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Source: (consider it) Thread: What constitutes a trilogy?
Sipech
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The above question may be worded more verbosely as “What is the difference between three works that form a trilogy and a single work that comes in three parts?”

The motivation has stemmed from literature, where I’ve started reading The Divine Comedy. I wanted to know whether this ought be counted as reading one work or three (Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso). But it could be applied to the likes of The Lord of the Rings, His Dark Materials or even The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy (which was labelled as a trilogy in five parts).

But then it could be widened to, say, films. Discounting the abomination that was The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, were the Indiana Jones films a trilogy or a single work? What about the Godfather films or the original Star Wars films?

For those cited above, I’ve erred on the side of referring to them as a trilogy, though some have argued that The Lord of the Rings ought to be considered a single work.

I’ve been wondering if the key factor is the question of intent on the part of the author/creator and whether, at the outset, they intended it all to hang together as one, though it just happens to come in three publications at different times. What do you reckon?

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balaam

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The Lord of the Rings films are a trilogy.
The Hobbit films are a travesty.

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by Sipech:
The motivation has stemmed from literature, where I’ve started reading The Divine Comedy. I wanted to know whether this ought be counted as reading one work or three (Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso). But it could be applied to the likes of The Lord of the Rings, His Dark Materials or even The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy (which was labelled as a trilogy in five parts).

I think of the The Divine Comedy and the Lord of the Rings as each one work split into three for publishing reasons; His Dark Materials is a trilogy, and the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy is a trilogy with an extension.
I don't have a particularly strong reason for thinking that way about either The Divine Comedy or His Dark Materials though.
I suppose a trilogy has to have a clear break between parts, each part having its own conclusion, but the third book brings the whole thing to a close. If you could just as well have a fourth book it's not a trilogy but three books of a series. If there's no sense of starting up again at the beginning of part three, but just of continuing from where the previous part left off, then it's a single work.

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Brenda Clough
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Yes, Dante wrote his Comedy over a period of years, and circulated cantos among friends before publishing the first volume. If it had landed with a thud I am certain he would not have continued on to the Purgatorio and the Paradisio, any more that he continued with his Convivio.

Tolkien was of a very different spirit; he would have worked happily on his vast Middle Earth universe whether there was a market or not. You can tell by looking over the 10 volumes of notes and material that Christopher Tolkien pushed out that he never intended it all to see the light. Most of it was pour s'amuser.

We may classify connected works by one author into several groupings. Consider all the Poirot novels by Agatha Christie. They are very similar (Poirot solves a crime), varying only in the victims and the setting. They can be read in any order, because Poirot does not change substantially. He never gets married or discovers he has prostate cancer or joins the Nazi party. Poirot novels are a comfort read; you know the last one will be very similar to this one and you will never encounter anything uncomfortable.

A more attractive mode is to have books interconnected but with an overarching through line. Lord Peter Wimsey is established as a detective in the first three or four books; he meets Harriet Vane and spends the next three or four books convincing her to marry him. If Sayers had not lost interest I'm sure she could have carried it onwards into their married life, the children, etc.

You can see that in both these examples the three-volume mode is just a signpost that you blow past. Both authors and publishers will go and go like the Energizer bunny if only the market will bear it. A modern example would be Harry Potter.

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Nicolemr
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Tolkien conceived of The Lord of the Rings as a single work. It is internally broken down into six books, and those, along with chapter breaks, were the only breaks he had intended. He was annoyed at his publisher's idea to break it into a trilogy, and particularly did not like the name "The Return of the King" which he felt was to much of a plot giveaway.

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Brenda Clough
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Yes, his original publisher was driven to breaking it into volumes because of the paper shortages. Author Madeleine L'Engle, unaware of this, read the first volume when it came out, and mentions in her memoirs praying that Professor T would not die but live to write the next books.

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Schroedinger's cat

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So LotR films were a trilogy, but the books were one work split into 6 parts. And the works published by his son are an incredible insight into a writer (I have them all and have read them all).

I think Dafyd is broadly correct, that a trilogy is three separate works that can, just about, stand on their own. There may be the same characters, but they should have distinct stories. While it is always better to read a trilogy in order, you should be able to read any of the books on its own.

Hitchikers works in this way. LotR doesn't.

It is also worth remembering that there are non-literary reasons for divisions - someone mentioned paper shortages, and Dickens works were generally published in weekly parts, so needed to have a soap-opera style with an episode per chapter (See Catherine Fox's recent work, which she blogged over a year).

