Six books posthumously finished by others

Posted on 27th August 2015 by Jonathan O'Brien
What happens when an author leaves a book unfinished?
Countless authors have left works behind which they never finished. Charles Dickens never explained the mystery of Edwin Drood, we'll never find out the full story of Kafka's Josef K and Chaucer had barely begun The Canterbury Tales. In most cases, the books are left as they are. Interesting 'what ifs' that we'll never know the answer to. In other cases somebody else is brought in. Whether its a family member taking on the mantle or an author familiar with the world, there's a risk in taking on such a subject.

Here are six books where someone was brave enough to take on the challenge.

A Monster Calls by Siobhan Dowd (with Patrick Ness)

Patrick Ness took on the task of finishing A Monster Calls after the death of Siobhan Dowd. Dowd had already been shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal for A Swift Pure Cry and had also written The London Eye Mystery, Bog Child and Solace of the Road

The book is a beautiful tale about a young boy coming to terms his mother's own battle with cancer. Patrick Ness and the illustrator Jim Kay became the first author and illustrator to win both the Carnegie Medal and the Greenaway Medal.

The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (with Brandon Sanderson) 

Realising it was unlikely that he would finish the Wheel of Time series, Robert Jordan died he left behind notes so his story wouldn't be left incomplete. The notes were so extensive that when Brandon Sanderson was brought in to continue the tale, he realised that the final book would be best served as three individual volumes. 

The Millennium Series by Stieg Larsson (with David Lagercrantz)

Stieg Larsson famously died before any of his Millennium series were published at all. The books saw him become one of the most popular authors in the world, the trilogy alone selling 80 million copies worldwide. Now, David Lagercrantz, who also co-wrote the fantastic I am Zlatan, has taken on the mantle of continuing the adventures of Lisbeth Salander.

The Children of Hurin by J.R.R. Tolkien (with Christopher Tolkien)

J.R.R. Tolkien is arguably one of the most posthumously-published authors there has ever been. The Silmarillion was compiled from notes he left behind, likewise The Children of Hurin and, in 2014, Tolkien's prose translation of Beowulf was released. This is mostly due to the work of his son, Christopher Tolkien, who was made literary executor of his father's estate before his death.

The Pale King by David Foster Wallace (with Michael Pietsch)

David Foster Wallace is regarded as one of the greatest writers of his generation. After his death, a manuscript was found on his computer by his widow and literary agent. Organised by his editor, Michael Pietsch, the manuscript became The Pale King. What was originally 1,000 pages became 500 in a task that Pietsch described as 'a challenge like none I've ever encountered'. A huge book of seemingly separate chapters, it's a huge pity that we'll never quite know for sure the direction in which Foster Wallace was going to take it.

Micro with Michael Crichton (with Richard Preston)

Like David Foster Wallace, Michael Crichton left behind an unfinished manuscript on his computer after his death. His publisher hired Richard Preston to take the various notes and research and Preston finished the novel as Micro, published in 2011.


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