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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More from the October Tor/Forge newsletter:
- Big Smart Objects by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven
- The Secret World of Hardware Revocation by Cory Doctorow
- The Ingredients of a Hero (Not the Sandwich) by Christopher L. Bennett
- Law School, Magic School by Max Gladstone
- Ghost Collection Sweepstakes