Books that allude to books that do not exist.
April 11, 2014 3:40 PM   Subscribe

In The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, the title character is negatively influenced by a "poison" book that is mentioned repeatedly in the text but never named. "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," the short story by Jorge Luis Borges, mentions several nonexistent books including a mysteriously altered encyclopedia and a History of the Land Called Uqbar. I am looking for more fictional references in novels or stories to other books that do not exist. Help, please?

Other examples that come to mind include Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, which mentions both a journal and a (possibly not actually fiction) fiction book that do not exist, and Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin, which contains parts of novel that does not exist that itself contains a science fiction story that does not exist.
posted by BlueJae to Media & Arts (58 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: There's a large list on Wikipedia.
posted by bcwinters at 3:44 PM on April 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

The novel of The Princess Bride is framed as the abridged 'good parts' version of a fictional longer Princess Bride novel.
posted by ActionPopulated at 3:45 PM on April 11, 2014 [6 favorites]

The Necronomicon, of course!
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:48 PM on April 11, 2014 [8 favorites]

A Report on an Interview with Imhrat Khan, the Man Who Could See Without His Eyes" by Dr. John Cartwright.
posted by tilde at 3:50 PM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

In Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, the main character writes fanfiction for a fictional book series that is basically a send-up of Harry Potter.
posted by warble at 3:57 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

House of Leaves (Mark Z. Danielewski) has lots of footnotes alluding to nonexistent books. It also includes fictional books in the story. The link to the Wikipedia article bcwinters provides has a list of them.
posted by jorlyfish at 4:04 PM on April 11, 2014

Lev Grossman's The Magicians and The Magician King have a series of fictional children's books, Fillory and Further, written by fictional author Christopher Plover, as a central plot point.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 4:04 PM on April 11, 2014 [6 favorites]

In the Saga comics, the main characters fall in love over A Night Time Smoke by "D. Oswald Heist".

Also maybe I can be the last to say that the poisonous book in The Picture of Dorian Gray was inspired by Joris-Karl Huysmans' À rebours. So it's a fictional book but it's also an obfuscated real book (which is indeed delightfully intoxicating).
posted by xueexueg at 4:06 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is sometimes called The Invisible Library. There have been tons of efforts to document the Invisible Library, not to mention articles about those attempts. Here's one attempt.
posted by muddgirl at 4:11 PM on April 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

The Neverending Story is a book about what happens when a boy finds a book called The Neverending Story.
posted by roger ackroyd at 4:13 PM on April 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Cryptonomicon is the name of a real work of fiction, and some of the characters in that book read a fake work that is a collection of papers on cryptography, marked up inna Talmudic stylee, called the Cryptonomicon.
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 4:14 PM on April 11, 2014

If on a winter's night a traveler is almost entirely about fictional books.
posted by eponym at 4:19 PM on April 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

Any book by Roberto Bolano will reference nonexistent books, but especially Nazi Literature in the Americas and Distant Star.
posted by tofu_crouton at 4:19 PM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Other than the Necronomicon, I would suggest Stephen King's novel The Dark Half - the protagonist writes crime novels, which have great significance to the plot. I personally dislike Stephen Kings novels, with the Dark Half being the only exception (they tend to run on excessively). That said, I do enjoy King's short stories tremendously, and "Umney's Last Case" is fantastically disturbing (and meets your criteria).

I would also suggest The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers, though it is more about an evil play. Also the short story "Vasterian" by Thomas Ligotti. I personally do not enjoy either of these authors, but they are quite respected and considered literary masters.
posted by partly squamous and partly rugose at 4:19 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "The king in yellow", maybe? That's a series of stories about people who go crazy after reading the script to a nonexistent play called "the king in yellow".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:21 PM on April 11, 2014

There is a Nero Wolfe story, Murder By The Book, by Rex Stout that references a book titled Put Not Your Trust.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:21 PM on April 11, 2014

Kilgore Trout is a fictional author featured in a few Kurt Vonnegut novels. His equally fictional books are mentioned frequently throughout.
posted by robverb at 4:38 PM on April 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Quite a bit of Borges ouvre, well beyond Tlon, is about non-existent books. There's the entire Library of Babel, for instance.

Jonathon Strange & Mr. Norrell contains references to quite a few imaginary magic books, especially in the entirely fictional footnotes.
posted by LionIndex at 4:39 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

The excellent A Stranger In Olondria (the linked review is really good qua review as well) is structured almost entirely around imaginary books.
posted by Frowner at 4:47 PM on April 11, 2014

A Perfect Vacuum, (which I learned about on metafilter, natch) is a set of book reviews and criticisms of nonexistent books. It is delightful and bizarre, I recommend it.

