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Books that never were
March 15, 2006 8:38 PM   Subscribe

Famous books that never existed: The Necronomicon, A First Encyclopaedia of Tlön and others by Borges, The Planet Gobblers, The Book of Counted Sorrows, S. Morgenstern's A Princess Bride (unabridged), the library of the Comte de Fortsas, and The Case of the Giant Rat of Sumatra; among others in a tradition dating back many centuries. For a fairly complete list of books that don't exist, check out the Invisible Library, which also features essays on the subject. [prev.]
posted by blahblahblah (54 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nice post. I myself have always wanted to read "Oolon Coluphid's trilogy of philosophical blockbusters: Where God Went Wrong, Some More Of God's Greatest Mistakes, and Who Is This God Person Anyway?"
posted by Citizen Premier at 8:55 PM on March 15, 2006


I remember looking for "Tobin's Spirit Guide" after seeing the movie Ghostbusters and was disappointed it didn't exist.
posted by stevis at 8:58 PM on March 15, 2006


Ah, yes, the Invisible Library. I keep meaning to return Cock Robin Hits Back, but with no Success. I'm afraid it is Lost Property.

Thanks for the post!
posted by trip and a half at 8:59 PM on March 15, 2006


Ah, what a disappointment.
I was hoping that the link to this thread would result in a HTTP Error 404.
posted by jouke at 9:17 PM on March 15, 2006


Stanislav Lem's A Perfect Vacuum is a tour-de-force in this area. It's a volume of reviews of non-existent books.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:21 PM on March 15, 2006


I know it's not really a book, but I'm having a hard time finding this "Bill of Rights" people keep telling me about. Does it really exist?
posted by Mikey-San at 9:26 PM on March 15, 2006


Mikey-San, Mikey-San, Mikey-San...

If you're going to try to score points in a totally non-political thread, you have to blame George Bush by name.

Are you new here?
posted by Cyrano at 9:49 PM on March 15, 2006


P.S. Great post.
posted by Cyrano at 9:49 PM on March 15, 2006


Mikey-San: Try looking up "Of Rights, William"
posted by Citizen Premier at 9:52 PM on March 15, 2006


My search for "Ethel the Aardvark goes Quantity Surveying" remains unfulfilled...
posted by Marky at 10:06 PM on March 15, 2006


All those silly Dune books-in-book make me want to try to tackle the saga again... maybe I'll have matured and it won't seem as dry.
posted by Citizen Premier at 10:24 PM on March 15, 2006


Good to see that Ethyl, The Aardvark Goes Quantity Surveying actually exists!
posted by dangerousdan at 11:17 PM on March 15, 2006


I remember looking for "Tobin's Spirit Guide" after seeing the movie Ghostbusters and was disappointed it didn't exist.

There wasn't, but they produced one in 1989 for the role-playing game.
posted by solid-one-love at 11:35 PM on March 15, 2006


When I was thirteen and first exposed to Lovecraft, I was determined to find the true Necronomicon. And then I found out it didn't exist. I blame that disappointment for my subsequent lack of ambition ... Well, that, and the Internets ...
posted by bcveen at 11:41 PM on March 15, 2006


What, no Planetary Guide?
posted by kosher_jenny at 11:42 PM on March 15, 2006


I'm kinda bummed that the whole thing about the unabridged Princess Bride is, well, fiction. Goldman violated one of the unwritten rules of written storytelling... the foreword is supposed to be either truthful or so comically exaggerated that it couldn't possibly be true.

It never even occurred to me that there wasn't an original... why write all that crap about being read the book as a kid? Is he trying to hide the fact that he just wrote it himself, out of whole cloth? Is he trying to fool the reader into thinking it's a 'found classic', rather than just, you know, a book?

As weird as it sounds, being actively deceived that way has knocked it a long way down my list of favorites.
posted by Malor at 12:35 AM on March 16, 2006


My old roomate told me a story of how some guy at the ComiCon in San Diego was visibly crushed, his world shattered, after asking the director of Donnie Darko where to find the timetravel book from the movie only to find out that it was all movie fiction. He said he had saved screen shots of the movie to study it but wanted access to the whole book. When the crowd let out, I was told, the man just sat there, numb, his dreams of timetravel evaporating out the convention center's doors. So, let this be a warning: don't believe images, or words, only believe me when I tell you, you are getting smaller and one day you will be an apple tree.
posted by Sir BoBoMonkey Pooflinger Esquire III at 12:56 AM on March 16, 2006


Yes, Marky, anything by Charles Dikkens (the well-known Dutch author)...
posted by darkstar at 1:23 AM on March 16, 2006


I'm kinda bummed that the whole thing about the unabridged Princess Bride is, well, fiction.

Did you believe that there really were European nation-states called Guilder and Florin? Or did you believe that there really was an S. Morgernstern and that he wrote a tale about true love that also happened to included entire chapters about the history and economics of said nation-states? If the latter, did you believe that Morgernstern was writing about true events, or that Florin and Guilder were at least real places?