WHat really annoys me is - especialy fantasy series - where the main story is stretched over 7-8 large volumes. They tend to have a single story over a large number of books (A Song of Fire and Ice for example, was originally planned as a trilogy, which spread to 5 books, usually split into 7, with another 2 intended, which may well be more). These are just very large single books, published over a number of volumes because nobody wants a 5000 page book.

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Brenda Clough
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Yes, bloat is very common if the first volume is a hit. The publisher would far rather have one bestseller a year for nine years, than three. Naomi Novik is a fine fantasy author but her 9 vol. Temeraire series is at least two volumes too long. It is of the read-them-in-order style but there's a lot of flab in vols. 6 and 7.

An open-ended series carefully designed by the author to straddle all the stools is the Vorkosigan novels by Lois Bujold. Their hero grows, develops, marries and has children over the course of the 15 volumes or so. But she has carefully written each so that you can begin with that one, going so far as to seek out beta readers who have never read any of them for each book.

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Zappa
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Um ... The Hitch-Hiker's Guide is "a trilogy in five parts" ....

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Gee D
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quote:
Originally posted by Schroedinger's cat:


I think Dafyd is broadly correct, that a trilogy is three separate works that can, just about, stand on their own. There may be the same characters, but they should have distinct stories. While it is always better to read a trilogy in order, you should be able to read any of the books on its own.

Hitchikers works in this way. LotR doesn't.

That's the difference, and LOTR is certainly not in the category. A good example to satisfy the read alone test is Dance to the Music of Time - admittedly 12 volumes rather than 3, but each can be read as a complete story. Waugh's Sword of Honour group is often called a trilogy, but you really need to read the lot, a task that become more tedious with each volume.

[ 12. January 2018, 04:46: Message edited by: Gee D ]

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balaam

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quote:
Originally posted by Brenda Clough:
Consider all the Poirot novels by Agatha Christie. They are very similar (Poirot solves a crime), varying only in the victims and the setting. They can be read in any order, because Poirot does not change substantially. He never gets married or discovers he has prostate cancer or joins the Nazi party. Poirot novels are a comfort read; you know the last one will be very similar to this one and you will never encounter anything uncomfortable.ar it. A modern example would be Harry Potter.

Curtain is surely an exception to this.

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Paul.
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Worth remembering that Hitch-Hiker's was originally a serialised radio drama. It feels like he simply had enough raw material for more than one book and so choose to make it a trilogy.

I think ereaders are influencing lengths. Not having to physically lug around a 5,000 page tome makes it a possibility. It goes the other way too. There are book "series" on Amazon that are really a single novel split into parts. When this is done openly it's not necessarily a bad thing. It has been used to game the system though.

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Brenda Clough
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I've signed on for a deal to serialize a novel; it'll appear in nine parts. This is an ancient practice, dating back at least to Dickens if not before.

The influence of JRRT for a while made everybody write trilogies, but you're right -- nowadays e-publishing makes dividing the work easier.

There are powerful forces that call books-in-the-same-universe into being. For authors, it's always easier to pull Miss Marple and the gang out of the toybox, rather than to invent a whole new set of characters and settings. Publishers would always rather go with a sequel to a hit than confront a novelty. And although readers demand the new, they're lying. As Sondheim complains in the lyric, all they want is what they know.

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quetzalcoatl
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I've just been reading Lawrence Durrell's quartet and quintet, (Alexandria and Avignon). You could read each novel separately, but I think some of them would read very weirdly, since, let's face it, they are all pretty weird. And there are probably huge disconnects in the story in individual volumes. But then Durrell would enjoy that or even intend it.

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Brenda Clough
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Another interesting variant is the roman fleuve -- the volumes don't necessarily each have their own arc, but they must be read in order. The individual books become slices cut off of a long bolt of fabric, a continuous narrative. The premier example of this would be the Aubrey and Maturin novels, by Patrick O'Brian. I think there are 18 of them.

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Og, King of Bashan

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I suspect it's more marketing than anything.

