Anatoly, of the Russian LJ Avva, has a long and funny post about having years ago run across a book purporting to be a collection of critical essays about a newly translated play by a forgotten Spanish author; in reality everything in the book, including the professor who discovered and translated the play and edited the collection of essays, was an invention of the real author, whose name Anatoly eventually realized he had forgotten and could not retrieve. Naturally, I suspected he had invented the whole thing for the sake of the post, but he eventually did remember the true author, Herbert Samuel Lindenberger, and googling convinces me the man did exist and did write Saul’s Fall, the book in question. And in the course of the googling I ran across an interesting list of books with “Fictional Footnotes and Indexes,” which I thought I’d share with you all. It includes everything from Douglas Adams to Roland Barthes and Fyodor Dostoevsky (“Notes from Underground. Two: one at the beginning and one at the end.”). Heterogeneous fun.


  1. aldiboronti says

    A couple of notable absences from the list:
    Pope’s Dunciad Variorum, “with the Prolegomena of Martinus Scriblerus” and notes of “various critics”.
    Henry Fielding, who, taking his cue from Pope, published his play Tom Thumb the Great packed with fictitious annotations.

  2. I don’t get it. What about Leo Tolstoi? His “War and Peace” largely consists of French dialogs, translated to Russian in the footnotes. It’s not as if it was, like, an obscure Russian-language oversized novel related to Russian history. Well, everything – BUT obscure.

  3. Were those footnotes in the original edition? I had assumed they were added later on, when educated Russians could no longer be assumed to know French.

  4. I always thought they were his original translations, but not that you ask – I’m not sure. Hmmm…

  5. They’re his translations, and they’re a little odd – he translates famille [family] as фамилия [familia, family name]. (I recollect this, having just read Gary Saul Morson’s book on Tolstoy, which is pretty good.)

  6. Borges used fictional references in many of his works, not just “Ficciones”. I especially remember “El libro de los seres imaginarios” as a pack of lies.

  7. uncanny hengeman says

    Stephen King’s Carrie was full of what I think were footnotes. It’s been many years and I don’t have a copy to check.
    ** Spoiler Below **
    It even had her death certificate printed at the end.

  8. Not to mention your old nemesis, DFW! (Hey, I really liked IJ, up until the last hundred pages or so anyways. But then it was relatively free of spurious prescriptivism as I recall.)

  9. I nemesize him only with regard to that damn article. His novels I have no problem with (though that may in part be because I haven’t read them).

  10. In his book “La Gloire de l’empire” (which the history of a fictious empire) Jean d’Ormesson refers, in a footnote, to a book by a “famous historian of the Empire”; the reference is to an earlier chapter of the book.

  11. How about the Flashman series where the footnotes are all genuine but the books are fake?

  12. joe Socher says

    Aside from his many fictional annotations, Borges’s “The Approach to Al Mutasim” is a book review of a non-existent novel.

  13. Well and, for that matter “Tloen, Ukbar, Orbis Tertius” is the story of an entire fictional encyclopaedia. Borges basically owns this category.

  14. I would like to request–if anyone has found–a list of fictional fiction, ie books supposedly written by someone else. Or if such a thing doesn’t exist, I could begin with The Princess Bride and The Dictionary of the Khazars as well as I suppose half of If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller.

  15. I can’t help with that (other than throwing out a few additions to the list if it comes to that), but: If you find such a list, I would be interested in seeing it too.

  16. The list of fictional books within the Harry Potter series includes the translations of the book titles in a bundle of other languages. Apparently the Swedes are treated to a new name for the standard book of spells each year of Harry’s time at Hogwart’s.

  17. r.e. Borges: also “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” and “A Survey of the Works of Herbert Quain”. That is, they are, like “Al-Mu’tasim”, critical writing on imaginary works. A First Encyclopædia of Tlön is clearly a fictional book, but (unlike other books referenced in the same story) I don’t think it’s a good example of the kind of thing we’re (mainly) talking about here. It’s fantastical, like the Book of Sand, rather than something that you could plausibly find in a library catalogue.
    Then there’s Lem’s A Perfect Vacuum, which consists entirely of reviews of nonexistent books (and of itself).
    Ah, this is what I was looking for, The Invisible Library.

  18. Thanks Tim, what an excellent site!

  19. uncanny hengeman says

    I would like to request–if anyone has found–a list of fictional fiction, ie books supposedly written by someone else
    Helen Demidenko!

  20. That kind of reminds me of Nabokov’s Pale Fire

  21. And then there’s Philip Jose’ Farmer’s version of Kilgore Trout’s “Venus on the Half Shell”. Kilgore Trout was a fictional author in several of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels.

  22. The Invisible Library, sadly, disappeared over a decade ago; I’ve substituted an archived link in Tim May’s comment above, and you can read about it here.

  23. January First-of-May says

    The Gargantua and Pantagruel series by Rabelais provide at one point an extensive listing of either Gargantua’s or Pantagruel’s (forgot whose) library, as well as some other fictional books scattered here and there; Wikipedia has a list.

    Both Max Frei, of Labyrints of Echo fame, and Zhvalevsky/Mytko, of Porry Gatter fame, took up Terry Pratchett’s habit of extensive humorous footnotes to the text; the first Porry Gatter book deserves a separate mention for the appendix listing books that inspired the authors – some of which are, in turn, fictional (in particular, a few are attributed to characters from the book).

    On the subject of Porry Gatter – not quite the same thing, but the first two Porry Gatter books explicitly exist in the setting of the third book (and, IIRC, the first book exists in the setting of the second), while the third book appears to be named for a book that a character is writing in the story (though it takes a while for the in-story title to settle, because the in-story author of said book, Balbo Ryukzachini [called Balbo Backpaccini in the first book’s fan translation], doesn’t care much about such fiddly things as spelling or consistency).

  24. When I think of fictional footnotes, my mind first goes to Borges or to Jack Vance. In Borges’ case, my favorite example is from “The Garden of Forking Paths,” which begins with a reference to a real book by Basil Liddel Hart; but neither the First World War engagement that is mentioned, nor Liddel Hart’s purported discussion of it actually existed. This is actually tied to an often underappreciated aspect of the story’s cosmology.
    (When I did a presentation on the story in Literature class, the critical edition of the story I was working from bungled this point, I recall.) Just as there are an infinite number of branching futures ahead of us, there are an infinity of different pasts as well, which have all converged on our present.

    The reason I think of Vance in connection with fictional annotations is quite different. Some of his novels feature footnotes and epigraphs quoting various future publications, to provide more flavor to the setting. In the Demon Princes novels, the most common source for these quotations is a general interest magazine published throughout the Oikumene. In the first two books, the magazine is called “Cosmopolitan,” but between The Killing Machine (1964) and The Palace of Love (1967), in which the protagonist Kirth Gerson actually buys the magazine, the real Cosmopolitan was taken over by Helen Gurley “Sex and the Single Girl” Brown and converted from a minor literary journal into the quintessential American women’s magazine. Whether Vance was aware of the real Cosmopolitan when he was first writing was unknown, but the updated Cosmo clearly did not fit the image of the fictional publication he wanted, so in the last three books, the name is changed to Cosmopolis. (Unlike some changes Vance made to other early works, however, the name was never updated in later printings of Star King and The Killing Machine, leading to some unintentionally humorous moments for the first-time reader.)

  25. As Jeremy Osner said back in 2005, Borges basically owns this category.

  26. And I see the linked list has:

    Jack Vance: “nearly all” of his novels.

  27. For more on footnoted fiction, see Translating The Three-Body Problem (November 2019). *prepares grant application for indexing and cross-referencing all Language Hat posts*

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