Fiction Within Fiction Within Fiction

(Originally posted on LiveJournal)

A confluence of events have put the matter of fiction within fiction on my mind this last weekend.

My friend, James A. Owen (Coppervale on LiveJournal) posted a set of pictures of his illustrations for volumes 2-5 of his series, The Imaginarium Geographica, on LiveJournal. Although his stories are more taking literary figures (and fictional ones) and tossing them together in a wonderful confabulation of his own, there is not really a story being written inside this story. Yes, the “real” authors make mention of their own works, but they don’t come into the story. Even so, the mix of the “present” story with other stories is there.

Scene from Inkheart

I watched on cable the film Inkheart. I have not, as yet, read the books from which the film is drawn. This was actually the second time I’d seen the movie on cable, but this time, I noticed not just the references to other fantasies people read (Arabian Tales and The Wizard of Oz, in particular), but also that the story was about how the villains of a fantasy novel called “Inkheart” had escaped into the real world. And the “outside story” of Inkheart would from time to time reference the “inside story” of “Inkheart”, in order to defeat the villains that had escaped the “inside story”. (Yes, confusing when you try to explain it, but it seemed to work modestly well in the film.)

I’ve been reading snatches from Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night (because every so often I like to be refreshed by the discussions in it), and there were popping up all over references to the mystery that Harriet is trying to write in the midst of the adventure.

But the biggest provocation of this musing is that I just finished reading Heat Wave, by Richard Castle (or “Richard Castle”, since the named author is actually a fictional character himself). The novel is a pleasant piece of pulp mystery/thriller, that I don’t mind having paid for. It can stand successfully on its own feet (which is a nice surprise for an artifact tied to a television show). For those who don’t know, Richard Castle is the main character for the television show Castle, seen Monday nights (mostly), on ABC. Castle is a mystery/thriller writer who at the beginning of the series had just killed off his prime series character, because he’d become bored with him. Through a sequence of events, he becomes intangled in a homicide investigation and gets intrigued by the lead detective, a very competent – and beautiful – woman. Inspiration strikes, and he decides to model his new series character on Detective Beckett. He immediately sets to writing the first novel of his new charcter, Nikki Heat. And Heat Wave is that novel.

What makes the book extra amusing for someone who watches the show, is that it is obvious that Rick Castle likes to write thinly veiled versions of himself and Beckett (which is played upon in the show). It is so obvious that in reading the book, I was hearing Nathan Fillion’s voice (he being the actor that plays Castle) in the rhythms of Jameson Rook in Heat Wave. How’s that for being convoluted?

I’m pretty sure there have been other occasions where artifacts mentioned in the (for lack of a better term) Primary Fiction have been created for the fans. J.K. Rowling has done this with some of the books mentioned in the Harry Potter stories. At any science fiction/fantasy/comic convention, one can find Star Wars lightsabers galore. But I can’t recall off the top of my head where someone went to the trouble of creating a full (and adequate) novel in support of another piece of fiction (in this case, the television series).

Sure, there are novels based on TV shows (I understand that both Burn Notice and Psych have gotten this treatment). But that’s not what is happening here. This is the novel that Rick Castle was working on during the episodes of the first season. It’s an awful lot of work to go to. It has the good fortune of being FUN, however, which saves the whole exercise from being far too coy and cutesy.

I don’t know if I should call this a review of the book, or the show, or just some ramblings about the games that writers play in telling stories. Probably the latter. I think about J.R.R. Tolkien and how he wove bits of other stories into The Lord of the Rings. In his case, many of those existed independent of LOTR. They were things the characters knew and would reference, the way we, in real life, reference stories we know, such as Hamlet or Gone With the Wind or Helen of Troy.

I guess the matter was also on my mind because I was thinking of Beowulf over the weekend. I had written my Masters thesis on the poem. At the time I did the thesis, almost everyone spoke of the bits of non-Beowulf stories in it as “digressions”. And many of those discussions would puzzle over why they were included. When I sat down to work on the thesis, I came to the conclusions that all those little story bits did NOT “digress” from the main point the storyteller was trying to make. I sorted them down into three categories, all of which supported the contention that the story was intended to be the portrait of the Perfect Hero, written by a Christian poet who happened to love the heroic literature of the pagan age that preceeded his. But because I didn’t want to use the term “digression” for things I didn’t consider digressions (that is, leading away from the main point), I came up with the term “sub-stories”.

I would swear heartily that I had never heard anyone use that term for any “fiction within fiction” before I came up with it for my own purposes. And yet, just this last weekend, in doing a casual search, I now find it all over the place. Particularly in Beowulf discussions. I am beguiled with wondering if I managed to have an impact on scholarship that I was not aware of, or if I merely anticipated (right down to hitting on the same terminology) a trend that would have come along regardless. What amuses me is that the definition of “sub-story” I found in this casual searching, is indeed the definition I designed for my thesis. Perhaps not word for word, but very accurately in understanding. It is a curiousity that amuses me from time to time. (No, I’m not desperate to lay claim to it — if people find it useful, great, I fully agree.)

And now I’m left to wonder if my own digression about digressions supports my initial musings about fiction within fiction.

In case you didn’t realize, it’s Monday, and the brain is running on the hampster wheel.


sartorias – Feb. 1st, 2010

It’s called meta-fiction, and there are lots of examples, especially in post-modern stuff. (Most of those I forget fairly fast.)

In TV, I think the most fun has been in Supernatural, where the Winchester brothers go to a comic store, and find that there is an adventure comic featuring them. Since they’ve never told anyone their last name, they are freaked . . . it turns out the comic writer has been getting their story through visions. He gets dragged in, and the meta is just fantastic.

In later episodes, he turns up again, and we bounce between fiction and non.

It’s not new–I recall a Remington Steele back in the early or mid eighties, when a comic guy began putting Steel into stories as Dirk Darkside, but the twist was, the storylines predicted accidents happening to Darkside and then happening to the inker.

There are a lot of these around.

arafel_sedai – Feb. 7th, 2010

In another quirky side story…Stargate SG1 utilized this meta-fiction several times…both with the fake tv show about the real SG1 team in “Wormhole Extreme” and in the attempted stories written by Joe (played by Dan Casteleneda (Homer Simpson) in “Citizen Joe”… both were recalled via visions and the like….

It’s an old ploy, but a fun one…and I wholeheartedly agree with Scribblerworks that Heat Wave was fun to read…and the show is fun to watch… 😉

sartorias – Feb. 7th, 2010

Heh! Must put that on the list.

jpantalleresco – Feb. 2nd, 2010

Probably my favorite form of Meta Fiction in recent memory is Stephen King’s use of it in Dark Tower and how his telling of the story in the real world impacts the story in the tower itself. In comics, perhaps the most well known is Animal Man.

Right now in my anomaly story I’m writing newspaper articles about events that didn’t happen. Just for fun, while working on the story itself. It actually adds some depth to the worlds created. Coppervale does this better than most I admit though.

scribblerworks – Feb. 2nd, 2010

It’s like a form of mental gymnastics.

“Here is the story.
“Here is a story within the story.
“Now I’m going to talk about the story within the story inside the story.
“And now I’m going to talk about the story outside the story.”

And the Farmer’s Wife cut off the tails of the three blind mice with a carving knife. See how they run!

About Sarah

Now residing in Las Vegas, I was born in Michigan and moved to Texas when 16. After getting my Masters degree in English, I moved to Hollywood, because of the high demand for Medievalists (NOT!). As a freelance writer and editor, I found Nevada offers better conditions for the wallet. I love writing all sorts of things, and occasionally also create some artwork.
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