Other Authors’ Sequels

Following Fitzhugh’s death in 1974, her friend Lois Morehead became the literary executor for her estate, a role she continued until her death late in 2009 (Morehead obituary). For reasons that are not clear, in 2000 Morehead moved the entire Harriet the Spy series away from Harper & Row to Delacorte, which had published Sport in 1979. At the same time, Delacorte (an imprint of Random House), announced it was commissioning two more books in the Harriet series (Rosen).

Apparently the same author was intended to write both books, but in the end two different writers each wrote one sequel. First, Helen Ericson, a journalist with no other books or children’s writing to her credit, was inexplicably chosen for this difficult task. She produced a book called Harriet Spies Again. Reviews for this book were mixed. Several reviewers quite liked it, including the reviewer for School Library Journal, but devotees of the original were not kind. Kathleen Horning’s review in Horn Book neatly summarizes both the plot and the book’s failings:

The premise here is that Harriet’s parents have gone to live in Paris for three months and have left her in the charge of her former nurse, Ole Golly, who has mysteriously left Montreal and Mr. Waldenstein to return to New York City. Harriet is determined to find out exactly what happened to Ole Golly’s marriage but, quite uncharacteristically, won’t ask her any direct questions. Instead she turns to her old habit of spying. Ole Golly has begun seeing a doctor who lives, conveniently, across the street from Harriet’s brownstone; consequently, Harriet never has to venture off her own block to do her spy work, and much of it, in fact, she is able to do from inside her own home. (She has completely abandoned her regular spy route, for reasons that are never made clear — it’s almost as if this Harriet has developed agoraphobia.) Each of the established characters has become his or her most superficial self: Sport is largely defined by his culinary skills, Ole Golly by her endless literary quotes (although she’s not nearly as well read as Fitzhugh’s original), Harriet’s parents by their cool distance. Her best friends, Janie and Beth Ellen, have completely disappeared, as have all of Harriet’s other wonderfully particularized classmates and neighbors. Most alarming, however, is that Harriet herself has become one-dimensional. She’s obsessed with big words rather than human behavior, and, as a result, her notebook entries are bland and repetitive rather than pithy and scathingly honest. There’s no understanding of Harriet as a future writer who spies and takes notes to try to figure out the world about which she wants to write…

An earlier article in Horn Book had decried the attempt to continue contemporary classics such as Harriet the Spy, even before Ericson’s book was published (Sutton). Kirkus damned it with faint praise (“this safe, comfortable continuation, and her frequent references to past events may tempt readers young [or otherwise] to visit, or revisit, the originals”). Kay Weisman, writing in Booklist, attempted to understand the resistance of critics to spin-offs by other writers, pointing  out that re-tellings of fairy tales and traditional stories were often embraced by critics and given awards. “[S]uch books deserve to be looked at with an open mind, with each one evaluated on its own literary merits as well as the way it relates to the original,” she writes, but undermines her own argument by listing numerous series continuations by different authors which are pale imitations of the original.

Perhaps because of the negative reaction to Harriet Spies Again–either Ericson or Delacorte may have gotten cold feet–a different author was contracted to write the next book, Harriet the Spy: Double Agent. The writer of this book, Maya Gold, is hard to trace. Her book jacket bio describes her as “a woman of many identities” and mentions her work as a screenwriter and novelist. Yet there is no trace of a Maya Gold in the Internet Movie Databases, and all other novels by this author (in a Scholastic young adult series) appeared after Harriet the Spy: Double Agent. Maya Gold may be a pseudonym; if so, it is not possible to discover what credentials she had for writing a Harriet book. This time book reviews were scarce, and ranged from mild approval (Carton) to dismissive (Conover Le). The plot of Harriet the Spy: Double Agent revolves around a character introduced in Harriet Spies Again, a neighbour named Annie. Annie joins Harriet on her rounds, but Harriet decides it is Annie she wants to spy on. Her mysterious arrival in the neighbourhood, staying with her aunt and uncle rather than living with parents, and her use of different names in different situations are all mysteries Harriet wishes to clear up. Through no insight of her own she eventually discovers that Annie’s parents are in the middle of an ugly divorce, and Annie escapes mentally by creating different personas for herself. Harriet does not write much in her journal, and she gets a crush on a teenage boy partway through the book. As in Harriet Spies Again, Harriet is not particularly tomboyish. It is difficult to say what part of her character is related to the original Harriet.

Strangely, although the bio blurb for Helen Ericson mentions that she was granted the right to continue the Harriet story by the estate of Louise Fitzhugh, Delacorte’s packaging otherwise does not mention that Fitzhugh is dead. The bio blurb for a recent edition of Sport, accompanied by a picture of a smiling Fitzhugh sitting on a playground swing, lists her studies and her books, but nothing more. The jacket of Harriet the Spy: Double Agent gives bio blurbs for both Gold and Fitzhugh, without mentioning that Fitzhugh is dead. The publisher appears to be wanting it both ways: Fitzhugh is presented as alive, even as her creations are handed to other writers by her estate, her agent, and her publishers, but not Fitzhugh herself.

