I have always been drawn to fictive and vanished books, manuscripts alluded to in other works of fiction or history which are in fact either wholly imaginary or else once truly existed but no extant copy has “escaped those waves of time, which have wrecked the bark of Menander, and left of Sappho but a few floating fragments,” as Andrew Lang put it. So when a good customer stopped in to request my assistance for a project concerning fictive books I was delighted to help. I even went so far as volunteering your assistance as well!
My customer is looking for the names of fictive or vanished children’s books which are marked by strong exposition in their references rather than simple offhand mentions. Let’s consider vanished books first. My favorite literary reference to them is in Clark Ashton Smith’s The End of the Story in which a young traveler is visiting a monastery in rural France, which happens to have an exceptional library. He is regaled there by an enthusiastic abbot as follows.
“With a care that was both loving and meticulous, the abbot Hilaire brought out volume after volume for my inspection. Many of them I had never seen before; some were unknown to me even by fame or rumor. My excited interest, my unfeigned enthusiasm, evidently pleased him, for at length he pressed a hidden spring in one of the library tables and drew out a long drawer, in which, he told me, were certain treasures that he did not care to bring forth for the edification or delectation of many, and whose very existence was undreamed of by the monks.
‘Here,’ he continued, ‘are three odes by Catullus which you will not find in any published edition of his works. Here, also, is an original manuscript of Sappho — a complete copy of a poem otherwise extant only in brief fragments; here are two of the lost tales of Miletus, a letter of Perides to Aspasia, an unknown dialogue of Plato and an old Arabian work on astronomy, by some anonymous author, in which the theories of Copernicus are anticipated. And, lastly, here is the somewhat infamous Histoire d’Amour, by Bernard de Vaillantcoeur, which was destroyed immediately upon publication, and of which only one other copy is known to exist.'”
How I love to re-read that passage. Note, though, that there are no children’s books in the abbot Hilaire’s secret drawer. Our first question, then, is are there any vanished children’s books at all? Consider that Stuart Kelly’s The Book of Lost Books, which is dedicated to vanished books, has no children’s books listed. Does anyone know of one? Please post it below.
Our second question is simply to post below your favorite fictive children’s books. These can be mentions made from any source, children’s books of course but also references from adult literature to fictive kids books, such as The Filllory series from Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy, or well developed children’s books which are both fictive and real, such as Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, or the Ruby Redfort books by Lauren Child/ Patricia F. Maplin Stacy.
There are only two authors who have been prolific in producing fictive kids’ books. The champion is J.K. Rowling of course. The Harry Potter books contain many dozens of them ranging from offhand mentions like Hairy Snout, Human Heart to titles she physically brought to life such as Quidditch Through the Ages. John Bellairs, with fun titles like Horrors and What to Do About Them, and Free Inquiry into the Properties of Magic Amulets is a distant second when it comes to volume.
And so we come to it. Are you a fan of The Mountains of Doubt, Advanced Ocular Science or The Seller of Dreams? What are your favorite fictive kids books and why do you love them? Thanks everyone!