The Trend of Using Authors As Characters

I was tempted to have this post’s title rival Tuesday’s, but then I got lazy.

Recently, I’ve noticed a trend of using real people – authors particularly – as characters in novels. I guess it was only a matter of time. Once you get past some of History’s most iconic works and characters, people start to fantasize about the people who created them. And from there, it’s a very short step to writing novels about said people.

Admittedly, we’ve stolen historical figures for our own uses for millennia, but this whole authors as book characters thing feels very meta to me. Yo, dawg, I heard you like books, so I put books in your books in your books and so forth. It is both creepy and awesome.

Creepy because these were real people who managed to create wonderful stories and characters that have stuck with us for generations, and we’re just using them to suit our own needs. Awesome because hey, we’ve got some pretty good storytellers of our own, and it’s neat to see what they do with our treasured ancestors.

Mysteries seem to do this more than other genres. Hey, so-and-so was awesome, but you know what would be EVEN BETTER? IF THEY FOUGHT CRIME. The caps were totally necessary. Jane Austen solves mysteries. Oscar Wilde solves mysteries. They get entire series! And we read them because we love their work and we like to pretend that they had wild, exciting lives.

But I’ve seen it branch out more now. There’s a MG fantasy series starring – who else – JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, and Charles Williams. So now, to go even more meta, we have genre stories using authors as characters in the genre that said author wrote.

Say that five times fast.

Aside from series, there’s also individual books – The Dante Club springs to mind, which is a lovely mystery/thriller about Longfellow and Co. translating The Divine Comedy into English and having to solve a series of murders that are using Dante’s work as inspiration.

What’s your take on this phenomenon, Squiders? Any series/books that you’ve read that you’d recommend? Do you think it’s weird or awesome to use real people as characters?



2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by ianmdudley on 2012/07/23 at 8:25 PM

    I wonder if *I* was featured as a character in a book series if that would improve my sales… Hmm. And would it be better if I was the hero, or the villain? Or /SHUDDER/ the sidekick?

    Does Gaiman take commisions?


  2. I’ve certainly noticed a HUGE amount of books about Jane Austen… like you said, fighting crime, fighting vampires, teaching girls on how to have relationships, … everything, really. Movies as well. And it seems a good idea, marketing-wise, because I always grab at anything that mentions her (or other authors I love, only with JA I’ve seen it most often).
    I love those stories when they are well done, I totally hate them when they are badly done (basically: using the name and some random facts about their life and then making them into someone totally different).


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