(Also, Nazi Literature in the Americas, mentioned above, is weirdly brilliant)
posted by latkes at 4:54 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

*Tootles own horn*

One of my novels is titled after the non-existant book that the protagonists are hunting, and a few other ginned-up ones, like the Mortis Noctum.

For a more scholarly angle, I highly recommend Grimoires: A History of Magic Books by Owen Davies. Some books float around in rumor and then are written post-facto, much like how people now write versions of The Necronomicon.
posted by burnfirewalls at 5:01 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Shadow of the Wind is about a book of the same name, among much else.
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is about a whole bookstore largely full of fictional books.
Both are quite good reads.
posted by Durhey at 5:05 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Mysterious World of Bartho Lore is a children's book that features in Marisha Pessl’s Night Film.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:06 PM on April 11, 2014

Best answer: Adam Smyth's LRB review of The Atheist’s Bible: The Most Dangerous Book That Never Existed, by Georges Minois, lists a bunch of old ones:
Many accounts of imaginary books originate in Rabelais’s Pantagruel (1532), where, between the giants and the scatology, Rabelais describes the Library of St Victor in Paris – perhaps Europe’s earliest imaginary library. Among the volumes Pantagruel finds are The Codpiece of the Law; The Testes of Theology; On the Art of Discreetly Farting in Company; Three Books on How to Chew Bacon; Martingale Breeches with Back-flaps for Turd-droppers; and The Spur of Cheese. Imaginary books get funnier when they collide with enumerative bibliography – bodiless texts meticulously pinned to a board – and Rabelais’s catalogue lists 140 titles, some of which, he tells us, ‘are even now in the presses of this noble city of Tübingen’.

The iterative wit of the phantom bibliography is at work in the best-known early English example: John Donne’s Catalogus librorum aulicorum incomparabilium et non vendibilium, or The Courtier’s Library of Rare Books Not for Sale. Unpublished until 1650, Donne wrote the text between about 1603 and 1611, and it proved popular in manuscript with his coterie readers. It is a parody of guides to courtly behaviour – a turning on its head of Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano (1528) – and lists 34 titles including Edward Hoby’s Afternoon Belchings; Martin Luther’s On Shortening the Lord’s Prayer; and The Art of copying out within the compass of a Penny all the truthful statements made to that end by John Foxe. ‘With these books at your elbow,’ Donne suggests, ‘you may in almost every branch of knowledge suddenly emerge as an authority.’
posted by languagehat at 5:19 PM on April 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: (Victorianist here. Dorian Gray's "poison book" is very suspiciously similar to J. K. Huysmans' A Rebours, to which Wilde is, ahem, deeply indebted in the volume form's chapter eleven.)

John Crowley's Lord Byron's Novel which is about...well, what it says on the non-existent tin.

The protagonist of Anthony Burgess' Earthly Powers is a mediocre novelist, and we see regular excerpts from his overwrought fiction.

Harry Karlinsky's The Evolution of Inanimate Objects is a mock biographical study of an imaginary son of Charles Darwin, including analysis of the imaginary son's equal imaginary (and bizarre) scientific manuscripts.

There are several neo-Victorian novels prominently featuring the writing and publishing of invented erotica, including the late Belinda Starling's The Journal of Dora Damage, Michel Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White, and Sarah Waters' Fingersmith.

Don Tumasonis' horror story "The Prospect Cards" is presented in the form of a bookseller's catalog, featuring a series of photo cards with increasingly, shall we say, worrisome story fragments on the back.

Mitch Cullin's outstanding Sherlock Holmes pastiche A Slight Trick of the Mind includes a short story "by" Sherlock Holmes as an important part of the plot.
posted by thomas j wise at 5:29 PM on April 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

The main characters of John Green's The Fault in our Stars are obsessed with a (nonexistent outside of this story) book called An Imperial Affliction.
posted by ella_minnow at 5:38 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Peter Straub has a trilogy of novels that reference the fictional The Divided Man. His novel The Hellfire Club arises from a decades-old mystery about the writer of a Tolkien-esque dark fantasy called Night Journey.

The most bittersweet fictional book in Straub's oeuvre is Kalendar's World, a novel that was meant to be the end of the lost boy, lost girl trilogy that was cancelled when In the Night Room didn't meet sales expectations.
posted by infinitewindow at 5:59 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Here's a link to Peter Straub's secret library.
posted by infinitewindow at 6:03 PM on April 11, 2014

In the book Lightning, by Dean Koontz, the main character becomes a writer who has two very different lives in different timelines. In both timelines she writes inspiring, amazing books and poetry. I think most of those books are named.
posted by kythuen at 6:23 PM on April 11, 2014

Possession, A.S. Byatt
posted by bluebelle at 6:43 PM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

nabokov's "pale fire". a lot of j. l. borges. perhaps john fowles' "mantissa".
posted by bruce at 6:54 PM on April 11, 2014

