Art Imitates Art

Hundreds of writers have created fictional books as part of the plots of their fiction. Occasionally, these fictional books come to have their own life. I collect here all the occasions I could find where a fictional book has inspired a real book of the same title. Not included are fictional books which appear in same-titled actual books, such as The Princess Bride by S. Morgenstern (and William Goldman), Misery by Paul Sheldon (and Stephen King), and There and Back Again by Bilbo Baggins (but which is the subtitle of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien).

  • The Necronomicon by Abdul Alhazred, from the works of H. P. Lovecraft (1922-197?).
    Lovecraft mentions this book of spells in several of his stories; other authors (with Lovecraft’s approval) have also cited it. After Lovecraft’s death, many writers have capitalized on its notoriety and published books with that title. The title is also used for a 2008 collection of Lovecraft’s stories.
  • The Body in the Library by Ariadne Oliver, from Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie (1936).
    In Cards on the Table, nothing is said about The Body in the Library except that its author was Ariadne Oliver, a popular mystery writer. Six years after that book, Christie’s own The Body in the Library was published.
  • Encyclopedia Galactica, from the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov (1951-1993).
    Other authors have also mentioned this work, most prominently Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and its sequels. It was used as the title for a video series of five documentaries about space produced by York Films of England in 1993. Bruce Kraus wrote Encyclopedia Galactica: From the Fleet Library aboard the Battlestar Galactica in 1979.
  • Venus on the Half Shell by Kilgore Trout, from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965) and other novels by Kurt Vonnegut.
    Trout’s novel was brought to print by Philip Jose Farmer, although the first edition (1975) listed the author as Kilgore Trout. (God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater also mentions 2 B R 0 2 B by Trout; Vonnegut had published a short story with that title three years earlier.)
  • The Book of Counted Sorrows, from novels by Dean Koontz (1973-2000).
    Koontz used supposed quotations from this book in several of his novels, beginning in Demon Seed. “Sometimes, when I need a bit of verse to convey some of the underlying themes of a section of a novel, I can’t find anything applicable, so I write my own and attribute it to this imaginary tome.” Koontz received thousands of inquiries a year about where to find the book and finally in 2001 published his own version of it, collecting quotes used in his book and adding new material.
  • Hamster Huey and the Gooey Kablooie by Mabel Syrup, from the “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip by Bill Watterson (1988-?).
    Watterson never told what Calvin’s favorite book was about, but Mabel Barr has created an eight-page booklet (2004) in an apparent attempt to capitalize on the title’s fame.
  • Quidditch Through the Ages by Kennilworthy Whisp;
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander, both from the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling (1997-2007).
    The published versions of these books purport to be copies of the books in the Harry Potter universe (Hogwart’s library copy of Quidditch, Harry’s personal copy of Fantastic Beasts). Both were published in 2001. Both were written to benefit the charity Comic Relief. Rowling later wrote the screenplay for a film inspired by Fantastic Beasts.
  • The Tales of Beedle the Bard, from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling (2007).
    Rowling hand-wrote and hand-illustrated seven copies of this book, six for people most involved in the Harry Potter series and a seventh to be sold for charity. (Bought by Amazon, it raised almost $4 million for The Children’s Voice.) The book was published for the public in 2008. The content purports to include commentary by Albus Dumbledore.
  • Where’s My Cow?, from Thud! by Terry Pratchett (2005).
    In the novel, the reading of this children’s book has a relatively small but prominent role. In the actual Where’s My Cow? (published 14 days after the release of Thud!), reading the children’s book comprises the entire story (in which the reader digresses from the fictional book).
  • The World of Poo by Miss Felicity Beadle, from Snuff by Terry Pratchett (2011).
    “[W]hoever had written this book, they certainly knew what would make kids like Young Sam laugh until they were nearly sick.” Other than the introduction and publication information, The 2012 The World of Poo created by Pratchett could well be the book written by Miss Felicity Beadle.

You may have noticed that most of the creators of the fictional books are fantasy or science fiction writers. The reason, I speculate, is that fantasy writers create not just the fictional books, but entire fictional worlds. When those worlds become popular, fans are glad to have souvenirs of them. Books from the fictional world are a kind of souvenir which not only can plausibly be transported between worlds, they also appeal to readers, which the fans necessarily are. Or possibly my list suffers from a selection bias, and there are a lot more non-fantasy books inspired by fictional counterparts.

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