• The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams(1979). Characters consult The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in the playful science fiction novel of the same name. This is an example of a mise en abyme, or a book within a book.
  • The Hours by Michael Cunningham (1999). A book about books, a novel about the influence of Viriginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway upon the lives of three generations of women: “The first is Woolf herself writing Mrs. Dalloway in 1923 and struggling with her own mental illness. The second is Mrs. Brown, wife of a World War II veteran, who is reading Mrs. Dalloway in 1949 as she plans her husband’s birthday party. The third is Clarissa Vaughan, a lesbian, who plans a party in 2001 to celebrate a major literary award received by her good friend and former lover, the poet Richard, who is dying of AIDS”
  • The Dark Half by Steven King (1989). Stephen King wrote several books under a pseudonym, Richard Bachman, during the seventies and eighties. Most of the Bachman novels were darker and more cynical in nature, featuring a far more visceral sense of horror than the psychological, gothic style common to many of King’s most famous works. When King was discovered to be Bachman, he wrote The Dark Half in response to his outing. Thad Beaumont is an author and recovering alcoholic who lives in the town of Ludlow, Maine. Thad’s own books – cerebral literary fiction – are not very successful. However, under the pen name “George Stark”, he writes highly successful crime novels about a violent killer named Alexis Machine. When Thad’s authorship of Stark’s novels becomes public knowledge, Thad and his wife, Elizabeth, decide to stage a mock funeral for his alter ego during a People magazine photo shoot. His epitaph at the local cemetery says it all: ‘Not A Very Nice Guy. Stark, however, emerges as a physical entity and goes on a killing spree, gruesomely murdering everyone he perceives responsible for his ‘death’
  • Misery by Steven King (1987). A novel about a writer writing a novel under duress. This book (and the excellent movie with Kathy Bates) has made everyone cringe when they hear the line, “I am your number one fan.”
  • Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1986 – 1987). A comic about comics; this meta-comic gives a brief history of superhero comics, then proceeds to deconstruct the genre as it examines the real-world, complex psychology of people who would dress up in tights and fight crime. In the comic, we can read another comic over the shoulder of a character; this is an example of a mise en abyme, a work within a work, and it helps us to understand the complex morality of the larger tale.
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill (1999). This comic is metafictional because it merges “characters or elements from diverse works of fiction into a new fictional scenario” 

 

[originally posted 19th January 2014]