Fascinating Imaginary Books.

This post wants to create some awareness about books that have found a place into the literary sphere of interest, despite the fact that they didn’t exist the moment they were mentioned first in a literary work.

My first encounter with fictional books was when I was reading Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. Among his best known creations are; The Book of Eibon, The  Pnakotic Manuscripts, and of course the Necronomicon. All of them are fictional grimoires, textbooks of magic, typically including instructions on how to create magical objects like talismans and amulets, how to perform magical spells, charms and divination, and how to summon or invoke supernatural entities such as angels, spirits, deities and demons

Another fascinating fictional book is The Orange Catholic Bible from the Dune universe created by Frank Herbert. It is supposed to be a fusion of all significant religious thoughts in human history.

Then you have some books that started their existence as imaginary ones but became increasingly tangible. The most famous one is probably The Book of Mormon; a sacred text of the Latter Day Saint movement. Its adherents believe it contains writings of ancient prophets who lived on the American continent from approximately 2200 BC to AD 421. It was first published in March 1830 by Joseph Smith as The Book of Mormon: An Account Written by the Hand of Mormon upon Plates Taken from the Plates of Nephi.  The plates have never been submitted to scientifically scrutiny and critics have claimed that the book was fabricated by Smith. Suggested sources include the King James Bible, The Wonders of Nature, View of the Hebrews, and an unpublished manuscript written by Solomon Spalding.

Another one is a children’s fairy tale that figures in the novel A Widow for One Year by John Irving. The first third of the book served as a screenplay for the movie A Door in the Floor, while the title of the movie actually refers to a fictional fairy tale that figures inside the book.  The Door in the Floor is such a disturbing “children’s story” that it has become a cult classic among college students.

This post concludes with Borges, the patron saint of imagined books. Borges played every meta-fictional game imaginable, but what makes his bibliographic inventions so much fun is his interest in the books themselves. For Borges, whose translators collected his stories in a book called Labyrinths, what are a fictional footnote on A General History of Labyrinths and a fictional essay on “The God of the Labyrinth” except a wish list? Nowhere is author or context more irrelevant than in Borges’s Library of Babel, where an inconceivable number of 410-page volumes “contain all possible combinations of the twenty-two orthographic symbols (a number which though unimaginably vast, is not infinite)—that is, all that is able to be expressed, in every language.” When you start reading books that cross volumes, with no limit on length or repetition, the Library of Babel becomes infinite, and Borges deserves at least a partial patent on all other imaginary books and their limitless variations. In the Library of Babel, there’s no such thing as an imaginary book.

What imaginary book is fascinating you the most?

10 Comments

    1. Hi Hedy, Alice in Wonderland is an 1865 novel written by English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. What I mean with imaginary books, are books inside a book, invented by the author for the sake of the story, but who really never existed before they were mentioned by the author in a fictional setting. I will illustrate this with an example that comes close to the genre you’ve chosen. The Book of Records is an imaginary Oz book. It appears in the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, an American children’s novel written by author L. Frank Baum. It contains the history of Oz’s past, present and future. It foretells of a powerful sorceress who will arrive to Oz by cyclone to join the sisterhood of witches and unseat “the greatest evil the realm has ever seen”. Thanks for coming by and sorry for disappointing you.

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    1. The Neverending Story qualifies, but at the same time the characters of Bastian and Atreyu can also be seen as mirror halves.
      The Shadow of the Wind also qualifies. Inside the book you have an imaginary novel with the same title written by a certain Julián Carax while the novel itself is written by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.
      Both of your examples just can create a little bit of a confusion since the actual novels bear the same titles as the imaginary books that stand at the center of their plot line.

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  1. There are apparently people who haven’t read a real book in this virtual age where pages read like vertical scrolls instead of having that quintessential sound and texture of papery wings turning over and over. There is nothing quite like the pleasure I experience when i find a well-read, dusty, torn favourite book with scribbled notes in the margins. Perhaps in a future devoid of the resources to make real books, they will all eventually become as fabled as the imaginary tomes in books that predict dystopic scenarios for humanity.

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    1. I welcome your comment, although it’s a little off topic. The Wikipedia only exist in a digital version that fits into your pocket (compare to the printed version of the Encyclopedia Britannica) and is probably the most consulted contemporary reference work. A couple of hundred years ago there were probably also people who mourned the fading away of the illuminated manuscripts in favor of printed books.

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  2. I agree, but your subject jogged my thoughts about the ways in which people obtain their knowledge and entertainment these days. I am constantly surprised that people dont have books on shelves in their homes.We are more likely to be ‘reading’ a recently published e-book on our iphones than an expensive paperback classic. The digital collective has altered the source of knowledge in a way that has created a confusion of opportunities to read, even new genres and often inaccurate information or misinformation. It would be an interesting development if a book within a book became more believable and widely acknowledged than the novel or reference itself.

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    1. No such example occurs to me although it seems that a couple of websites are dedicated to the Necronomicon and the Orange Catholic Bible. People nowadays are deep into metaphysics and occultism. Have a nice weekend.

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