May 18, 2022

Books Within a Book

         This post is for one of the prompts from #WyrdAndWonder, May’s celebration of all things fantastic.  There are actually two books within The Extraordinary Book of Doors, the middle grade fantasy adventure I published in 2014.  I thought it would be fun to write a little bit about these books within the book, and the roles they play in the story.
        We’ll start with the obvious one: Extraordinaire livre portes, the Extraordinary Book of Doors itself: the fictional book (inspired by a real book) for which my real book is named.  This Extraordinary Book of Doors was created in 1549 by Sebastian Serlio, renaissance architect and wizard.  The book is basically a collection of wood block prints of doors, each of which functions (to one who has the key) as a portal to its real-life location.  In the outer book Tobal Salceda explains the history of the inner book thus, “The story really begins before the Books themselves, in the winter of 1525 when French King Francis I was captured by his bitter rival Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and king of Spain.  Francis’s sister Marguerite Queen of Navarre set off bravely on horseback through the snowy forests, desperately riding twelve hours a day for days on end in order to meet a critical deadline in the negotiations for her brother’s release.  She barely made it, but she saved him.  After that Francis was on the lookout for an easier, less perilous way to ensure his escape should he ever be captured again.  It wasn’t until 1540 that he saw his opportunity.  He hired Italian architect Sebastiano Serlio to help design his new palace at Fontainebleau.  You see, Serlio was not just an architect but a wizard.  Francis and Marguerite commissioned him to construct a magical doorway at Fontainebleau that would be capable of transporting Francis back to his own palace from any other location.  This Serlio did.  However, Marguerite, who was a poet and a great lover of books, came up with a further idea.  Some time after the original doorway, she set Serlio to work making an extraordinary Book of doors, each page of which would contain a portal.  Serlio was to make two copies of the Book, one for Marguerite and one for her brother Francis.  While he was at it, he made one for himself, too.”
        Within the story, these three copies of the magical book of portals are the entire driving force.  Finding them is what sets the adventures in motion for our characters, makes the adventures possible, and motivates the antagonist, who wants to get his hands on the books for his own nefarious purposes.  So basically, these books within the book are what drive the entire plot.
        Meanwhile, there’s another book, or series of books within the book.  The Laundry Basket Chronicles are a fantasy trilogy that all three of the main protagonists enjoy.  Their ability to talk about these fictional books together is part of what draws the characters together, while their different reactions to the books is part of how we see their differences.  We don’t actually know a ton about these books, except that the three main characters in them are Anneke the clever, sensible scullery maid,  Morrik the more impetuous wizard’s apprentice, and Basket, the friendly flying laundry basket.  These inner books are purely incidental within the outer book, serving only as a mirror to help reflect how our heroes react to them.  Any incidents within the Laundry Basket Chronicles are related almost more as throw-away lines than any actual plot summary.  We know that the three characters outwit Morrik’s master and reverse his evil spell.  And I did write the following exchange about the Laundry Basket Chronicles in a draft of a sequel (which may never be completed, although you never know):
            Matias grinned.  “What can I say?  I’m a sucker for romance.  Like the part in the Laundry Basket Trilogy when Morrik and Anneke finally realize they’re in love.”  Matias fluttered his hand against his chest and batted his eyelashes as if he were blinking back tears.  “That’s my favorite part.”

            “You like that better than the big showdown with Baron Skellgrim in the first book?”

            “Okay, it’s my second favorite part.”

            “And what about when Laundry Basket gets its flying back from the Gloaming at the end of the second book.”

            “Yeah, that’s pretty triumphant.  So maybe the romance is my third favorite part.”

            “And nothing can compare to Anneke and Morrik’s escape through the catacombs with the orb.”

            “Aha!  That’s the point, isn’t it?  They would never have been able to do all that if they hadn’t realized they loved each other!  So maybe it’s my favorite part after all!”

        I must say I had a lot of fun throwing these references into my book, and they were enticing enough to my daughter, at least, that she begged me to write the actual Laundry Basket Chronicles.  I will state right now that I have no intention of doing so, although I suppose there’s always the chance that inspiration could strike.  As for the other book within the book, however, I did actually have to make some portion of Serlio’s Extraordinary Book of Doors in the form of the illustrations of 21 of the doors which appear in the outer book.  I regret to say, however, that without Serlio’s magic, my illustrations do not become portals.
        It should come as no surprise that writers tend to love books and that therefore writers tend to write books about books, and books about characters who love books.  I very much enjoyed making books such an integral part of my own story The Extraordinary Book of Doors.  (If you’re curious about this book, you can, of course, always go to Amazon and check the “Look Inside” feature for a bit of a preview, plus you can see my quick presentation on The Extraordinary Book of Doors for Strong Women-Strange Worlds’s “Speed-Date a Book” event, plus a reading of an excerpt, below.)

        What’s your favorite book within a book?

[Pictures: Title Page of the outer Extraordinary Book of Doors, in the style of the inner Extraordinaire livre portes, by AEGN, 2014;

Tree wolf image by chic2view on]


Red said...

I'm mildly confused and thoroughly delighted! What a great idea! The jumping through doors to different places makes me - vaguely - think of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, but she jumps into books, not through them.

I think my most obvious book-within-a-book favorite has to be the HitchHikers' Guide to the Galaxy since I've read it dozens of times!

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Thanks for stopping by, Red. Turns out it's hard to explain multiple books nesting within each other without visual aids or something. Yes, the Hitchhikers Guide is an excellent book-within-a-book, and one of my favorites, too.