Sources:
Obituary for Lois Morehead. New York Times December 11, 2009. Available online at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/nytimes/obituary.aspx?n=lois-morehead&pid=137155655

Rosen, Judith. “Harriet the Spy Changes Houses.” Publisher’s Weekly August 7, 2000: 26.

Ericson, Maya. Harriet Spies Again. (New York: Delacorte, 2002).

Orlando, Marie. Review of Harriet Spies Again. School Library Journal May 2002: 152.

Horning, Kathleen. Review of Harriet Spies Again. Horn Book May/June 2002: 328-9.

Sutton, Roger. “Bring Out Your Dead.” Horn Book July/August 2001: 387.

Weisman, Kay. “Reflections on Fiction Spin-offs: Should Harriet Spy Again?” Booklist December 1, 2002: 667.

Review of Harriet Spies Again. Kirkus Reviews March 1, 2002: 331.

Gold, Maya. Harriet the Spy: Double Agent. (New York: Delacorte, 2005).

Internet Movie Database www.imdb.com

WorldCat www.worldcat.org

Cinderella Cleaners web site http://www.cinderellacleanersbooks.com

Fitzhugh, Louise. Sport. (New York: Delacorte, 2002).

4 Responses to Other Authors’ Sequels

  1. Charles the Spy says:

    Excellent work! I have yet to read “Double Agent”; however, I have read the rest of the Harriet books, and I must say that “Spies Again” was a disappointment. “Superficial” is the best way to describe this treatment of Fitzhugh’s universe. For example, Sport is depicted as having a problem with his stepmom’s cooking. He still wants to be in charge of this sort of thing, apparently. Unfortunately, this contradicts the way he is portrayed in “Sport,” where he is deliriously happy about his new mom’s culinary skills. (She serves him steak for heaven’s sake!) Fitzhugh’s characters get watered down tremendously in these revamps of her work, and that is a shame; it’s as if she exists in a bizarro universe where nothing that has happened in the past has any relevance to the present.

    It’s enough to make me want to generate some fan fiction just to set things straight, but I know I could never breathe the kind of life into Harriet that Fitzhugh did.

  2. FJ says:

    I agree! It’s so frustrating to have those books out there and falling so flat compared to the real thing. Why don’t you write some fanfic just for yourself? You couldn’t do worse than the professionals, and might enjoy it.

  3. Rusty Kransky says:

    Harriet Spies Again was ludicrous – took great liberties with the characters of Harriet and Ole Golly. I won’t even bother to read yet another lame, insipid sequel in which Harriet and the other characters are totally changed by someone who has no business writing about Harriet’s adventures. AVOID. And read Harriet the Spy, and The long Secret,
    then re-read them, rather than trying this garbage.

  4. Kathryn says:

    When I read Harriet Spies Again, I thought the estate of Louise Fitzhugh should sue, get a court injunction, to stop this garbage. The author turned Harriet into a self-indulgent brat, who thinks the world revolves around her. The real Harriet was nothing of the sort. She inhabits a world of other characters, which she is trying to learn about and understand. Much that goes on, goes over her head. Harriet may have written “mean nasty notes”–in her own words, at the psychologist, after her notebook was discovered , and got her ostracized by her classmates–but she never intended that others would read them. She suffers greatly the loss of Ole Golly, and when her friends turn against her–and is greatly relieved, at the end, when Sport and Janie come back to her–after her Retraction (she called her own notebook “lies” and apologized, on the Sixth Grade Page.)

    I believe Harriet the Spy is still underrated and misunderstood, by most of its adult readers. It is a very subversive book–that was always my feeling about it, when I first read it when I was ten and eleven–Harriet’s age. It was as if Louise Fitzhugh wrote survival manuals for children in difficult situations, disguised as children’s books to get them past adults. This is how you survive, as a child when the world around you, adult or child, turns against you–you write, keep it to yourself, “to yourself you must always tell the truth”–even when it isn’t safe to say it out loud.

    When I, at 18, on a spiritual., truth-seeking pilgrimage, discovered Nobody’s Family is Going to Change, my sense was confirmed. That book is even more explicitly a survival manual than Harriet the Spy. It offers, again, child characters who must pursue their professions, their dreams for adult futures, in a sometimes-hostile environment, without support or understanding , from adults, their parents, or peers . But it also offers a blueprint for how kids can organize a support group with their peers, to deal with unhelpful parental attitudes–and another model, the Children’s Army, for how kids can confront parents who are seriously abusive.

    I don’t know of any other children’s book author who did, or even attempted to do, what Louise Fitzhugh did–to use the medium of a “children’s book” to first, honestly acknowledge the difficulties children face in a world controlled by adults, and then, to empower kids, with strategies that can work, to survive and overcome them.

    All those librarians and educators who castigated Harriet the Spy completely missed the point. They live in a world where children must be taught morality, and adults never do anything wrong. (Alice Miller called that hypocrisy “poisonous pedagogy.”)
    Two thousand years ago, Jesus taught adults to become like children, to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

    Harriet’s leading trait is curiosity–her desire to learn and work and (perfect?) herself is what drives her. She isn’t motivated by meanness–sometimes her so-called “mean and nasty” comments reveal an aching pathos–Sport worries too much about his father, like a “little old woman.” (He’s been abandoned by his mother, forced into adult responsibilities..and yet..) Harriet learns from Sport, too–”you’d love money if you didn’t have any”– “Harriet thought about it. It was true. She’d never had to think about it before.”

