Wanted: Books featuring characters from other books
April 8, 2004 5:08 PM   Subscribe

Books featuring characters from other books? I'm a big fan of Gregory Maguire's work (fairytale/book characters), and Was, by Ryman (using Baum and Oz). I just came across Mr. Timothy (a grown-up Tiny Tim), and loved it too. Any more I should read? And does this subgenre have a name or anything?
posted by amberglow to Writing & Language (32 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: oh, and I guess The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor by Barth counts too. More! More!
posted by amberglow at 5:09 PM on April 8, 2004

A House-Boat on the Styx, by John Kendrick Bangs and The Pursuit of the House-Boat feature historical figures and characters like Sherlock Holmes and Baron Munchausen interacting together in Hell.

Also, Philip Jose Farmer - possibly inspired by Bangs - has written numerous books that are similar, like a biography of Doc Savage and A huge (bizarre) geneaology of Tarzan.
posted by interrobang at 5:31 PM on April 8, 2004

Venus on the Half Shell and the series which begins withTo Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philippe Jose Farmer

At Swim Two Birds by Flann O'Brian

A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny

I'll think of more when other people name them.
posted by Hildago at 5:33 PM on April 8, 2004

Farmer writes a lot of what I consider "legitimate" fan fiction.
posted by Hildago at 5:35 PM on April 8, 2004

Also, "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" -- the comics, not the movie.

So true, Hildago.
posted by interrobang at 5:37 PM on April 8, 2004

I just read Steven Milhauser's latest collection The King in the Tree and it has a strange retelling of Tristan and Ysolt and a story about Don Juan getting bored of his life and retiring to the English coutryside for a spell. Some of his previous collections cover similar territory.
posted by rodz at 5:41 PM on April 8, 2004

In a similar vein, there's always Tom Stoppard's brilliant and hysterical play, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead.
posted by scody at 5:51 PM on April 8, 2004

The Tuesday Next series by Jasper Fforde. There are 3 books so far. Great fun reading. To put it simply, some people have the ability to jump into books and the main character is a member of the Fiction Police, keeping characters inline.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 5:54 PM on April 8, 2004

I second Farmer. He's done some neat stuff. His Riverworld series is very good, I think, although it's been a long time since I read it.

What immediately comes to mind is Farmers's "A Barnstormer in Oz", which has a very memorable version of Glenda the Good (okay, she's hot and erotic).

Also in the science fiction genre, there's Heinlein's "The Number of the Beast" which includes a large number of characters from other books along with various other fictional characters. The premise is a parallel-all-possible-worlds ship.

That reminds me that a lot of books have Satan as a character, who I consider fictional and generally always enjoy.

Also in science fiction, Dan Simmons's most recent book reimagines the Trojan war and, specifically, the Iliad; which is fun for me as someone well familiar with Homer.

I know there's examples of this device outside of genre fiction, but I can't think of any at the moment. I would expect Borges to have done this. I don't know why, but it seems right.

This makes me think that I should write something using as its protagonist the character "Bottom" from my favorite Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream. I'm probably not a talented enough comedic writer, however. But it seems like a promising idea.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 5:54 PM on April 8, 2004

Response by poster: thanks so much, all! (and give it a shot, Ethereal--i'll read it.)

and rodz, I loved the one Milhauser book I read--Martin Dressler, so i'll definitely give his stories a shot.

keep em coming--they seem like great suggestions. : >
posted by amberglow at 5:58 PM on April 8, 2004

There's a large collection of poorly-written erotica that makes use of characters from other works.

There's also The Wind Done Gone, which retells Gone With the Wind from the slave's point of view.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:08 PM on April 8, 2004

updike's gertrude and claudius
posted by ifjuly at 6:25 PM on April 8, 2004

The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.

Ethereal Bligh: There's a story by Borges from the perspective of the Minotaur. I can't remember the title but it's good. There's another which re-tells the closing knife-fight scene from a famous Argentinean epic poem; I can't remember the name of the story or poem, though.

Hildago's right about At Swim-Two-Birds; it's really great for this kind of thing. One of the characters in it is writing a novel in which he uses characters from other successful books and stories on the grounds that they've already proved that they're good characters, so why not?

In a way the second book of Don Quixote would fit; the Don keeps running into people who've read the first book and are claiming to be him. I wouldn't be surprised if other early novels did stuff like this.
posted by kenko at 6:51 PM on April 8, 2004

Tom Holt isn't widely available in the US, but he's done some things in this vein... Snow White and the Seven Samurai is a self-explanatory title. And he's good.
posted by Jeanne at 7:08 PM on April 8, 2004

One of the all-time classic examples is Henry Fielding's The History of Joseph Andrews, which takes off from Samuel Richardson's Pamela (Joseph is Pamela's "brother"). There were also a number of Pamela parodies, including Fielding's own Shamela.

George MacDonald Fraser's wonderful Flashman series takes its anti-hero from Tom Brown's School Days. Other literary characters occasionally pop their heads in (e.g., Sherlock Holmes).

