It’s been a long, long year. I had grand ambitions for my reading goals for 2020, which got off to a strong start reading or listening to a little more than a book a week through March. But like so many 2020 goals, my commitment to enlightening non-fiction and fascinating new sci-fi and fantasy were squandered by days on end stuck at home and working what felt like endless hours every day. But, despite all of the dread of the year, one type of fiction has consistently made its way past my eyes and ears: tie-in literature.
Many pieces of tie-in literature gets cast aside as lesser-quality fiction, superfluous to the stories they tie to, or simply never even cross the radars of fans. You can be the biggest lover of a movie or video game franchise and have no idea there are tie-in novels or comics if you don’t go out of your way to find them. I survived 2020 on the power of tie-in literature alone, and I implore you: try some for yourself in 2021.
There are three franchises whose tie-ins I spent the most time with this year: Star Wars, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Assassin’s Creed. Despite being known primarily for their movies, television shows, and video games respectively, the franchises have robust offerings of books, comics, and audio dramas to give fans of those universes both more context for the worlds they love and more hours to spend living in them.
I actively read or listen to nearly every Star Wars adult novel, young adult novel, and young reader book as soon as I’m able to. The Rise of Kyoshi series from Avatar is excellent, its second edition having released this past summer. And the young adult Assassin’s Creed: Last Descendants series is the best pick among the many novelizations and original stories tied to the game franchise’s many installments. These franchises also sport several worthwhile comic book series spanning the many eras internal to each franchise.
The reason I’m so attached to tie-in literature this year, and why it has been one of the only types of book I’ve been able to read for months, is because it exists within a world I already know intimately. There is so much uncertainty and anxiety about the real-world right now. Things so far beyond my control that any time I have tried stepping into an unknown world in a new novel, a lot of that anxiety follows me in and makes reading more difficult. The usual joy of suspense and uncertainty has been clouded by the endless suspense and uncertainty of real life. In a tie-in novel, though, I already know the world’s rules and parameters. The plot is unknown, so the twists and turns and the discovery of new characters are still fresh. Whether it’s induced by true dramatic irony or my own sense of familiarity with the overarching story’s moral orientation, there is a deep comfort that I can lean on in tie-in literature.
This sense of familiarity has extended to stories based on mythology as well. I have been listening to all of the Percy Jackson books, read an excellent new adaptation of Orpheus and Eurydice, and took in the entirety of the Lumberjanes comic. Like the tie-in literature above, stories based on mythology have felt easy to slide into because I already know the basic beats. Each of these stories subverts the classic tales in beautiful and unique ways, but that only serves to make the experience richer while still passing through my no-stressful-new-stories filter.
For anybody like myself who has experienced endless dread and a serious difficulty enjoying new stories (don’t even get me started on my inability to finish a TV show this year), give tie-in literature a try. Pick a franchise you know and love and see if they have any books or comics you can get into. Next on my personal list is the tie-in/novelization of Final Fantasy XV, and then who knows what else. Just be kind to yourself this winter, and maybe try diving into something a little familiar.