    So much brilliant wisdom in vivid characters and so few words, about class, race, sex, LIFE..
    The book bears reading and re-reading..for a lifetime..

    I read Dostoevsky because Ole Golly quotes him. I had to find the context for that quote, about knowing more and loving more and loving the world with an all-encompassing love. It turns out it is from The Brothers Karamazov–which is a novel about four brothers with an alcoholic father–their differing attitudes and ways of reacting to him. Louise Fitzhugh, through Ole Golly, points us to Dostoevsky–and to some kind of spiritual wisdom which Ole Golly, and Harriet, (the 6th grade page under Marion Hawthorne, the “lady Hitler” was “not Dostoevsky, but it’s readable”
    Harriet worries that her page..may not be as good–until she sees her classmates absorbed in it..) Louise Fitzhugh suggests.. we all reach for..

    The one thing in Harriet the Spy which always troubled me, rang false for me, was the part in Ole Golly’s letter where she says that “Sometimes you have to lie.”
    She’s saying that social convention, and a concern for other people’s feelings, require that of us sometimes, and it’s not harmful…

    (Ang Lee wrote in an essay in 2002 entitled Sense and Sensibility that all of his films are about that conflict–three years before he made Brokeback Mountain.)

    The conflict between the truths of our own selves, and the pressures of social conventions, and concern for others’ feelings is at the core of Harriet the Spy–and to my mind, not satisfactorily resolved–by “Sometimes you have to lie”. That conflicts with so many other things, that Ole Golly says, throughout the book..
    (like, “Ole Golly says always say exactly what you feel. People are hurt more by misunderstanding than anything else..”)

    I always kind of had a feeling, that Louise Fitzhugh was a lesbian. She created such strong, unconventional, female characters (and also boys and men who challenge conventional notions of masculinity). Ole Golly has a BOYFRIEND?? seems so unlikely, to Harriet–that we can kind of get past the idea, that it seems unlikely to the reader, as well..

    One of my favorite lines: “Ole Golly never wore anything as recognizable as a skirt or a sweater, but just yards and yards of tweed that enveloped her and ballooned as she walked, that she referred to as her “Things.”
    Is that “realism”??? Is that even POSSIBLE? Or is it a child’s perception? Then who is the narrator? At that moment, it seems as if Harriet is the narrator, perhaps recalling in her “writing her memoirs”, her perception of Ole Golly when she Harriet was a very tiny child, and Ole Golly was a blurry giant in tweed.

    It occurred to me, that one reason for this unsatisfactory moral..”Sometimes you have to lie” in a book that in so many other ways shouts the opposite (at least, “to yourself”) “you must always tell the truth” to keep your own integrity and sanity..
    was .. the closet Lesbians and gays were in, in 1964. Lesbians and gay men had to lie–to get or keep jobs, to keep families and friends, to get books published–especially children’s books. Imagine if Ole Golly were an “out”lesbian–she’d never get a job, as a child’s “Nurse” (or Nanny). Of course, she understands, that “Sometimes you have to lie. ” Or Louise Fitzhugh understands, that publishing requires that Ole Golly’s suitor be male (although she does make him interesting and unconventional in other ways–he’s not “white”–maybe Ole Golly isn’t either, when she blushes, she looks like an Indian chief–Waldenstein may be a recovering alcoholic (he never “takes anything” to drink, and Ole Golly is “pleased with this answer”) he tells a life story of walking away from wealth, letting his wife take their child, just to find his self, make life “sweet again”.. )

    This book is packed with layers and meanings and subtleties, many of which Harriet observes or observes and reports on, without fully understanding.

    Louise Fitzhugh writes fiction that is a subversive way of telling truths that cannot be told directly, and Harriet is advised (by Ole Golly, “write a story and send it to me”)
    (which actually does suggest an ongoing relationship, by mail–but that thread is dropped, when Harriet says “wait til the New Yorker gets a load of this” she’s going straight for publication) to solve the truth/social acceptability conflict the same way: write fiction. (Alice Miller in her book Thou Shalt Not Be Aware catalogs writers who
    resolved the dilemma of society’s prohibition against telling about child abuse in the same way–write fiction. It’s acceptable because nobody believes it is real.)

    I saw a book years ago, in the early 1980s, in a women’s bookstore, by Louise Fitzhugh and Sandra Scoppettone, about two teen girls in love. I don’t know for sure if that book really exists, but somehow the association of Fitzhugh with Scoppettone, who wrote on this topic, confirmed my sense that Fitzhugh probably was a lesbian.
    I wanted to meet Louise Fitzhugh but sometime in the 1980s went to look up, where is she, at the library, and found out she died in 1974, the same time I was living in Harriet the Spy.

    Not til tonight (2015) did I try Google Louise Fitzhugh and find out, yes, she was a lesbian.

Leave a Reply to Charles the Spy Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>