Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

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steepholm steepholm
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Hard-to-Google Lit. Crit. Queries...
Is there a general term for novels (or other fictions) that contain/mention themselves? I mean, the novel is called The Book of Glum, and it's about someone who turns out to be writing or reading a book called The Book of Glum, or we're at least given to know that this is a world where The Book of Glum already exists?

Also, is there decent existing discussion (in journals or elsewhere) of this phenomenon?
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I once used the term "recursive novel" for this, but I found it impossible to make clear in others' minds a distinction between a novel which is itself supposed to be a text in its own imaginary world, like The Lord of the Rings or, in a slightly different manner, The Princess Bride, and what I meant by a recursive novel, which is a book which is about an entirely different book with the same title, e.g. The King in Yellow or The Throme of the Erril of Sherill.

Anyway, I'd suggest making a list of them - somewhere in print I have my old list - and looking up discussions of those individual books to see if anyone uses a name for the phenomenon.

(sorry, I keep thinking of more) There are detailed literary discussions of Tolkien's narrative voice, of who's supposed to be telling the tale and to whom, of which Verlyn Flieger's Interrupted Music is the most sophisticated, and I'm sure the same exists for other authors.

(and more) The most extensive example of recursiveness I can think of is one in which both referenced texts are 1) real and 2) cross-art. Tolstoy's story "The Kreutzer Sonata" is about a real Beethoven sonata known by that name, and Leos Janacek wrote a musical piece inspired by the Tolstoy story which he in turn also called "The Kreutzer Sonata"; confusingly, it's not a sonata but a string quartet.

Edited at 2014-05-31 02:24 pm (UTC)

Those are useful distinctions - and seem very clear to me, thanks! The book that prompted the query is Margaret Mahy's The Catalogue of the Universe, in which a popular astronomy book called The Catalogue of the Universe plays a part. To make it interesting, though, there really is a popular astronomy book of that name (minus the first definite article), which appears from its date and general description to be very much like the one mentioned in Mahy's text.

Naturally I had to rush and look them up to discover which one came first, and the astronomy book did, so it may be that this is another factual, rather than fictional, reference. However, Worldcat says there are more library copies of the Mahy than of the astronomy book, so the tail wags the dog this time. Delightfully, my local library of choice has both. May have to look into this.

(no subject) - steepholm, 2014-05-31 03:25 pm (UTC)(Expand)
Plenty of those around. I'm remembering one of Kathy Reichs's YA fantasy novels in which the heroine, a niece of forensic anthropologist Tempe Brennan, whose adventures have been turned into the TV series Bones, sits down to watch Bones on TV. The author refused to discuss it when I asked about it at a session she did while in Melbourne. I think it was a promotional thing; she didn't expect anyone to say,"That doesn't make sense" and was probably hoping no one would notice, but might watch Bones. ;-)

Yes -- I've been looking for a term, or for some narratological account, of the very simple distinction between first person fictional worlds where what you read can be found (e.g. epistolary novels, journal novels, etc.) and where it can't. Sometimes you don't know you're in the former until late: e.g. Double Indemnity, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night.

As for your "recursive novel," the first one I think I ever read is Irving Wallace's The Seven Minutes, one of my earliest sources of sexual information. In it a novel called The Seven Minutes is put on trial for obscenity.

Then there are recursive novels that actually contain the novels that give them their titles. They're on the tip of my tongue, but the only thing that leaps to mind is Mark Strand's My Life, by Somebody Else.

Maybe we need additional categories. The Lord of the Rings, though it's not in first person, has vague claims to be the narrative assembled by Frodo to which the narrative itself refers near the end. It also retroactively claims The Hobbit to be Bilbo's memoirs, though there is nothing in The Hobbit itself specifically to suggest that.

Another book that actually contains, or largely consists of, the novel that gives it its title is the other one I mentioned in my first comment, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, which purports to be an abridgement of a novel by somebody else, to which Goldman has added (not overwhelmingly extensive) commentary.

(no subject) - nightspore, 2014-05-31 06:00 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kalimac, 2014-05-31 06:10 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2014-05-31 06:56 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kalimac, 2014-05-31 07:08 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - nightspore, 2014-05-31 07:23 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kalimac, 2014-05-31 07:37 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - nightspore, 2014-05-31 07:53 pm (UTC)(Expand)
I can't answer the query, but am busy trying to think of other examples of the same phenomenon. The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy leapt to mind immediately, and M.R. James' short story 'The Tractate Middoth' also presented itself after some thought. But then I got stuck. I'm sure there must be plenty more along the lines of the latter in particular, though, in which the titular book serves as an object of quest and / or a portal into another world. If no established term exists for the phenomenon, could we simply call them autoreferential?

The Neverending Story is another, off the top of my head. I feel certain there are quite a few besides.

Yes, "autoreferential" is certainly a possibility, if no more specific established term turns up.

Failing to find the list that I published in Mythprint some 30 years ago, I did come across my review of another good example: The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll.

I can hardly remember anything about The Neverending Story, but isn't the bulk of the text the actual story that the character in the other part is reading? Or isn't it? If it is, it falls in the first, rather than the second, of my categories.

(no subject) - steepholm, 2014-05-31 03:40 pm (UTC)(Expand)
Repeating from a nested comment by way of hoping for more information myself:

Yes -- I've been looking for a term, or for some narratological account, of the very simple distinction between first person fictional worlds where what you read can be found (e.g. epistolary novels, journal novels, etc.) and where it can't. Sometimes you don't know you're in the former until late: e.g. Double Indemnity, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night.

