The Wild Before by Piers Torday
Why write a prequel? It is a very reasonable question. Why return to a complete fictional world, with a finished narrative arc, to all intents and purposes, closed in the mind of readers?
The form has a complex history. The Magician’s Nephew (1955) is for some, their favourite Narnia book, in which C.S. Lewis explains how that whole universe came into being with the most metaphysical of all the Narnia tales. But it will never be as popular as the book that plunged readers headlong into the story in the first place, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Philip Pullman’s prequel story to His Dark Materials, Once Upon a Time in the North (2008), adds detail and context to that saga, but is a minor addition to the series – unlike the Book of Dust sequels in which main characters completely transform and the story takes a very different turn.
But I have just written a prequel myself. The Wild Before takes place before the action of my Last Wild trilogy, three adventures on the subject of climate change, published eight years ago. Readers have often asked for a fourth book, developing the adventures of the main characters as they finally part ways in The Wild Beyond. I have now perversely confounded them by writing a prequel: the story which explains how the dystopian universe of The Last Wild – a virtually animal free world, caused by a global pandemic – came to be.
And the reason is not literary. It is all around us. The subject of climate change will never be exhausted, but with three books on the issue, I felt I had said my piece. Until Greta. Not only was I inspired by her bravery in speaking out, the way she captivated the imaginations of so many children, but I heard the urgency of her message.
I felt I had to return to the world I had sworn to leave be. But the climate dystopia speculated on in The Last Wild felt rather too close for comfort. Instead, I wanted a to write a story which celebrated what we stand to lose, if we don’t act now. I wanted to write an adventure that offered hope as well as urgency. And I wanted animals to be at the centre of the action this time, not merely a supporting cast.
But at the same time I had to set up a story which would be resolved in the trilogy yet feel satisfying in its own right. I had to write a book which would be accessible to readers new to the series, yet also contain enough references and “Easter Eggs” that fans of the previous three might enjoy. I wanted to write a new story, not rehash an old one.
Characters. Once I had decided not to make Kester Jaynes, the hero of the first three books, my narrator, and use an animal, the book became something alive and different, connected but free in its own right. I will leave it to keen readers to spot where Little-Hare, my hero, appears in The Last Wild series, but The Wild Before is his story. In responding to his dilemmas, his choices, and his destiny, I felt able to write a book faithful to the original series yet also creating something new.
But whether or not I succeeded… well, that’s up to you!
The Wild Before by Piers Torday is published on 19 August (Quercus Children’s Books, Hardback, £12.99)