The world of literature is vast, and getting bigger all the time. Thousands of titles are published each year. A precious few manage to break through and become universally known, and fewer than that manage to become mainstays of our collective imagination. And even when a book becomes a permanent part of the zeitgeist, many sequels and related works are forgotten over time, leaving new generations to believe that if they’ve read that one book, they’ve read it all—when the fact is, the series goes much deeper than you realize. If you ask most people about the five books series on this list, they may be surprised to learn there’s more to them than just a famous first entry.
The Oz books, by L. Frank Baum
Everyone knows The Wizard of Oz. The 1939 film version starring Judy Garland is so iconic, chances are people are aware of the visuals and tropes even if they’ve never actually seen it. Most people are at least aware that there’s a source novel, but what many don’t know is that L. Frank Baum wrote a total of 14 Oz books on his own, and other authors wrote 26 additional sequels, with more following all the time now that the originals are in the public domain. Even discounting the sequels penned by others, the fact that there are thirteen other stories about the charming and colorful inhabitants of Oz is worth celebrating.
The Xanth books, by Piers Anthony
Anthony, still going strong at 81, is one of the most prolific writers in the world, and his Xanth fantasy series is perhaps his most famous work—the first book in the series, 1977’s A Spell for Chameleon, won awards and was an instant hit. But even fans are sometimes shocked to discover he’s published 39 additional Xanth books, with three more scheduled. While the early Xanth novels (especially the first eight) are regarded as the best, it remains an incredibly popular series. If you lost track of it some time in the 1990s and assumed you’d read them all, you have a lot of catching up to do.
The Aubrey-Maturin series, by Patrick O’Brian
As often happens, a film adaptation raises the profile of a book, but when that book is the first in a series, some make the mistake of assuming it’s a standalone. In the case of the 2003 Russell Crowe film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, the producers combined three of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin novels into one story, but many people came away with the impression that 1969’s Master and Commander was a standalone. The fact is, the series consists of 20 complete novels that delve very deeply into the careers, personal lives, and politics of the characters, offering a deep-dive reading experience.
The Giver series, by Lois Lowry
The Giver is another book that got a splashy film adaptation that raised its profile. But if you watched the movie—or heard about its inclusion in school curriculums—you could come away with the impression it’s a standalone novel. The fact is, Lowry wrote three lesser-known sequels, Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son. Some confusion no doubt arose from the fact that Gathering Blue was not a direct sequel, but rather a new story set in the same universe, and only linked back directly to The Giver by the events in the third book. Still, next time someone tells you they loved The Giver, ask them if they’re aware of the sequels.
Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
Little Women remains one of the most-read and best-loved novels of all time, and Jo March is a key character for readers of both genders. Despite this fame, however, many people are completely unaware Alcott wrote two direct sequels to her classic: Little Men and Jo’s Boys, which continue the story of Jo March with similar charm and verve. Why the two sequels are so frequently ignored is a mystery, as they clearly form a trilogy and have enjoyed success in the past, including their own film adaptations.