Unfinished books of famous writers

Many great authors have left behind manuscripts of unfinished works, mostly due to their sudden deaths.

The Dark Tower by C. S. Lewis

No, not the Stephen King saga but an incomplete manuscript allegedly written by C. S. Lewis.

The work appears to be the intended original sequel to his science fiction novel Out of the Silent Planet, part of his Space Trilogy. Perelandra became the second book of the trilogy instead.

Nonetheless, Lewis scholar Kathryn Lindskoog has challenged the authenticity of the work.


The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens

A mystery, indeed.

We’ll never know the ending Dickens had planned for his final novel or what happened after Edwin Drood disappeared because the author died in 1970 leaving his work unfinished.


Don Juan by Lord Byron

Criticized for its “immoral content” when first published, Lord Byron’s Don Juan became highly popular.

The author composed new installments of his epic satiric poem whenever he felt inspired; he completed 16 cantos, leaving an unfinished 17th one before his death in 1824.


The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Chaucer’s magnum opus of 24 tales (plus prologues) was intended to be even larger.

27 pilgrims are introduced in the General Prologue and each is supposed to tell two tales on the way to Canterbury and another two on the way back. Alas, readers of his Canterbury Tales will never know what stories Chaucer had in mind.


Sanditon by Jane Austen

Thanks to the information left by Austen regarding Sanditon, it has been a favourite of “continuators”. More than ten authors have continued the story trying to emulate her style.

But that wasn’t the only novel she left unfinished. The Watsons is another one she started writing and probably abandoned after her father’s death; five chapters were left.


Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky

Suite française (French suite) was going to consist of five novels but Irène Némirovsky only got to complete the first two of the series before being arrested and then murdered, as a victim of the Holocaust.

The notebook containing the two novels was preserved by her daughters and published in a single volume also called Suite française in 2004.


The First Man by Albert Camus

Le Premier homme is the unfinished final novel of great French writer Albert Camus.

Camus died in a car accident when he was 46 years old leaving an incomplete manuscript of the novel, an autobiographical work. It was found in the mud where the accident occurred.

His daughter Catherine later transcribed the handwritten manuscript to type press and published it in 1994.


The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace is a cult author and his novel Infinite Jest, a cult book.

The Pale King was published posthumously in 2011. It was actually planned as the writer’s third novel. Before his suicide in 2008, Wallace had apparently placed the manuscript and related PC files in a place where they would be found by his widow and his agent.

Even incomplete, it’s over 500 pages long.


The plant by Stephen King

The Plant was an experiment by Stephen King that ended up being an unfinished work.

It was a serial novel published privately at first, only to King’s friends, and later marketed as an e-book. Visitors to King’s official website could pay a one-dollar fee for each installment via the honor system. However, the author made clear that he’d drop the project if the percentage of paying readers fell below 75% and when it did, after six installments, it was “The end”.

Even though the work was left unfinished, it was a success for King who later revealed that he’d made nearly half a million dollars with his e-book experiment.


Twilight (from Edward Cullen’s perspective) by Stephenie Meyer

Midnight Sun was going to be like Grey for the “Fifty shades” trilogy. It was going to feature the events from Twilight told from its male protagonist’s perspective.

However, when the first 14 chapters were leaked online, the author felt like it was time to stop and put it on hold indefinitely.

She’s stated that she may begin working on the novel again once she’s sure that “everyone’s forgotten about it”.


The Millennium saga by Stieg Larsson

Scandinavian writers are the kings of the new noir novel and Stieg Larsson instantly became a favorite after the publication of the first novel in the Millennium trilogy. However, the author didn’t get to see this success because the books were published posthumously; the manuscripts for the three completed novels were found after he died of a heart attack.

David Lagercrantz has continued the Millennium series. He was given free rein by the author’s estate. Nevertheless, Larsson’s long-term domestic partner has criticized the project and the new writer in charge. She possesses an unfinished fourth manuscript of the series that has never been published.


Terry Pratchett’s Discworld

Lovers of Terry Pratchett’s fantasy series Discworld were heartbroken when they heard of the author’s death even though it wasn’t unexpected: he had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for almost a decade and had been fighting for assisted dying.

But they were also heartbroken when they heard that approximately ten manuscripts Pratchett had left behind were going to be destroyed following the writer’s wishes. He had told his friend Neil Gaiman -with whom he co-authored Good Omens– that anything that he had been working on at the time of his death should be put in the middle of a road and then destroyed by a steamroller crushing it. Typical Pratchett humor.

In 2017, Rob Wilkins, who manages the Pratchett estate, fulfilled his wish by running a steamroller they called “Lord Jericho” over the author’s hard-drive.


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Forbidden books now considered masterpieces