Sunday, June 16, 2019

Stories within Stories

The Mysteries of Udolpho art by Roman Cieslewicz
Lately, I've been fascinated with the art of intertextuality, as when a fictional character becomes engaged in a story within the book. In a simple example, Sookie Stackhouse always picks up a romance novel when she's not deep in a vampire/were/fae drama. Roald Dahl's Matilda reads widely and continuously, as do all the main characters in The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler.

Roald Dahl's Matilda and her love of literature.
In many cases of intertextuality, the reader is better understood or defined by their books. For example, Tyrion Lannister sets himself apart by being an avid reader in a world of swords and betrayals, dragons and oncoming winter.

“The mind needs books like the sword needs a whetstone.” (Tyrion Lannister) in A Game of Thrones by George R R Martin.
And let's not forget Lisa Simpson. She has surprisingly eclectic tastes for a cartoon character. I've seen her reading A Separate Peace, by John Knowles, The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky and the entire Harry Potter Series to name a few.

In this way, a character's literary choices can show us something about who they are, what they love and maybe even what they desire.

Look at the fictional character Catherine Morland in Jane Austen's novel, Northanger Abbey. What does her obsession with Gothic novels, and The Mysteries of Udolpho, a real-world novel by Ann Radcliffe, add to the plot and world building?

The Mysteries of Udolho by Ann Radcliffe first published in 1794.

One of my favourite speculative fiction novels of all times, Angel of Ruin (also known as Fallen Angel) by Kim Wilkins, tells of a contemporary journalist with not enough luck and a bit too much curiosity. As stories unfold within stories, the origins of one of the most famous poems ever written, John Milton's Paradise Lost is re-visioned. In this case, the intertextuality becomes so intricate that there is no plot without it.

"Milton's Paradise Lost" by John Milton and illustrated by Gustave Dore Henry Altemus, Philadelphia - ca 1885, first thus edition (first Altemus Dore edition)
From cartoons to literary fiction, intertextuality has a role. Of course, when we are reading, we don't think of it that way, being too lost in the other worlds. At least, that's the goal.

Do you have a favorite fictional character who reads? A story within a story? I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

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Kim Falconer's New YA Fantasy Series is out in 2019 - The Bone Throwers. 

Also, check her urban fantasy out now - The Blood in the Beginning - and Ava Sykes Novel and the SFF Quantum Enchantment Series

You can find Kim on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

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