Ten fictional books

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I don’t think I’m the only person to be intrigued, even fascinated, by make-believe fictional books that appear in real fictional books. The kind of books that you could almost credit existed once, indeed heartily wish did exist in fact, whether or not you have any intention of reading them.

While reading Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising I recently did a little list of these works that I’d really like to imagine as existing and available, if not in our own then at least in some parallel universe. Various websites have selections of such fictional books — for example, Wikipedia’s is here — but I’ve deliberately not consulted these, relying instead on memories of novels I’ve read (all links are to my reviews or posts) or intend to read soon.

The sources for the fictional books are listed afterwards: the books themselves are in no particular order other than as they occurred to me.

1. Anonymous: The Book of Gramarye, no longer extant
2. Edward Casaubon: The Key to All Mythologies, unfinished manuscript
3. Julián Carax: The Shadow of the Wind
4. James Mortmain: Jacob Wrestling
5. Abdul Alhazred: Al Azif, or The Necronomicon
6. Diogenes Teufelsdröckh: Clothes, their Origin and Influence (Die Kleider, ihr Werden und Wirken) 1831
7. Hawthorne Abendsen: The Grasshopper Lies Heavy
8. Tom Dando: The King at Caerleon, London 1834-5
9. Christopher Plover: The World in the Walls, Allen & Unwin 1935
10. Jonathan Strange: The History and Practice of English Magic, John Murray 1816

1. Described in The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper, The Book of Gramarye is written in an unknown language — which might be Welsh, as it references a bird from Welsh myth — composed in ages past. Once read it has to be destroyed, which seems a pity. (A review of The Dark is Rising will appear soon; the previous novel in the sequence is Over Sea, Under Stone.)

2. Edward Casaubon is a character in George Eliot’s Middlemarch (completed in 1872, though the action ends in 1832); this happens to be on my list of classics to be read by the end of 2020. Casaubon’s intention was to demonstrate ‘that all the mythical systems or erratic mythical fragments in the world were corruptions of a tradition originally revealed’. Sad to say, he never got to complete it; Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, which has a similar focus though comes to different conclusions, first appeared in 1890.

3. Carlos Ruiz Zafón invented this work for his novel of the same name (2001, English translation 2004), the first in a series of four interlinked books entitled The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. I’ve read the first two but not reviewed them, while the fourth novel has only recently appeared. Though I’m not entirely convinced by the individual works so far there’s little doubt Ruiz Zafón is good at atmosphere.

4. Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle included protagonist Cassandra’s father James Mortmain who, following the success of his chef d’oeuvre, unfortunately developed writer’s block. Cassandra cooked up a rather extreme plan to overcome his literary impasse.

5. H P Lovecraft’s horror stories in the so-called Cthulhu Mythos frequently referenced a book title Al Azif or The Necronomicon by the “mad Arab” Abdul Alhazred, The Picture in the House being typical. It’s been suggested that Lovecraft was part influenced by William Beckford’s Vathek, an Arabian Tale (1786).

6. Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus was published during 1833-4, and was supposedly a translation of and commentary on a work by a German Professor of Allerley-Wissenschaft (Things in General) at the University of Weissnichtwo. It may help to know that Weissnichtwo, from weiss nicht wo, translates as “one knows not where”. A work I once began and then stalled on, this is another title placed on my TBR classics list in the hopes I will find now it more conducive to my mood.

7. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick is, in part, a quest to find author Hawthorne Abendsen in his eyrie, the High Castle. Abendsen’s novel is supposed to prefigure how the Second World War really turned out, which is not as it is in our world or indeed the world of Dick’s novel.

8. Tom Dando was a character in Joan Aiken’s Wolves Chronicle The Whispering Mountain (1968) whose life work was to compose an Arthurian epic poem. The book was eventually published under the royal patronage of the Prince of Wales.

9. Lev Grossman’s fantasy trilogy (beginning with the 2009 novel The Magicians) featured the Narnia-like world described in Christopher Plover’s children’s books. As with similar stories of the veil between fiction and the real world being torn (Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart books, for example) we soon find that being able to step into a fictional world is a dangerous situation to be in.

10. Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is an alternate history fantasy replete with footnotes and references to learned magical studies, faintly reminiscent of the copious notes in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. The History and Practice of English Magic is the first magical work to be referenced in Clarke’s novel, and by no means the last.

These are my initial choices, but of course I could plough on almost indefinitely: for example there are the encyclopaedias such as Asimov’s future Encyclopedia Galactica in his Foundation series of SF novels, or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (in the book of the same name by Douglas Adams) — or does a future work or comic fantasy not count in the same way? Hard to tell.

What fictional works do you recall, and which if any are your favourites?

