The best books cast a spell over readers, inviting them to forget that the world they’re invested in is the result of the author’s imagination. But this becomes exponentially harder to do when novelists decide to write themselves into their fiction, breaking the trance and reminding everyone there is no magic in the world. It’s somewhat cruel. Here are seven examples where fictional characters literally met their maker.
1. Stephen King
The prolific King considers the eight-volume Dark Tower series his magnum opus, with many of his other novels referencing characters or situations from the fantasy saga. In book six, Song of Susannah, King introduces himself as an author who is writing about gunslinger Roland’s road to the titular destination; the Crimson King repeatedly tries to kill King in an effort to stop the story from continuing. Adding meta on top of an already precarious pile of meta, he even attempts to rub out the author in 1999 via an automobile accident; the “real” King was seriously injured when a van hit him that same year.
2. Grant Morrison
Celebrated comic book writer Morrison put DC’s little-known Animal Man title on the map when he broke the fourth wall and made the character cognizant of the fact that he was just a drawing on paper. In issue #25, Morrison appears as himself to engage in a dialogue with the hero, apologizing for what he perceives to be a lackluster job of writing his exploits. “There’s not enough space in your world,” he tells the character, voicing Morrison’s own critique of the comics medium. “Things have to be concise ... there’s no room for anything important.” When Morrison departs, Animal Man is, naturally, left without anything to say.
3. Bret Easton Ellis
Ellis’s works of nihilism—American Psycho and The Rules of Attraction—awarded him a fair amount of notoriety. For 2005’s Lunar Park, Ellis decided to up the ante by starring in his own mock memoir. Though some parts echo reality (both real and fictional Ellis share a history of drug use), in Park, the author plunges off the deep end, engaging in an affair and inhabiting a haunted mansion. The response to the use of Ellis's alter ego was mixed, and The Boston Globe called it “wretched.”
4. Clive Cussler
Cussler’s Dirk Pitt novels revolve around a seafaring adventurer with a fleet of collectible cars; the requisite action, espionage, and intrigue ensue. Often, Pitt receives assistance from an older gentleman named Clive Cussler who offers equipment, advice, or clues. In a nod to Cussler’s bizarre insertions, the characters often don’t recall him from one novel to another.
5. W. Somerset Maugham
Famed for Of Human Bondage and 1944’s The Razor’s Edge, Maugham appears in the latter to interact with several of his characters, including the tortured World War I veteran who has trouble finding meaning in life. In the text, Maugham sits down with him to act as an advisor on matters of spirituality; the conversation takes up an entire chapter, the result of Maugham traveling to India several years prior and becoming interested in meditative philosophy.
6. Douglas Coupland
Having labeled an entire cultural divide with his breakout novel, Generation X, Coupland went on to establish a reputation as an explorer of humanity in a technologically-obsessed society. In 2006’s JPod, about a group of video game programmers fighting inertia, Coupland appears as himself, albeit a bit of a jerk: he steals data off a character’s laptop and implies he has a dead body to get rid of. Coupland’s appearance is foreshadowed in the novel’s opening line, where one character whines that “I feel like a refugee from a Douglas Coupland novel.”
7. Philip Roth
Pulitzer Prize winner Roth, 81, has often used his work to explore how intertwined the author becomes with his prose. He lost the subtext with 1993’s Operation Shylock: A Confession, which features “Philip Roth” traveling to Israel and becoming preoccupied with an imposter—marking possibly the first time an author has written himself into one novel twice over. The real Roth and one of the fictional doubles both suffered a post-operative nervous breakdown as a result of a bad reaction to a sedative; Roth told press, tongue likely in cheek, that the book was not a work of fiction but that it was in his best interests to say so.
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