Encyclopedia Galactica, referenced frequently in Asimov's Foundation trilogy.
posted by JimN2TAW at 6:59 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wait, wait.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Can't believe I missed that before.
posted by burnfirewalls at 7:21 PM on April 11, 2014 [6 favorites]

Stanislaw Lem's "Imaginary Magnitude" is an entire book-length collection of reviews of nonexistent books.
posted by baf at 7:27 PM on April 11, 2014

The Weather Fifteen Years Ago is a book by Wolf Haas where the entire text consists of a character named Wolf Haas being interviewed about a book he has written called The Weather Fifteen Years Ago. The plots points are discussed throughout, but the book they are discussing does not actually exist.
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:30 PM on April 11, 2014

There are many references to non-existent books in Harry Potter, particularly school textbooks.

Most notable and interesting, however, might be an example that actually *doesn't* fit your request.

Namely, one of the books referenced in Harry Potter is Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a magical zoology textbook, which J.K. Rowling actually turned into a small spin-off book that raised money for the Comic Relief charity. She did that with another textbook as well, but Fantastic Beasts is now getting turned into a three-movie franchise, as Warner Brothers needed to mine the Harry Potter money well a little bit further.
posted by lewedswiver at 7:45 PM on April 11, 2014

In Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, Dream's library is entirely composed of books that were never written.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:48 PM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Not only does The End of Mr. Y meet your criteria, but it's a great book!
posted by Gorgik at 10:33 PM on April 11, 2014

Just quickly, a few that weren't mentioned:
Illustrado has lots
Infinite Jest has footnotes alluding to fictional books and movies etc.
Many of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels do; especially ones set at the university which feature the Librarian.

Not exactly books, but storytelling:
"Frame stories" in books like the Decameron, Canterbury Tales, Arabian Nights,The Saragossa manuscript - where the story involves characters telling stories (which in turn may involve their characters telling stories). (Also the link story within a story may yield some examples for you.)

Not from books, but movies:
Royal Tenenbaums, Owen Wilson's character has a bunch of books he's written.
Moonrise Kingdom, the main female character reads fake young-adult fantasy books which have dead-on excerpts and cover images.

George Carlin's bit "Join the Book Club" has a slew of titles of made-up books
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:19 PM on April 11, 2014

Dean Koontz quotes from The Book of Counted Sorrows in many of his books, often as epigraphs rather than within the text of the story, which somehow made it seem extra-real. There now exists a book with that title, but it was originally fictional, and I hold that it still is.
posted by rhiannonstone at 11:49 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The fictional The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism features prominently in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.

John Irving's The World According to Garp contains several pieces of Garp's fiction, including his "first novella, The Pension Grillparzer; 'Vigilance', a short story; and the first chapter of his novel, The World According to Bensenhaver."

The lost second book of Aristotle's Poetics (on comedy) is an important part of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:50 PM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

The eponymous scrap-book from M.R James's Canon Alberic's scrap-book fits, I think. Also the untitled book (and others alluded too) in Count Magnus, or another eponymous book the tractate middoth.

There's actually quite a few in M.R James's stories, really, I think some of them are partially based on real books that he would have known of as a scholar but that is mostly the impression I get from reading academic articles about M.R James and his stories.
posted by halcyonday at 12:37 AM on April 12, 2014

Codex by Lev Grossman has a fictional 14th century book as its central plot device.

It's also a damn good read. I'd assumed it was part of the crop of Da Vinci Code cash-ins, but I found it to be something much more interesting. it has a dreamlike atmosphere and a wonderful sense of the abnormal, despite the absence of any supernatural elements.
posted by Lorc at 4:16 AM on April 12, 2014

Xingu... is it a book, or isn't it? (You can also listen to this story on Selected Shorts.)
posted by BrashTech at 6:25 AM on April 12, 2014

Judges' ruling/point of order - I think Xingu may actually be an edge case, as it's established by the end of the story that the character claiming to have read a book called "Xingu" was just pulling an elaborate and justifiable con on the other characters.

However, I will agree you should read it anyway (it's a short story) because it is awesome.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:28 AM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

My favorite book that doesn't exist is one that became a book that DID exist. Vonnegut referred to Venus on the Half-Shell in his book God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater as an imaginary book by his frequent character Kilgore Trout, including a long excerpt from the novel. Later, Philip José Farmer actually wrote the book (as Kilgore Trout, no less) and he even included the actual excerpt in the finished book. The book itself is pretty terrible, but somehow that seems fitting. More details at wikipedia
posted by Lame_username at 6:49 AM on April 12, 2014

Catherynne Valente's book, Palimpsest, refers to a children's book called The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Hortense Francis Weckweet, which was imaginary at the time Palimpsest was written.

