What are some cool things hidden in Pale Fire?
December 2, 2017 6:23 PM   Subscribe

I'm almost finished reading Nabokov's Pale Fire. What cool puzzles or twists am I missing in the text? I know a lot of ink has been spent on who Kinbote really is and what the "actual" plot is. But this doesn't interest me since there is no definitive answer afaik. I'm looking for the Easter eggs e.g. Nabokov at one point wrote a poem where the first letters of the lines spelled out a specific word. Are there some unexpected double meanings? Literary trapdoors?
posted by storybored to Writing & Language (2 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Although I think the more out-there theories about what "really happened" are entertaining, I do think there is one fairly definitive explanation that a lot of the Easter eggs point to. (Hint: the newspaper articles and information about the judge have a ton of clues.) So I wouldn't dismiss that avenue of inquiry too quickly!

A lot of the other Easter eggs (or at least what I think of as Easter eggs) are just Kinbote being amusingly obtuse -- for example, the book is full of references to Timon of Athens (including the title of the novel) but Kinbote doesn't seem to know that this play exists, despite the fact that he alludes to it constantly.
posted by Threeve at 7:52 PM on December 2, 2017

Hi, I love Pale Fire and I am very happy that you are enjoying it!

Now, I was all set to link you to Brian Boyd's Pale Fire site, but can't find it. I'm now wondering if I hallucinated that there was a Pale Fire equivalent of Boyd's Ada Online. I found a dead link to what might be the Pale Fire site but if it existed it doesn't seem to exist anymore. Still, Boyd is the essential read for Pale Fire scholarship, so if you're interested I would get one of his books. Some of his essays are also probably online. I'm not sure if he has a line by line guide for Pale Fire like the one on Ada Online, but if you want to be able to fully explore every allusion in the text (that's known to Boyd, at least), that would be a good resource.

I'm not quite sure what you're looking for, though, and you might be setting yourself up for disappointment. Nabokov did not typically go for shenanigans (I don't use that negatively) like the acrostic that's found in the last paragraph of his story "The Vane Sisters." His idea of playing games has more to do with layers upon layers of allusions that are both suggestive and misleading. Like, the Easter egg of Ada is the chapter that seems to be a neverending complex discussion of orchids and a ski accident and a sanatorium and oh wait! Slow down! Our lover protagonists just figured out they're siblings!

Anyway, virtually all the potential mysteries of the Pale Fire do rest on the question of the narrator's identity (if a narrator exists? It's complicated by the fact that "Pale Fire," the poem, may simply be Vladimir Nabokov's poem)....to the extent that I feel speculation and jokes and intertextual play in the novel just, like, can't be staged outside that framework of narratorial uncertainty.

So, I would circle back to the narrator question, if I were you. The fact that there is no definitive answer is the definitive answer. There's Shadeans and Kinboteans (or there were - now, of course, you might also have Botkinians and Hazelians and everything), but I've taken most those arguments as tongue-in-cheek or playful, because really, it's all a game of not knowing. (And how great is it that this novel that disrupts its text can also disrupt its criticism? Pale Fire: winning postmodernism.) I've defined myself as a Rubinian, because when I initially read the book as a teenager I did get stuck in the Shade vs. Kinbote mode of thinking and settled on the idea that the text impossibly oscillates, like a Rubin vase, between both interpretations. But upon further reading I stretched the definition of Rubinian to mean that the text doesn't oscillate, but impossibly sits with all possible narrators at once.

Pale Fire is the best.
posted by desert outpost at 8:15 PM on December 2, 2017 [7 favorites]

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