Recently I came across the Castle books, thrillers ostensibly written by author Richard Castle, who is the hero of TV series Castle but in reality penned by a ghostwriter. I read that several chapters of the first book, Heat Wave, were published on ABC’s website for promotional reasons, until the whole book was released under the Castle name in 2009, and reached #6 on the New York Times bestseller list. Its sequel, Naked Heat, was released in 2010. I haven’t watched that many episodes of Castle, but when I did I always found the scenes in which Castle’s writing is discussed, either by himself or other characters in the show, amusing and interesting.
I own a number of other books written by fictional characters, because the concept fascinates me. To write such a novel, an author must slip behind the mask of a character she has created herself. If the primary novel is set in the past, or an alternate world, or if the secondary novel is a historial text, the author must take this into account and change her voice accordingly.
The first time I came across stories “written” by a fictional characters was in A. S. Byatt’s Possession. The novel (I recommend it most highly) is partly set in the present, partly in the 19th century, where is centers on two Victorian writers, poet Randolph Henry Ash and fairy tale author Christabel LaMotte. In the text included are several poems by Ash and tales by LaMotte. They are beautifully written, capturing the tone of the period, and at the same times they illuminate the characters of their “authors” marvelously. Two “LaMotte” tales were later republished under Byatt’s own name in the collection The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye, but for me they will always be linked to Christabel LaMotte.
More recent, but also using fairy tales to comment on the plot and characters, are Elizabeth Hoyt’s novels. In both The Raven Prince and The Legend of the Four Soldiers series, snippets of fairy tales are used as chapter headings, each of them a reflection of what hero and heroine are experiencing in the novel proper. In the series, these tales are actually contained in a book that plays a role in the whole of the series, as it is translated from the French, then transcribed and made into a book by the heroines. Now I did not check all chapter headings, but it seems to me the tales are more or less complete. Although the tales are not written by a character within the novels, they are discussed as tales by the characters, and their tone is much different from that of the novel itself, so I include them here although they do not meet all the criteria. I enjoyed the tales, and not just as comments on the plots. May I say, were they on sale in complete form, as an ebook for example, I would be glad to buy them and read them just as tales?
J. K. Rowling wrote three spin-offs to the Harry Potter series. Two purport to be Harry’s books: Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them, by Newt Scamander (and annotated by Harry), a Hogwarts textbook, and Quidditch Through the Ages, by Kennilworth Whisp. They were first published in 2001 (after Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) to benefit a charity. Although they do not play a major role, they are alluded to repeatedly in the series, and it is understood that they were written by eminent authorities in their respective field, who are still alive during Harry’s time at Hogwarts. A more pivotal role is played by The Tales of Beedle the Bard. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry and his friends receive vital information from this book, which was left to Hermione by Dumbledore. Within Harry Potter’s world, the tales are a historic text, comparable to Grimms’ Fairy Tales for our world. The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a collection of five stories, were first given by Rowling to close friends, with one copy being auctioned off for charity; a later edition was made available to the public, with the proceeds also going to charity.
When Meg Cabot published the final installment in the Princess Diaries, Forever Princess, the same month saw the release of Ransom my Heart, a historical romance allegedly written by Mia Thermopolis, the series’ heroine. The novel is Mia’s senior project, which only her teacher knows about (Mia being too at embarrassed people knowing she wrote a romance). Throughout Forever Princess, we hear about the novel, the process of writing (in restrospect), telling people about it, receiving rejection letters, which are hilarious, and I don’t doubt true to life, and – finally – finding a publisher. Ransom my Heart is a humorous medieval and can be enjoyed even if you haven’t read The Princess Diaries. But reading the novels next to each other, and relishing the insight provided into the publishing business, enhanced the fun for me. As with J. K. Rowling’s spin-offs, the proceeds from Ransom my Heart went to charity, in this case Greenpeace, supporting a cause close to both Mia’s and Meg Cabot’s hearts.
My newest successful novel-cum-spin-off read is by Donna Lea Simpson: Love and Scandal and The Last Days of a Rake, both published by Carina Press in June 2010. Love and Scandal is a Victorian historical about a spinster who has written a scandalous novel depicting the decline of a rake, and published it under a pseudonym. Now the novel is attributed to a real rake, Charles Jameson, and Collette is deeply dismayed. The plot of Love and Scandal hinges on the authorship of the The Last Rake Days of a Rake, and the book is at the center of proceedings. Donna Lea Simpson also wrote The Last Rake Days of a Rake, and for promotional reasons it is available at no cost from Carina’s site and other booksellers. It is no more than a novella really, but I read it with huge enjoyment. Simpson cleverly uses Victorian style and Victorian morals to create a parody of the romance genre that manages to be both witty and profound.
So, for me, fictional texts written by fictional characters are an unmitigated success. It’s fun to read an author’s comment on her own writing and her own characters, to hear about the thorny way to getting a book published, and how their nearest and dearest react to the writing. Do you know of any other texts that fit in this category? Do you like texts like this?
– Rike Horstmann