We get that you hate that earlier writer. Stop kicking him, okay?

Nobody writes in a vacuum. (Okay, there was that one guy in Sumeria who invented cuneiform, but he was the last one.) Every author starts off as a reader, and while some take up the writing craft because they’ve been inspired by the work of their predecessors, others write to refute the themes and messages of others’ work, as though having arguments with dead men. Sometimes this leads to inspired works of literature; other times it’s just tacky.

Any particularly tacky examples spring to your mind?

My nomination is Philip Pullman. His mid-90s’ fantasy series, His Dark Materials, was marketed as being the “anti-Narnia,” and he’s on record as saying he dislikes the theist themes of Lewis’ work. That’s his privilege, of course, and for most part the series is excellent, whether you agree with Pullman’s anticlerical bias or not. But one scene in the third book, The Amber Spyglass, was so overtly a response to the final volume of The Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle that it jarred me out of the story:

Using a “subtle knife” that can open doors between world’s, the story’s two adolescent protagonists, Lyra and Will, have organized an escape from the Land of the Dead. Meanwhile, Lyra’s estranged father is leading a rebellion against “the Authority”–basically God, or rather a mighty angel who has convinced everyone else in the universe that he is the creator, and now rules as a cruel despot.

While both the living children and the vast majority of the dead spirits see the LotD as a grim, colorless, thoroughly horrid expanse, a few ghosts–the only ones who voice any faith in the Authority–claim that everyone else is deluded, and that the landscape is a beautiful land of plenty.

The bit with the minority-opinion ghosts seemed tacked on to me, and very odd; it doesn’t add anything to the narrative. However, after a moment’s thought, I realized that Pullman was inverting a similar scene in The Last Battle, in which recently-deceased friends of Narnia, inside a stable that leads to Heaven, see a beautiful table laden with a delicious feast, while unbelievers can perceive only darkness, dirty water, and rotting straw.

The similarities between the two scenes is too great to be coincidental, especially given that Pullman has been known to criticize Lewis for “sending Susan Pevensie to hell for liking makeup.” I can’t see any point to including this bit. It makes no sense to anyone who hasn’t already read the Chronicles, and for those who have read the earlier work, it disrupts the story to no advantage.

What about the rest of you, Dopers–any examples of a writer directly attacking another author in the middle of a story you want to share?

Alternatively, if the earlier writer deserves it, you could kick him harder.

Frank Miller seems to really hate Superman, so in a way his attacks on Superman are jabs at the people who wrote him.

Hear, hear!

There is a run-of-the-mill military SF series called “Starfist” written by a couple ex-mil guys. I picked up the first book in the series when it came out and what do I find in the first couple chapters but a blatant shot at Libertarian SF writer L Niel Smith.
Now, I’ve always considered L Niel Smith to be a bit on the crackpot side (well, maybe more than a bit) but is he actually important enough to name the race of villains after in your very first book and basically spend the whole book trying to bash his ideas? Particularly in a book that is supposed to be rock-em, sock-em mil-sf?

One of Terry Pratchett’s ‘city watch’ books has a running joke where Nobby Nobbs (iirc) keeps trying to explain a pun but only gets as far as “that is a pune or play on words…” before everybody shouts him down. I took that as a dig at Piers Anthony.

Oh but ol’ Piers deserves to be kicked. And hard.

Heh. I hated The Last Battle, and thought it would have been funny for Lyra and Will to meet those smug little buggers the Pevensies in The Land Of The Dead.

“Buck up, Lu”, said Peter sternly. “Aslan will be along shortly, you’ll see.”

“Oh, stop talking rot!”, snapped Edmund. “You’ve been saying that since 1954.”

True. Also frequently.

In Happy to Be Here, Garrison Keillor wrote an essay critical of Richard Brautigan, in Brautigan’s style. Ungentlemanly, but kinda funny.

In Happy to Be Here, Garrison Keillor wrote an essay critical of Richard Brautigan, in Brautigan’s style. Ungentlemanly, but kinda funny.

Back in the 1930s, Corey Ford, writing as John Riddell, (a “clever rearrangement” of the letters in his name) did a monthly series of “reviews” of popular books of the day as parodies of their styles and voices. One of the best series of humor pieces ever. (Collected as The John Riddell Murder Case, Meaning No Offense, and In the Worst Possible Taste.)

In the 1940s Wolcott Gibbs of The New Yorker wrote a profile of Henry Luce, founder of Time magazine, entirely in the bizarre editorial style that Time then used. (Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind. Where it will all end knows god.) Luce wasn’t amused.

Nothing is new under the sun.

Mark Twain’s kicking of James Fenimore Cooper is legendary, and well-deserved. Of course, no one reads Cooper anymore nowadays.

Edward Abbey seemed to have a bit of the love/hate thing with Henry Thoreau, as evidenced by some of his essays in “Down the River”. At least, that’s what I got out of it. Lots of people like to compare the two…I think he was exploring their differences.

This probably doesn’t count. Never mind.

A link to the full text: Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses. Laugh-out-loud funny, and one of the greatest critical essays in the English language.

plus there are places in Twain’s fiction, such as the infamous ending of Huckleberry Finn, that I see as kicking the kind of cheesy adventure stories Tom Sawyer would have read.

That’s brilliant.

Hey, I read Cooper!

Of course, I’m a nerd of legendary proportions.

So, did you find Twain’s analysis to be on target?

I can’t prove the relation, but I always took Cervantes’ line “Let none presume to tell me the pen is mightier than the sword,” to be a dig at ol’ Will.