Valente later serialized The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making on the web due to reader demand, and it won the Andre Norton Award and was a NYT-bestseller when it was eventually picked up and traditionally published. It will eventually be a five-book series.
posted by woodvine at 7:06 AM on April 12, 2014

I can't believe no one's mentioned Game of Thrones (more properly, the A Song of Ice and Fire series). Several books are frequently mentioned that exist only in the Westeros universe. One of them is called The Seven-Pointed Star. There are others but I forget their titles. I don't think these books are mentioned until relatively late in the series.
posted by gentian at 7:58 AM on April 12, 2014

The main character in The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach is often reading and referencing a fictional book of the same name written by a fictional baseball player about the qualities and duties of an ideal shortstop.
posted by vakker at 8:18 AM on April 12, 2014

Donald Sobel's weirdo fake 1973 textbook For Want of a Nail (an undergrad-level North American history where the American Revolution ended in negotiated settlement and Anglo malcontents fleeing being hanged separately were a major influence on the Mexican Revolution, ultimately producing a handy divide between social/economic-egalitarian democracy and Jacksonian democracy) constructs whole imaginary journals, academic careers, and historical schools: "the fictional history includes a full scholarly apparatus, including a bibliography of 475 works and 860 footnotes citing imaginary books and articles."
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 9:00 AM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Unstrung Harp, or Mr. Earbrass Writes a Novel, by Edward Gorey.
posted by Bruce H. at 9:59 AM on April 12, 2014

There's a book mentioned in A Swiftly Tilting Planet entitled The Horn of Joy that, as a child, I was deeply disappointed to discover didn't actually exist.
posted by darchildre at 2:18 PM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you so much everyone! These are all excellent suggestions. Really I was tempted to mark them all best answers. I appreciate the links to lists but I also really appreciate the personal recommendations (which is why I didn't just search for a list).
posted by BlueJae at 8:14 PM on April 12, 2014

Sara Gran's series of detective novels - so far, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead and Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway - centre around a book, Détection by a French detective Jacques Silette. References to the book are so convincingly detailed that I was certain that both Silette and Détection were real, only to be sadly disillusioned by Google.
posted by fever-trees at 2:39 AM on April 13, 2014

The Higher Common Sense by the Abbé Fausse-Maigre is the fictional book from which Flora Poste learns all the awesome problem-solving skills that she ends up using to smarten up Cold Comfort Farm.

An Imperial Affliction is a fictional book about a young girl with cancer that ends mid-sentence. The protagonist of The Fault In Our Stars is also a young girl with cancer and becomes obsessed with finding out how the story ends.

The fictional series of children's books about Tommy Taylor were based on the writer's son Tom. Mike Carey's graphic novel series, The Unwritten, picks up Tom's story as an embittered adult, angry at being overshadowed by his fictional alter ego and trying to discover what really happened to his father - the writer of the Tommy Taylor series - who has disappeared.

The Grass is Greener is a fictional novel so pointless and insipid that it causes an obscure neurological condition which can actually kill you. In Charlie Hill's Books, a pretentious bookshop owner and a Professor of Neurology have to join forces to stop the author before he kills again.

(I'd also like to take a moment to disagree with Gorgik. The End Of Mr Y is not actually a great book. It is a great 9/10ths of a book with a pointless, cliche, tacked-on and inappropriate ending so unbelievably bad that I physically threw the book across the room. I still recommend that you read it, but only because of the same compulsion you get upon opening some expired food to thrust it under the nose of the nearest person saying "Ugh, that's disgusting; smell it!")
posted by the latin mouse at 7:15 AM on April 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Dune series of books have sections which begin with epigraphs, mostly taken from works which exist only in-universe. E.g., in the first book, many of the epigraphs are taken from fictional histories of the events in the book written by Princess Irulan. Dune also features the Orange Catholic Bible, a religious text.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:27 AM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I believe "Children of the Mind" (the third sequel to "Ender's Game") has most chapters begin with a quote from "The God Whispers of Han Qiang-Jao." This is a fake book made up that describes the last words/rantings of a character from the previous book "Xenocide."
posted by tacodave at 4:22 PM on April 14, 2014

Surely the canonical example is the mention in "Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid" of a book called "Copper, Silver, Gold: An Indestructible Metal Alloy".

In the bibliography to GEB, The entry for "Copper, Silver, Gold: An Indestructible Metal Alloy" reads:

Gebstadter, Egbert R.
Copper, Silver, Gold: An Indestructible Metal Alloy.
Perth: Acidic Books, 1979 .
A formidable hodge-podge, turgid and confused - yet remarkably similar to the present work . Professor Gebstadter’s Shandean digressions include some excellent examples of indirect self-reference. Of particular interest is a reference in its well-annotated bibliography to an isomorphic, but imaginary book .
posted by HiroProtagonist at 10:37 PM on April 15, 2014

« Older Koi pond maintenance   |   browser add-on or RSS code to block sign-up... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.