Not snarking at all - you're not the first person I've heard of who believed that Goldman really did abridge an older work (my wife was dashed to learn the truth a few weeks ago after I got her the book for Valentines Day). I'm just building a mental catalogue of whether such people believed that the unabridged text was based on true events, fictional events, or fictional events set in true locations.

I love what Goldman did. I can't wait to read it to my kids, enjoying Goldman's asides after they've fallen asleep. I hope they think it's all completely and utterly real.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:59 AM on March 16, 2006


Neat!

I'm still waiting for my copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Not the one by Douglas Adams. The proper one.

Also, thanks for reminding me about the Book of Counted Sorrows, I'd totally forgotten about that...
posted by slimepuppy at 2:22 AM on March 16, 2006


A sale of two titties?
posted by jrengreen at 2:37 AM on March 16, 2006


Probably my favorite book in this genre of unwritten books is Italo Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveller, a series of incipits, beginnings of books defective, abortive, interrupted and fragmented. Interspersed between the incipits is a second person narrative describing the reader's struggle at tying the threads and hints contained within these lost books into a narrative.

More Calvino information here and here. An audio excerpt of If on a Winter's Night a Traveller can be heard here (RealAudio), From the NYTimes Audio Special on Calvino.

And then, there's always the Book of Noah, a real life lost book.
posted by felix betachat at 4:11 AM on March 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


Some day I'll track down a copy of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures on the Moon.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:38 AM on March 16, 2006


obiwanwasabi, I initially also thought that Princess Bride might actually be abridging an earlier book. An earlier fictional book, though. I never thought that Florin and Guilder (heh) were real.
posted by darkstar at 5:14 AM on March 16, 2006


De Umbrarum Regis Novum Portis / Aristide Torchia - Venice, 1666.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:17 AM on March 16, 2006


Ugh, on Calvino information, one more. How rude of me.
posted by felix betachat at 5:34 AM on March 16, 2006


Two more:

Journal of the Whills, mentioned in the preface of Alan Dean Foster's ghost-written novelization of Star Wars for George Lucas

Star Rangers against the Galaxy, a novel a character reads in Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers
posted by pax digita at 5:39 AM on March 16, 2006


What, no Hamster Huey and the Gooey Kablooie?
posted by mcwetboy at 5:40 AM on March 16, 2006


I'm kinda bummed that the whole thing about the unabridged Princess Bride is, well, fiction.

Let me urge you, as a friend, to avoid Cervantes, Borges, and Nabokov, then. I just pray I'm not too late. Disappointment is so... disappointing!
posted by languagehat at 6:07 AM on March 16, 2006


As weird as it sounds, being actively deceived that way has knocked it a long way down my list of favorites.
posted by Malor



Goldman's yarns about going through old bookstores to find a copy of the unabridged version for his doltish son is one of the best parts of the book! (He doesn't actually have a son, doltish or otherwise.)

Also, just FYI, Fargo wasn't based on a true story either, even though they said it was. Does that make it a lesser movie?
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:39 AM on March 16, 2006


Also, just FYI, Fargo wasn't based on a true story either, even though they said it was. Does that make it a lesser movie?

When Fargo first came out, I saw it in Brainerd, MN, with a group of Brainerd natives who swore up and down that they sort of remembered all of the action actually happening. That colored my appreciation of the movie pretty heavily... it actually took me a couple of years to work things out.
posted by COBRA! at 7:08 AM on March 16, 2006


S. Morgenstern (nee Goldman) also wrote The Silent Gondoliers. Of course, as a child, I found that, and just assumed Morgenstern was real. 20 years later and MeFi opens my eyes! Great post!
posted by Dantien at 7:12 AM on March 16, 2006


Where is "The Yellow Stream" by I.P. Daily?

Some fake books are so popular that people will them into being.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:13 AM on March 16, 2006



posted by TechnoLustLuddite at 7:17 AM on March 16, 2006


mmmm . . . . cryptobibliography . . . .

Great post bbb. Although that Dean Koontz link was a drenching torrent of the worst doggerel I've ever read from a published author. Some people really ought to stick to fiction.
posted by xthlc at 7:25 AM on March 16, 2006


Oh man. I had a copy of the Neverending Story when I was a kid. Beautiful book with two colors of ink to mark which world the character was in. The story went so far beyond the movie. I was in heaven.

Thanks for the reminder TLL!
posted by felix betachat at 7:27 AM on March 16, 2006


To Malor and obiwanwasabi - on the topic of fake forewords.

