Favorite Fictive Books – A Call for Assistance

Kenny Brechner -- January 17th, 2019

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.

The amazing mock up of the fictive King Quentin’s Fable of The Seven Golden Keys. You can click on the image to see the digital version on Lev Grossman’s website.

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!

8 thoughts on “Favorite Fictive Books – A Call for Assistance

  1. Janis

    Tales from the Hinterland by Althea Proserpine in Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood is an absolute favorite. Enticing tiles such as: Jenny and the Night Women, The Clockwork Bride and Twice Killed Kathrine conjure lush imaginative descriptions of tales that seem so close this world that surely you’ve read them.

    Also of note is Small Spaces within Katherine Arden’s book of the same title. The book within a book reads with such distinct separate voices that it packs a 2 of 1 experience.

  2. Elliott

    In Chuck Palahniuk’s book Lullaby there is a children’s book called Poems and Rhymes Around the World. One of the poems is a culling song that once uttered kills whoever hears it (besides the one who says it). So the main character is a journalist who is assigned to infant deaths and he notices that at all of the crime scenes that book is present and in fact it was the same book that he read to his infant child and wife on the night of their deaths. So he sets out on a quest to destroy every copy of it in existence, whilst leaving a long trail of bodies behind him.

  3. Summer Dawn Laurie

    What about The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (2011) by Catherynne M. Valente? If memory (and Wikipedia) serves, it “started out in 2009 as a crowdfunded middle-grade online novel (originally, a fictional children’s book in Palimpsest). Fiction come to life!

  4. Liz Whitelam

    “The Wild Book” by Juan Villoro

    The protagonists are not only searching for The Wild Book itself, which has never been read (because it hasn’t allowed itself to be captured,) but they also are reading a book together called “The Heart-Shaped River.” The content of that book changes when each protagonist reads it individually, then again when they read it together. There are also references to numerous other fictive titles throughout the story.

  5. Elizabeth

    Tracy Chee’s THE READER features a precious book that the heroine (and her parents before her) guard with their lives. Christelle Dabos’s A WINTER’S PROMISE (which I just finished this morning and loved!) features a world divided into “Arks” presided over by immortal family ancestor spirit/deities, each of whom has a unique, invaluable book, the language and meaning of which has been lost to time.

  6. Caroline Reich

    In Dorothy Gilman’s The Tightrope Walker, a very important part of the plot deals with the fictive book The Maze in the Heart of the Castle. She later did write/publish it, but I liked it better in my imagination!

  7. Lindsey

    I love Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, which features excepts from the main character’s fanfiction novel about a Harry Potter-like series featuring one Simon Snow (also excerpted). Rowell went on to publish Carry On, a full-length novel that is itself a kind of Simon Snow fanfic. Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia both discusses an epic fantasy series left unfinished and features excerpts from the main character’s webcomic, Monstrous Sea. Zappia has posted some excerpts of the Monstrous Sea story she’s writing online. Clearly, books about fanworks lean toward including excerpts of said works.

  8. Margaret

    Several of the characters in Alex Gino’s new book, You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P!, are superfans of a fictive fantasy series, the Vidalia series by an author named B.A. Delacourt: Swords & Secrets, Hearts & Arrows, and Roses & Thorns. The third book is released toward the end of the novel. There’s even a fan website, De La Court [sic], which includes a chat room dedicated to tweens where Gino’s characters interact.
    I’ll probably think of more examples, but this one is top of mind because I read the Gino book just last week.

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