30 thoughts on “Ten fictional books

  1. earthbalm

    Another great post and, as you say, there are pages and pages devoted to this on various websites. Your list seems to consist mainly of books that I have read and enjoyed so it’s bound to resonate with me (as with many other people). I read the whole HHGTTG ‘trilogy’ recently and should have included it in my recent update post. May I include the works of Laia Asieo Odo from UKLG’s “The Dispossessed”? Have a very merry Christmas and an even happier new year Mr Lovegrove.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds like I’ll have to do an update on this post, Dale—‘Ten More fictional titles’—it could run and run…

      I hope to get back to UKLG’s SF next year, including The Dispossessed (it’s been years since I read this), and in particular the Hainish novels. May take me more than a year, though!

      A very happy Christmas and New Year to you and yours too, Dale, with hopes that globally things won’t turn out as bad as the signs seem to suggest. I’ve scheduled a few posts for over the holiday period so will still maintain an online presence of a sort. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Ten fictional books — Calmgrove – Earth Balm Creative

  3. Lovely list! I personally would love reading the cases referenced by Watson and Holmes of other adventures. In…shoot, forget which one. Might’ve been the Sign of Four. Anyhoo, Watson is jabbing Holmes about women, and Holmes references that the most winning woman he ever knew was a poisoner hanged for…killing her own kids? Something like that. (Sorry, it’s been a LONG time since I read the stories.) What made this woman so winning that her murderous nature is almost like an afterthought? Dude, I want to know!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s ages since I read the Holmes books but, yes, I remember the referencing to other cases and wondering if they each had a published story. A ‘winning’ murderer? I suppose we might see ‘charismatic’ or even ‘Svengali-like’ as a more apt description. Anyway, glad you enjoyed the list, Jean!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I would love to read the fictional book called “The Hive Queen and the Hegemon” by the fictional Andrew Wiggen, Speaker for the Dead from Orson Scott Card’s Ender series. In the narrative this starts as two books which, over time, are published together as one. The book is supposed to explain the truth of a being’s life without hiding the bad or good.

    I would also love to read Hari Seldon’s algorithms for Psychohistory. I can see how that stuff might be formulated.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I haven’t tried Orson Scott Card yet, but you’ve piqued my curiosity! Must investigate…

      I wouldn’t know what to do with Hari Seldon’s algorithms, but I do know I ought to reread the Foundation trilogy and then, who knows, tackle the rest? I’m not sure that, even with today’s computers, we’ve got round to predicting tomorrow’s weather accurately, let alone whether a descendant of mine will lead a rebellion against an evil Emperor… Oh, hang on, I’ve slipped into daydream again! 🙂


      1. With Orson Scott Card, the first book in the Ender series “Ender’s game” has the feeling of a superbly written Young Adult book but the second book “Speaker for the Dead” is much more mature in its themes and ideas. It is one of my all time favourite books. There are then a couple more books in the original Ender series which are also good (Xenocide and Children of the Mind). But Speaker for the Dead really made me think even after rereading it a few times. The main themes are truth, religion and relationships.

        With the Asimov, I read everything he wrote as a teenager and young adult so it’s no surprise when in my final year at university I did some preliminary work on mathematically predicting herd behaviour in the Serengeti. For a while I thought about doing a phd in animal behaviour and working on this kind of maths but the more I thought about how a genuine mathematically predictive tool for group behaviour could be misused the less I wanted anything to do with it.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Well, you’ve piqued my curiosity! And these are really helpful comments too, thanks—another author to explore in 2019!

          I read a smattering of his novels—Foundation books and some of his Black Widowers crime stories—in my twenties but reading a couple of his Foundation prequels recently was not as much fun as I thought it might be. Still, I haven’t given up on him yet, and hope to give him another go next year! 🙂


  5. piotrek

    It’s a fascinating topic, Chris! I’d love to read the Fillory books! And, of course, The Princess Bride, a book I like very much, is just an abbreviated version of a novel by S. Morgenstern 🙂

    Similar phenomenon – I quite like Van den Budenmayer, I assume as a musician you’re familiar with his works ;)?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I should have reviewed The Princess Bride when I first read it but should’ve taken notes to sort out the metafictional intricacies and tales-within-tales and sadly didn’t. I think I was tempted to write a ‘biography’ of Morgenstern instead of a review, but… 😁

      Had to look up Van den Budenmayer as, no, I wasn’t familiar with his works — or him, for that matter — but I do like this idea of an avatar or alter ego in another time. Reminds me of the 60s cult of PDQ Bach, a little known member of the musical family, for whom they managed, pretty damn quickly, to rustle up a back catalogue of works sounding very much like pastiche Baroque. Ahead of his time, he was.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. piotrek

        I’ll have to check this one 🙂
        Preisner’s music in Kieślowski’s movies I adore, but in the times before Google I’ve spent some time searching for van den B. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

          1. piotrek

            ‘(…) in general the dance music of P.D.Q. Bach, although we have no documentary of that as it is, suggests that one of his legs was shorter than the other” 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve only seen a tv dramatisation of Cold Comfort Farm, Jean, so don’t think they referenced this work there! But, assuming it was available, would you read it in the original French, hein?


    1. Yay! I’m glad, Silvia. I think once you’ve become attuned to the notion you’ll find you remember a whole lot of bogus titles mentioned in fiction (maybe even in non-fiction!)—I know I did!


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