Le Carre's publishers have pushed Tinker Tailor, The Honorable Schoolboy, and Smiley's People as the "Karla Trilogy." And while I suppose it is true that The Honorable Schoolboy features the same characters responding to the events in Tinker Tailor, it really doesn't do anything (so far as I can remember- it's been a few years) to advance the Smiley v. Karla chess match, and you could definitely skip directly to Smiley's People, which is the far more natural sequel to Tinker Tailor

Another interesting case of trilogy marketing- you sometimes hear volumes 3, 4, and 5 of Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole books referred to as the "Oslo Trilogy." It kind of works- there is one overarching antagonist in the three books who finally gets his at the end of The Devil's Star, and one big mystery that is woven throughout the three books, even as each novel's individual mystery was set in center. But I don't think it was really intended as a trilogy, it just sort of happened that the story fit nicely into three books. (And maybe he learned that it was too early to kill that antagonist off- he had to create a new pair for volume 7, and they've been around for the next five books.)

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Brenda Clough
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One of the drivers of this is Amazon/Goodreads. They love to indicate that a book is #2 in the Whatsit Series.

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Gee D
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quote:
Originally posted by quetzalcoatl:
I've just been reading Lawrence Durrell's quartet and quintet, (Alexandria and Avignon). You could read each novel separately, but I think some of them would read very weirdly, since, let's face it, they are all pretty weird. And there are probably huge disconnects in the story in individual volumes. But then Durrell would enjoy that or even intend it.

It's strange, but in each it is the first book which can most easily be read on its own. In the later volumes, I've always been conscious of looking back at what was in the others for clues/perspectives/approaches to what is going on in the volume I'm reading. When you move on to Tunc and Nunquam (very brave of anyone to read them), they must both be read and in that order.

I think those disconnects are deliberate, to jolt you and make you realise that there is no one set of facts.

[ 12. January 2018, 20:25: Message edited by: Gee D ]

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betjemaniac
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quote:
Originally posted by Gee D:
A good example to satisfy the read alone test is Dance to the Music of Time - admittedly 12 volumes rather than 3, but each can be read as a complete story. Waugh's Sword of Honour group is often called a trilogy, but you really need to read the lot, a task that become more tedious with each volume.

Horses for courses on Sword of Honour - I read it through most years.

I'd argue that the Dance *can* be read as individual volumes, but must admit that my mind is slightly boggled by the idea of launching straight into eg Books do Furnish a Room without prior knowledge of the preceding 9 installments! The reader would miss so much. Now, I will admit that having read all 12 several times that is one of the ones that I would go back to as a standalone, but possibly only because *as a result of reading the lot* I've developed a love for the late 1940s London literary world and it's characters, so the plot of that one is a personal joy.

Not sure that one could (or should) start at the middle or end of Patrick Hamilton's 20,000 Streets Under the Sky either!

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Martha
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I have Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series, which is 5 books. The first was written several years before the others, as a stand-alone book; then she decided to revisit the idea and wrote the other 4. That means you could probably read the 1st or 2nd by themselves, but then you'd want to have read both of those before the last 3.
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Brenda Clough
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Or the Alan Garner books: weirdstone of Brisingamen and Moon of Gomrath. Excellent fantasy, very popular, but the trilogy pressure was such that he went and added a third volume Boneland decades later. It was nowhere near as good, simply because his artistic direction had changed so much in the intervening years. (I think we talked about it in the SoF book discussions.)

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by Brenda Clough:
Or the Alan Garner books: weirdstone of Brisingamen and Moon of Gomrath. Excellent fantasy, very popular, but the trilogy pressure was such that he went and added a third volume Boneland decades later. It was nowhere near as good, simply because his artistic direction had changed so much in the intervening years.

I wouldn't have said it was nowhere near as good. It's different. It's rubbish at children's fantasy, which the first two are; but the first two are rubbish as fantasy about being old and thinking that you don't know what you did with your life or your younger self.
The obvious comparison is Le Guin's Tehanu, which was I think a disappointment to a lot of people who grew up with the Earthsea trilogy. It's not a fourth instalment of the trilogy: it's the older Le Guin evaluating the aesthetic and ethical stances of her younger self.

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Brenda Clough
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You'll notice though that the Boneland publishers shilled it relentlessly as the long-awaited third volume of a trilogy. Unwise, IMO, but it is possible that it would never have been published otherwise. Either LeGuin was powerful enough to force it, or her publishers were smart enough not to try and gild the lily.

Which brings us to the great difficulty with all these works that extend through time. If you've written 27 volumes of Dumarest of Terra, how similar is #1 to #27? If it is not at all alike, can your readers follow you as you evolve? If it is exactly similar, have you failed to grow? To be able to keep it going and yet keep it good is a challenge.

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