Bruce Sterling & William Gibson, The Difference Engine (steampunk version of Sybil, featuring several of Disraeli's characters along with a host of real nineteenth-century names).

Valerie Martin, Mary Reilly (Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as seen by a maidservant).

Peter Carey, Jack Maggs (Great Expectations, largely but not exclusively from "Magwitch's" point of view--Dickens is in here too).

There are a number of modernized Picture of Dorian Grays, including Will Self's Dorian (warning: nominated for a Bad Sex Prize) and Rick R. Reed's A Face Without a Heart.

Robert Graves, Hercules, My Shipmate (Jason and the Golden Fleece).

Maryse Conde, Windward Heights (Wuthering Heights--cf. Wide Sargasso Sea, noted above).

While it doesn't quite fit, Marianne Wiggins' John Dollar is in the ballpark (Lord of the Flies with girls instead of boys).
posted by thomas j wise at 7:18 PM on April 8, 2004

Heinlein did some "fiction is just another slice of the multiverse" in his last few novels.
posted by billsaysthis at 8:23 PM on April 8, 2004

Just telling you this is almost a spoiler, but find and read Jonathan Carroll's Sleeping in Flame.
posted by wobh at 9:17 PM on April 8, 2004

Also Silverlock by John Myers Myers is so loaded with cameo's and walk-ons from other stories you might need this guide.
posted by wobh at 9:35 PM on April 8, 2004

Gunter Grass's Drezden Trilogy [The Tin Drum, Cat and Mouse, Dog Years] are three stories that have certain scenes entertwining, while all being inidvidual stories.
posted by Ufez Jones at 10:05 PM on April 8, 2004

Jeff Noon wrote "Automated Alice," which was a pretty funky postmodern Alice tale.
posted by Eldritch at 10:33 PM on April 8, 2004

Oh, and a second for Fforde's Thursday Next series, although I found there to be a steep dropoff in quality after the first (which was, admittedly, awesome).
posted by Eldritch at 10:38 PM on April 8, 2004

There is actually a fairly large genre of stuff out there that adapts both Oz and Alice in Wonderland characters and situations (not together), but I'm too lazy to look up titles at the moment (sorry, one too many G&T's tonight I'm afraid).

The Disappearance of Edwin Drood combines Sherlock Holmes with Dickens' Edwin Drood, sort of, but I'm not sure if its still in print.

There's is actually also quite a wide swath of stuff out there featuring Holmes and Watson as done by other writers -- probably the best are The Seven-Percent Solution and The West End Horror both by Nicholas Meyer. 7% also features Freud as a character, and WEH features Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker, which is kind of fun.
posted by anastasiav at 10:40 PM on April 8, 2004

Also, my amazing bookseller roommate recommends The Third Witch (from Macbeth) by Rebecca Reisert.
posted by anastasiav at 10:51 PM on April 8, 2004

I second the recommendation for Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, which tells the story of the mad woman in the attic in Brontë's Jane Eyre.
posted by Voivod at 11:27 PM on April 8, 2004

Does The Satanic Verses count? :-)
posted by Voivod at 11:31 PM on April 8, 2004

Foe by J.M. Coetzee retells the Robinson Crusoe story from, if I recdall correctly, the point of view of Friday, Crusoe's hapless companion. Donald Barthelme has also written a funny, though now dated, novel-length expansion of the Snow White tale [she's an adult lady and lives in an apartment with seven guys] which is a good read.
posted by jessamyn at 5:22 AM on April 9, 2004

Scream for Jeeves by P.H. Cannon is a fun intertwining of P.G. Wodehouse and H. P. Lovecraft. Available form Necronomicon Press.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:35 AM on April 9, 2004

Gunter Grass's Drezden Trilogy

Idiot. That's, of course, the Danzig Trilogy. Stupid me.
posted by Ufez Jones at 7:00 AM on April 9, 2004

I'm astonished that no one has mentioned Wicked by Gregory Maguire, about the Wicked Witch of the West (haven't read it, though).

Then there is the Titan, Wizard, Demon trilogy by John Varley, in which an extraterrestrial ecosystem with an intelligence of its own creates whole races and regions based on its favorite movies and TV shows, which it is watching via stray signals from Earth.

Then there are the Sandman graphic novels by Neil Gaiman, which interweave original fiction with fairy tales and myths, ans well as various other comic-book characters. But the coup de grace in this light is his version of The Tempest, at the beginning of which he notes in the credits: "Additional dialogue by William Shakespeare."
posted by bingo at 9:17 AM on April 9, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks folks! I have some shopping to do : >

and it's funny--I already own--and really like--Jack Maggs, Difference Engine, Automated Alice, and Satanic Verses (altho i'm not sure the last one counts)
posted by amberglow at 11:18 AM on April 9, 2004

Whoops, just realized that Maguire was mentioned in the post. My bad.
posted by bingo at 12:59 PM on April 9, 2004

Response by poster: no prob, bingo--Wicked is excellent--read it! : >
posted by amberglow at 1:25 PM on April 9, 2004

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