Thursday, August 31, 2017

David Lewis, uses fictional worlds as a way of exploring the idea of the proximity of possible worlds, but confesses he's not quite sure what to do with fictions within fictions.

One thing some writers have done is to write the actual (our-word) fictional work that some fictional work only mentions.  They give it to us for our use.  (This is the converse of the sort of thing that Borges and Lem do.)

A few such useful texts spring to mind right away, in chronological order:

Prencipe Galeotto: Dante has Francesca say of the book she and Paolo are reading together when they stop reading, "Galeotto fu 'l libro e chi lo scrisse."  So Galeotto -- Prince Galahad (perhaps; it's not clear whether Dante identified Galeotto and Galahad), vicariously catalyzing their mutual seduction -- is both the author and the book itself. Boccaccio gives the Decameron the sub- or alternative title Prencipe Galeotto, making it into the book that Paolo and Francesca were reading, and promising it as a conversation piece for later lovers to seduce each other with.

Spenser completes one of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the Squire's, in Book IV of The Faerie Queene.  (Spenser takes it as complete -- a real thing that Chaucer mentions, but that we don't have.

"Where is the Life that Late I Led?"  Petruchio interrupts himself after he starts singing this song in Taming of the Shrew.  Cole Porter gives us the whole song (with a bridge and a slight modification of Petruchio's second line).
"Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came": Browning writes the poem that Edgar quotes in King Lear.
The Transfiguration of the Commonplace: From Muriel Spark's Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the book that Sandy Stranger writes when she becomes a nun (Sister Helena). Arthur Danto (not Dante!) then wrote a book about the philosophy of art with that title.
The Secret Goldfish: D.B.'s "terrific book of short stories" in Catcher in the Rye, and the title of a book of short stories by David Means.

Can you think of others? 


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  2. I was a proud teenage purchaser of _Venus on the Half-Shell_ by Kilgore Trout. The _Necronomicon_ appears in multiple editions. I suspect there are other examples in science fiction and fantasy, given the texts' frequent references to fictional sources and the communities' fondness of world-building -- maybe later this month I'll figure out what classification John Clute invented for them in the _Encyclopedia of SF_.

    In movies, the first example to come to mind is _Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?_

    Relaxing the rules a bit, since Shakespeare was presumably citing a lost (rather than invented) song, one might permit "rediscovered" lost works like _Lord Byron's Novel_ by John Crowley.

    Slackening still more, to allow incarnated titles posited by critics rather than creators, there are several attempts at _The Great American Novel_, the first and greatest, of course, by William Carlos Williams.

    And although it's a cross-media reference (or a second one, if you classify _King Lear_ as theater), _I, Libertine_ by "Frederick R. Ewing" (mostly Theodore Sturgeon) deserves mention if only because it's one of my (and Samuel R. Delany's) favorite Sturgeon books. I tried to get permission for an online edition some years ago, but the estate-owner nixed it. (To date I've never gotten reprint refusal from an author or reprint permission from an heir.)

    1. Hey -- I hope you saw I mentioned you in the Arcade version of this blog. These are great examples!

  3. I did, thanks!

    It felt weird to look at something on Arcade again. Maybe direct links aren't as toxic as trying to browse the thing.

  4. There's also, kinda, sorta, Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, right?

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