind, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Smirking sexily in the parody corner is Confessions of a Teen Sleuth, which Chelsea Cain wrote before she started spending all her time with the Hannibal-and-Clarice-esque couple Archie and Gretchen. (And whoa. If you ever read serial killer fiction, those books are what you should be reading.) (Also yes - I know that's not what 'sequelae' means, but I think it's funny.)
But doing it earnestly is a tricky trick. The Barrie people put on a contest when for some reason they decided it was time for a sequel to Peter Pan. My hunch is that they were a little cheesed off by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson having so much success with the Neverland characters, and by the way those books declawed Pan until he became a good and noble boy - does anybody else have a problem with that like I do? Is this thing on? Anyway, the brilliant and prolific Geraldine McCaughrean won that contest, as, like, you'd figure she might, and the very fine, somewhat hypnotic Peter Pan in Scarlet was the result.
Another author who gets the kid-gloves treatment when it comes to official sequels is Ian Fleming. You know Ian Fleming - he was the effete, slightly kinky British underachiever whose Marty Stu character, James Bond, turned out to be everything the slightly disempowered mid-20th-century Western male had hoped he was going to grow up to be.
Poor mens. Don't you always feel sorry for the mens? Ha.
Before it was published, nobody thought that the first Bond book, Casino Royale, would amount to anything. Devoid of suspense, full of lengthy, pointless description, Fleming's brother had to step in and convince Jonathan Cape to publish it. I am sure that the editors at Jonathan Cape found it a bit embarrassing. That blatant wish-fulfillment on Fleming's part - ugh. But of course, while the literary men in London may have been self-aware enough to despise that tiny, peurile, part of themselves that longed for the freedom to stride through life hitting people and carelessly - successfully! - seducing women, the rest of the world was not, or if they were they didn't care, and Fleming struck it rich. Twelve novels, two books of short stories, and almost countless official sequels, written by everyone from Kingsley Amis to Sebastian Faulks to Charlie Higson.
I'm a little bit of an Ian Fleming scholar, as if you couldn't tell. I find the Bond books to be mesmerizingly freaky. Bond is brutal and fussy in equal measures, which is maybe not a strange combination in the real world, but kind of odd one for a fictional character. He's not the manliest of manly men. And yet, for so many men, he's the man. Fascinating.
Fleming's collection of travel essays, Thrilling Cities, is a revelation. Occasionally in the Bond novels you get little glimpses of what Bond's really thinking about the places he visits - he's a snob, and very shallow, hating New York, adoring Japan- but in Thrilling Cities, you can see that all this fussiness is Fleming's response to feeling totally outmanned. He likes places where they remember that Britons are the boss, like Jamaica, where he moved permanently as soon as he could afford to quit his job; and mourns "how little of our own influence was left in that great half of the world where we did so much of the pioneering." I love how he personally owns Britain's accomplishments.
America in particular leaves him feeling tiny and wimpy, and so he devotes his Las Vegas essay to various ways to game the casinos, his piece on Chicago to a craven, voyeuristic tour of gangland's bloodiest locales, and the New York essay to the city's perceived moral malaise. This from an alcoholic serial adulterer who took a three month vacation to the same place every year.
Ian Fleming's sole redeeming act was writing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Typically, he did so while being sued by the co-writers of Thunderball, and he didn't live to see it published, succumbing to heart disease brought on by a lifetime of bad habits on his poor son's twelfth birthday.
Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang is a classic British children's novel, with a Milne-like narrative voice (think Sebastian Cabot in the original Winnie the Poohmovie and you've got it right there), eccentric characters, and seaside adventures. I am always pushing it on families about to undertake a car trip - it's very nice on CD, and far better than the movie. For one thing, Mom's not dead, and for another, there's no nightmare-inducing Child Catcher. OR Benny Hill. Roald Dahl co-wrote that screenplay - I can't imagine what happened.
So I was pretty skeptical when I found Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again in the mail. Not that it would be difficult to write a new set of adventures for a little family and their all-powerful car - no, it would be pretty easy. Too easy. Chitty's big flaw as a plot element is that she can do anything. She's the Superman of cars, and much of the original book is the Pott family getting themselves into situations that lead to discovering yet another of the car's superpowers. Once we know all that, where's the plot to go next? Should she turn evil?
Frank Cottrell Boyce (The Unforgotten Coat, Framed) does a neat little dance step around this problem - it's a jump to the left, into the 21st century, a step to the right, into a new family, and a reverse twirl that raises it a whole degree of difficulty and earns him appreciative glances, even from the UK judge.
The Tootings are your average twenty-first century British nuclear family: there's Dad, recently laid off from his job assembling tiny things; Mum, who works at Unbeatable Motoring Bargains; black-clad teenage Lucy; Jem, who tries to keep his head down; and Little Harry, the baby.
Dad's sudden joblessness is a bit worrying to the rest of the family, but not to him. He's a very optimistic type, and rejoices in all the time he suddenly has on his hands to fix things around the house. He's a something of an inventor, like the original Chitty dad, Caractacus Pott. And like the original dad, his inventions do not work very well.
He's driving the family crazy, in fact, and so, to distract him, Mum brings home a decrepit pop-top 1966 camper van for him to fix up. A real rustbucket, but a vehicle from back in the days when any reasonably careful adult could figure out how to fix his or her own car. Dad and Jem take the whole thing apart, assess their needs, and then hit up the local junkyard for parts.
What they find at the junkyard, and the effect it has on the camper van when they install it, plus the brief wink to Fleming's original inspiration for the story, are pleasures I would not dilute for any reader.
Although the story is inventive and picturesque, with billionaire crooks and a visit to Madagascar and a guest appearance on a French reality show called Car Stupide, most of the humor in this very funny novel is a result of the family's interactions with each other. Occasional British terms (lift, motorway), while initially puzzling, are quickly made clear by the context. Joe Berger's lively cartoon illustrations depict each phase of Chitty's reincarnation in loving detail and bring the resourceful (and by the way biracial, which is a nice touch) Tootings to life.
Nobody gets shot, or even slapped. The Tooting family finds something to enjoy about every port of call they visit. If that dissolute bastard Fleming were alive to see it, he would be baffled by the book's inclusionary tone, but possibly amused by the villains. And he would definitely try to collect royalties.