One of my favorite book series is the Thursday Next series, by British author Jasper Fforde. It’s pure escapism: witty, suspenseful, and brimming with fantastical elements that require suspension of disbelief. The series takes place in an alternate reality version of Britain in 1985, and the protagonist (Thursday Next) is a literary detective charged with investigating literary crimes, i.e., crimes against books. In this version of reality, people really, really love books, and the main villains are those who seek to alter classic literature forever.
But it goes even further; characters from books can be brought to the real world, and vice versa. During the series, Thursday learns how to jump into the Bookworld, which is sort of an overworld for all of fiction. Characters from every novel mingle and work together to preserve their individual worlds. Each time a reader opens a book, the characters from that book jump back inside to act out their story. Thursday passes through this world as she investigates crimes and tries to prevent certain stories from being altered, meeting a colorful cast of fictional characters in the process.
There have been 7 books written so far, and in the 6th book, One of our Thursdays is Missing, Fforde includes a Map of Fiction Island, which is part of the Bookworld. In this map, you can see Fforde’s trademark wit and attention to detail as he charts an island where all fictional genres coexist.
I think he’s done a pretty good job of mapping all the literary genres, which is no easy feat considering the blurred lines between some of them. Sci Fi blends into Fantasy, which then leads to Horror. How does one tell the difference between some of these? Horror includes many fantastical elements, such as werewolves and vampires, but it generally follows a vastly different mood from fantasy. Spy novels and political novels are also similar in many ways, but the heroic, independent figure at the center is what makes something a spy novel.
Some of the little touches on the map are great, like the hand holding a knife jutting out from the Crime region, and the hands either struggling to escape or attempting to strangle a victim from the Horror region. I also like the little bit of subtle social commentary at the bottom, moving from Vanity Island, to Fan Fiction, to School Essay, to MPs Expenses. Replace “MP” with congressman or senator, and it makes more sense to American ears.
Setting a world in an alternate reality where literature is of primary importance, and the world of literature is alive and accessible, opens up the series to nearly endless possibilities. Thursday Next is one of my inspirations in writing my novel, Map of Daggers. In that world, maps are of primary importance, and people communicate more through maps rather than written words. The most talented cartographer is the most popular, celebrated man in the kingdom. And a certain mysterious map provides insights into hidden truths.
In our world, most people don’t seem to place much interest in literature or maps for their own sake. So for those of us who do enjoy such things, it is refreshing to jump into a fictional world that shares our passion.