This stuff has been happening a long time and possibly more than you think. Daniel Defoe regularly wrote false forwards, like the ones for Journal of a Plague Year and Roxana. The other one (more recent) that comes to mind is the foreword to Life of Pi. I personally rather like fake forewards. The author is creating a whole fictional world rather than just a piece of fiction within our real world.
posted by mosessis at 7:35 AM on March 16, 2006


Calvino is a great writer. That just had to be said.
posted by solipse at 7:35 AM on March 16, 2006


Where is Under the Hood, by Hollis Mason? I was hoping to read it again....
posted by Scoo at 8:07 AM on March 16, 2006


I read The Princess Bride in Junior High (nearly got sent home because the back blurb described Prince Humperdinck as a "son of a bitch"), and even then I thought the conceit of a book-within-a-book was the best part of what continues to be one of my favorite reads.
posted by thebrokedown at 8:14 AM on March 16, 2006


My "will them into being" was supposed to connect to a page that had a half-dozen published versions of the Necronomicon. Imagine that it did.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:23 AM on March 16, 2006


I'm kinda bummed that the whole thing about the unabridged Princess Bride is, well, fiction. Goldman violated one of the unwritten rules of written storytelling... the foreword is supposed to be either truthful or so comically exaggerated that it couldn't possibly be true.

Wright's Islandia sorta kinda is like the unabridged version of the Princess Bride that people are describing (I think, I've only seen the movie): no particularly strong fantasy elements, but it does cover an amazing love story and entirely made up and detailed regional history.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 8:28 AM on March 16, 2006


Well the Necronomicon is real. This is pretty clear since the burial site of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred has been discovered and confirmed. Lovecraft thought he invented it but he was, of course, divinely inspired by the vast, terrible forces that constitute the existence of this world.
posted by nixerman at 8:48 AM on March 16, 2006


nixerman, thank you for standing up for the truth. I listed the Necronomicon as a fake book just so that casual readers wouldn't be fooled into hunting it down and releasing the dread secrets therein. See the anti-FAQ, or fellow MeFier cstross's Atrocity Archive.
posted by blahblahblah at 9:05 AM on March 16, 2006


The whole Philosophy of Time Travel is on the Donnie Darko DVD extras.

I worked in a bookstore that was boycotted by the local Baptist church because we carried the Satanic Bible and Necronomicon. I explained their fictional nature to the pastor, but he really needed them to be real.
posted by First Post at 9:22 AM on March 16, 2006


Thank God no one has mentioned all the magical textbooks in the Harry Potter novels!

\\oops
posted by Lord Kinbote at 9:23 AM on March 16, 2006


I've read the unabridged Morgenstern. Maybe someone was just playing a joke on random schmucks who picked it up. There was like 100 pages where Buttercup was trained to be a princess. I read every single page. I think this is the reason I like books such as Les Miserables and War and Peace. In comparison to that, apparently fake, book by Morgenstern, even the most dense and tangent-packed book feels like a jaunty romp.

I'm going to have to find that book, again. Did William Goldman's publisher decide to commision a forgery by "Morgenstern" to squeeze out every last penny from foolish people like me?
posted by stavrogin at 10:02 AM on March 16, 2006


Wait, the Necronomicon doesn’t exist? (f’tgn) Then what did I just summon?
posted by Smedleyman at 10:49 AM on March 16, 2006


Sometimes, the book (if written) could not possibly measure up to what is hinted about it.

For example, The King in Yellow, described in Robert W. Chambers' "The Yellow Sign". The raw profundity of the play, its stark beauty, drove the readers insane. Could such a play actually be written?

James Blish tries, in his tale "More Light", where we basically read over the protagonist's shoulder as he pores through The King in Yellow. It's a valiant but futile effort.
posted by kurumi at 11:16 AM on March 16, 2006


There's also the book that Dorian Grey reads... although perhaps that was a veiled reference to a real book? I've always wondered what could be so shocking, and what he would have made of rotton.com, &c.
posted by Squid Voltaire at 12:16 PM on March 16, 2006


What of the "Bugger All Bible?"
posted by rush at 1:09 PM on March 16, 2006


I_am_Joe's_Spleen: Lem's Imaginary Magnitudes (forwards from unwritten books) is similarly funky.

Also, I have owned two copies of the Necronomicon. And they were both completely different - simultaneously! Also they tended to warp the angles of my bookshelf so my copy of Requiem for HomoSapiens fell out all the time. Annoying.
posted by Sparx at 2:15 PM on March 16, 2006


Dorien Grey's book is indeed, if I recall, a veiled version of Joris-Karl Huysmans' Against Nature.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:59 PM on March 16, 2006


obiwanwasabi: My assumption was that the original Princess Bride was also a work of fiction, just one written a long time ago. Obviously there was no Florin, but parody has existed a very long time. Somewhere in the back of my head, I figured it was probably written sometime in the late 1800s... close enough to modern times that it could be made readable with some editing, and not so long ago that it was totally out of touch. I've encountered many other books from that time period that were highly readable.

When he writes about this (early in the book), there's no real reason to doubt it yet. There's no exposure to the actual story, so if there are anachronisms in it (I haven't looked), you wouldn't be aware of them yet. There's just no REASON to doubt the cute little story-before-the-story-before-the-story, and I'm pretty irked that he did it.
posted by Malor at 4:56 PM on March 16, 2006


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