I was definitely going to do my favourite fairy-tale retellings for this final Wyrd and Wonder Fantastic Five. Right up until yesterday afternoon when I changed my mind. Because there I am getting my post ready to schedule and I’m looking at my noticeboard and there’s a scrappy note I made a while ago about this subject, which is, I suppose, more of a fledgling trope than a sub-genre. And as sub-genres confuse me anyway, I’m going with what I find most interesting … which is books about fictional authors and books that I’ll never get my hands on.
I’m listing these favourites in publication order, just to prove to myself that this trope has been going for a while and could totally become a sub-genre if it just gained a bit more traction in the writing community. *stares out at all the writers of the world*
The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers (1983)
Time travel has been made possible (magically, not scientifically) and millionaire J Cochrane Darrow organises a trip back to 1810 for a handful of fellow millionaires to attend a lecture given by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He hires Professor Brendan Doyle as a guide to this period or history, but Doyle ends up getting stuck in the 19th Century. Having studied the poet William Ashbless* extensively, Doyle decides to track the man down and thus gain a benefactor. But Ashbless is a tricky fellow to find.
(*Ashbless is a fictional Romantic poet created by Powers and James P Blaylock while at college. He appears in Blaylock’s The Digging Leviathan and in Powers’ The Drawing of the Dark as well as here in The Anubis Gates).
The Thirteenth Tale by Diana Setterfield (2006)
The famous and enigmatic novelist Vida Winter is old and sick and, after years of avoiding journalists and interviews, she invites amateur biography Margaret Lea to record her story. What follows is a wonderfully gothic tale that both Lea and the reader become utterly caught up in. And while not strictly fantasy, I’d describe this as fantasy-adjacent for all its lashings of the strange and the mysterious. (And this is my list and I can do what I want with it).
The Magicians by Lev Grossman (2009)
In the 1930s Christopher Plover wrote a series of fantasy books for children called Fillory and Further, that told the story of the Chatwin children’s adventures in the magical world of Fillory. In modern day New York, Quentin Coldwater loves the Fillory books and wishes magic were real. When he gets to attend Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy his wish comes true; when he discovers that Fillory is a real place and that the Chatwin children really went there, nothing about his life will ever be the same again.
The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (2018)
Alice’s grandmother Althea Proserpine is dead. The mysterious author of a single, rare volume of fairy-tales called Tales of the Hinterland, her death is just the beginning of Alice’s journey into the dreaded Hazel Wood. That Albert has actually published a companion volume of the Hinterland fairy-tales is the kind of meta awesomeness that blows my brain.
You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce (2020)
Another book with delightfully gothic leanings, You Let Me In tells the story of bestselling romance author Cassandra Tipp, both in her own words, and occasionally in the words of the newspapers and her therapist’s reports. Less interested in her romance novels and far more about Cassie’s interpretation of her childhood and her internal (?) world, it’s nevertheless about a fictional author, so I’m shoehorning it in here. *grins*
N.B. Honourable mentions: Possession by A S Byatt (not fantasy, but a favourite book of mine nonetheless), and The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.
And seriously, if you know of more books like this, please tell me about them!!