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The Books in the Book

Written by Tina Connolly

I’m one of those people who got taken in by The Princess Bride. Sure, I was a teenager when I read it. That’s no excuse for haunting used bookstores and scouring the internet for traces of the real book. You know the one. The one written by S. Morgenstern, from which William Goldman merely excerpted “the good parts?”

I’m not sure why I was so certain that the original book (with the bad parts included, presumably) would be so much better, but there’s something about a book so lovingly described within another book that causes it to take on power. It’s a grimoire – but of story, not of spells. I read Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story as a kid and fell for it so hard. It didn’t hurt that the library book I checked out looked exactly as it should; as “The Neverending Story” book described within the book says it looks. It was heavy and copper-colored and had two snakes biting their tails on the front. My current edition has lovely internal illos and the text is all in red and green, but I continue to be disappointed at the lack of AURYN on the cover.

There’s Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, of course. HP Lovecraft and The Necromicon. “Books in the book” range from books of great importance to the book, like Cornelia Funke’s Inkspell (another German MG fantasy!) all the way down to books with incidental made-up titles in them—I loved that JK Rowling chose to actually write and publish three of the textbooks mentioned in the Harry Potter series—Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Quidditch Through the Ages, and The Tales of Beedle the Bard.

In Ironskin, Jane has a few books she brings with her as a governess. Mr. Rochart has a library. And then dwarves in my world are big readers and writers. I had a grand time coming up with the books mentioned inside, riffing off of sources from our world. There’s Ihlronian History of the 16th Century (a treatise on the best ways to use treachery to hold power). A Child’s Vase of Cursing Verses (a classic nursery book—though in addition to rhymes it includes practical tips, like how to avoid the copperhead hydra). And two lurid novels: Kind Hearts and Iron Crowns (a cheap yellow-backed acid-tongued mystery), and the most fun of all, The Pirate Who Loved Queen Maud. Maud is a family heirloom of Jane’s, “the one Queen Maud’s son banned, and ordered all copies burned on sight.” Jane tells the butler, Poule, a hint of its story to tantalize her (a story that involves sea dragons, Court Alchemists, and lookalike Queen Mauds), and we see the tattered dustjacket, where “you could still make out the pirate’s grin as he valiantly fought a busty mermaid riding a sea serpent.”

I’m currently having fun coming up with books for the sequel (hey, if the dwarvven are big readers I can’t suddenly go against that in the sequel, can I? It’s practically my duty to dream up trashy novels for them to read), as well as vaguely wondering if I could weave a coherent plot out of sea dragons, Court Alchemists, and busty sea-serpent-riding mermaids. As well, I continue to lust after books mentioned in books, so if you run across that unabridged epic by S. Morgenstern (the one that apparently includes 56.5 pages of someone named Princess Noreena packing her dresses and hats). . .send it my way?


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  1. October 1, 2012 at 10:51 am

    The movie Prospero’s Books has a LOT of great titles for the (apocryphal?) Books in Prospero’s library.

  2. Ewlon
    October 1, 2012 at 11:08 am

    William Gibson says in his short story collection, “Distrust That Particuler Flavor”, that Jorge Luis Borges’ “Ficciones” and its “Garden of Forking Paths” was one reason why he writes what he does (I’m paraphasing Gibson here). It’s all about the book within the book.

  3. Patti Cooper
    October 1, 2012 at 11:38 am

    I also lookf for and read books within othe books. That is how I found “The Little Prince” a books that kind of says it all for me. I have found this book mentions in several of the books I have read and in each one of them they are also very appropriate in its use. Reading truely does take you places.

  4. October 2, 2012 at 5:32 am

    I love the idea of stories within stories; books within books are intriguing as well. I especially like Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. 😮

    • Patti Cooper
      October 2, 2012 at 10:40 am

      I don’t know the Kingkiller Chronicles. Year something new to read. 🙂

  5. October 2, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    Patti, yes! I could have done a whole nother blog post about authors mentioning REAL books in their books. Every time a heroine I loved mentioned reading her favorite authors, I went straight off to procure those books.

    • Patti Cooper
      October 2, 2012 at 6:29 pm

      Tina, what I find is that I have been able to read a whole lot of books that I might have other wise not been introduced to. How sad would that have been? It’s almost like a game for me. I also like to look up and listen to the music that is referenced in books that I read. It is amazing how much it adds to the read when you can put the music in your head (set the mood as it were). I think my all time dream job would be to read books for review and for market placement. Wow, wouldn’t that be cool. My husband bought me a Nook one day when I was sick and I didn’t realize how heavy my travel bag was until I started loading books on it and not in my tote. And now instead of having to limit myself, I have lots of books where ever I go. (The kids at school used to call me The Book Lady).

  6. October 3, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    Tina, just remember – when you create a book within a book, you will always have readers who hear the descriptions and want to read it, too. The poetry of Anafiel Delauney in Jacqueline Carrey’s ‘Kushiel’s Dart’ springs to mind – she was able to use the references to write a short story about it for an anthology. If you make your make-believe books to interesting, I’ll be expecting you to write them, too! 🙂

    • October 9, 2012 at 5:47 pm

      Ha! A terrible trap! 😀 Actually your reference to Kushiel’s Dart reminds me – didn’t McCaffrey’s “Moreta” start as a ballad in one of the other Pern books? But it could be the other way around – I’d have to look through them all to check. THAT would be an interesting article as well–figure out what actual books/stories came about from being made-up books.

  7. October 5, 2012 at 6:56 am

    I spent a lot of years looking for the Necromicon.

  1. October 1, 2012 at 9:10 am
  2. October 5, 2012 at 3:06 pm
  3. October 9, 2012 at 2:55 pm
  4. October 9, 2012 at 2:58 pm
  5. October 9, 2012 at 3:02 pm
  6. November 26, 2012 at 1:14 pm

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