Fiction in the Foreword

Forewords are odd bits of a book. You don’t see them a lot in fiction works, but when you do, it tends to be in books where the author is purporting to have “found” the manuscript somewhere and, through whatever means, is now sharing the manuscript with the masses.

Let’s take The Princess Bride. Excellent movie. Better book. If you read the book (which I highly recommend), you are treated to a long introduction by William Goldman about how his father (who was from Florin himself) used to read the story (written by one “S. Morgenstern”) to Goldman when he was a child, and he got his own son a copy but his son said it was boring, and when Goldman went to read it himself, he discovered his father had only read him the good parts. So The Princess Bride is just the “good parts” of Morgenstern’s story.

Except, of course, Morgenstern, his story, and the country of Florin don’t exist. (The deception actually goes deeper than that. Wikipedia informs me that Goldman doesn’t even have a son–just two daughters.) Goldman made it all up to enhance the story.

(He does it quite masterfully, too. I was pretty sure neither Morgenstern or Florin existed, but the longer he went on the less sure I became, and I did eventually take to the internet to make sure I wasn’t crazy.)

Goldman is probably the best example. I’ve read other stories where people attempt to do the same thing–make up something in the forward to enhance the story–but usually it doesn’t work as well. Sometimes it reads tacked on, like the author didn’t bother to put enough thought into it to make it at all believable.

All the examples I can think of involve “found” manuscripts. I read the first book of a mystery series starring Jane Austen, where the author said she found the “diaries” among some correspondence to Jane’s sister. And I recently finished The Legend of Broken where the author had “found” the manuscript and some accompanying notes by some 18th century historian or some such. (He actually had extensive end notes from this historian, explaining word etymology and historical customs and blah blah blah, and it made it read like a textbook. I had to bypass them completely to enjoy the story, and I felt bad because he put so much work into it, but honestly. Bleh.)

House of Leaves is another example, though at least the narrator’s story eventually blends into the found manuscript.

Most of the time, I think making up something in the foreword reads like a gimmick, or doesn’t ring true. How do you feel about it, Squiders? Any really good or really bad examples you can think of?

(But, seriously, go read The Princess Bride.)

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Marc on 2013/05/03 at 12:48 AM

    Laurie R. King does a really, really good job with the first two of her “found” Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes novels. After that, not so much, but those first two? Actually helped pull me into the story.

    Reply

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