Also: A Hundred Years of Solitude.

And Javier Marías does this intertextually: (sometimes repeating) characters from his novels... interlexically read the novels other characters appear in, who read the novels they appear in.

I feel that John Sutherland might now the answer to this. He has a neat piece on stories where the author is mentioned as a minor character. Martin Amis has a novel where someone notices "that asshole Martin Amis" at another table. And Billy Pilgrim briefly runs into Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. In The Gunslinger a character has a weird experience that reminds him of "that movie The Shining," which of course Stephen King hated.

Yes -- I've been looking for a term, or for some narratological account, of the very simple distinction between first person fictional worlds where what you read can be found (e.g. epistolary novels, journal novels, etc.) and where it can't. Sometimes you don't know you're in the former until late: e.g. Double Indemnity, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night.

And there's also less precise distinction between epistolary/diary/etc. fictions where what you read can theoretically be found but in practice won't be because the letters (or whatever) are just a formal literary device, and those where the writings and/or their composition are a significant part of the plot. Again, this can shift from the first to the second quite late on. (Diana Wynne Jones's Black Maria is one example.) I'm trying to remember how far into Pamela Mr B. discovers P's letters - or did I misremember his doing so entirely?

I think that Amis novel was Money, wasn't it? And the speaker is John Self (lest we miss the point).

I think that E. Nesbit has a fairly transparent self-portrait in The Treasure Seekers, but I don't recall that she's actually named. However, in a slightly different part of the forest, the children in her House of Arden get interested in time travel because they've been reading her Story of the Amulet, published the previous year.

Yes, I think so.

My interest is this: that it's vanishingly rare that a first person narrator can die (we assume she lives and are entitled to assume that), but not at all rare that you can have a concluding sentence such as this: "He made me promise I'd never tell a soul [the story just narrated], and that's a promise I intend to keep." Which may be true in the fictional world. So the ontology of the first person narrator is that if they're telling the story, they're alive in their world (or they couldn't tell it); but they're not necessarily telling it in their world. That's a strong convention, but not one that is necessary, so I am interested in the receptive psychology that makes it feel so strong, makes it seem so inviolable.

(no subject) - steepholm, 2014-05-31 07:43 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - nightspore, 2014-05-31 07:49 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - diceytillerman, 2014-06-01 01:39 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - nightspore, 2014-06-01 03:31 am (UTC)(Expand)
The poet in The Treasure Seekers is called Mrs. Leslie.

Edward Eager's Seven-Day Magic is a book that supposedly creates itself as the children in it have their adventures, and winds up being the book that the reader is reading.

(no subject) - sue_bursztynski, 2014-06-01 08:17 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - ethelmay, 2014-06-01 06:58 pm (UTC)(Expand)
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(no subject) - steepholm, 2014-06-01 08:42 pm (UTC)(Expand)
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The category 'author mentioned as a minor character' had better exclude frame narrators like Colette, and Lewis in the Space Trilogy, or it will be overwhelmed by Kipling, who probably was in frames within frames, with an informant offering him a new story for the 'sequel' to his in-story-mentioned next collection.

Mark Twain too, I bet. Hm, Huckleberry Finn introduces his book by mentioning Twain and criticizing Tom Sawyer.

Oh, and Lewis makes a fleeting personal appearance in Dawn Treader too, doesn't he, talking to Lucy at some point after that adventure - though presumably before her death, unless this is a future conversation scheduled to take place in Aslan's Country?

(no subject) - houseboatonstyx, 2014-05-31 09:57 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2014-05-31 10:01 pm (UTC)(Expand)
I think for Sutherland it does. The minor characters are characters who have no idea about the story we're reading, no idea that there's a story going on around them. Not even Prufrockian...

It is possibly a measure of my lack of intellectual street cred that the first example of this phenomenon that sprang to mind was Where's My Cow? by Terry Pratchett. :)

I haven't actually read that one! My loss.

I'm wondering if there is a TVtropes page for this. (talk amongst yourselves while I go and look at TV Tropes) There is one for the Droste Effect, a picture which contains itself and mise en abyme is mentioned but I can't find a specific page -- it would help if we had come up with a definitive term however.

I started wondering about TV Tropes because I was thinking about "Extras", which is so recursive it makes my head hurt.

If you're not back from TV Tropes in a couple of days we'll send out search parties.

(no subject) - nightspore, 2014-05-31 07:28 pm (UTC)(Expand)
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Laurie King's The Art of Detection might fit somewhere around the foothills here. In that book, "The Art of Detection" is a manuscript allegedly by Doyle, narrated by Holmes himself, 100 pages, which is embedded in full in King's novel. Whether that's 100 yellowed typewriter ms pages, or 100 pages in King's novel, I'm too lazy to look up.

Edited at 2014-05-31 10:09 pm (UTC)

I'm trying to remember whether "The Art of Detection" is canonical - it does sound vaguely familiar. Did ACD's Holmes' ever write a monograph with that title?

(no subject) - houseboatonstyx, 2014-06-01 05:26 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2014-06-01 06:12 pm (UTC)(Expand)
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(no subject) - houseboatonstyx, 2014-06-01 10:01 pm (UTC)(Expand)
I bought a bunch of John M. Ford's books recently, and discovered that his The Final Reflection (a Star Trek novel) has a framing story in which McCoy tells Kirk to read The Final Reflection.


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