William Goldman's The Princess Bride is famous (among other reasons) for a literary device it employs - it pretends to be an abridgment (or "the good parts version") of a longer work by S. Morgenstern, and Goldman's "commentary" asides are constant throughout.

Of course, Morgenstern and his book do not exist.

Was pretending to be an abridgement of a made-up work invented by William Goldman as a literary device for published literature? If not, where did it originate and what is its history?


1 Answer 1


Much of J.R.R. Tolkien's work is presented as an abridgment/translation of the "original", usually in Elvish. Much of The Silmarillion is presented as a gloss of epic poems, some of which Tolkien partly wrote, and Lord of the Rings is supposed to be a translation of the Red Book of Westmarch.

Dune is similarly a re-telling of stories from books, many of which are excerpted as chapter headings.

Fictional diaries are a very old device; just off the top of my head is Nikolai Gogol's 1835 Diary of a Madman. These are at least tacitly abridged, as they rarely contain a lot of the dull day-to-day stuff in real diaries. Similarly, the epistolary novel (collections of fictional letters, again at least tacitly edited) is an old device, dating back at least to the 17th century. (The original novel of Dangerous Liaisons was such an epistolary novel.)

The device is undoubtedly much older; medieval examples wouldn't surprise me. But I do know that Goldman wasn't unique.

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    More examples for a "translated older work" would be Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose (as a rather new one) or Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto from the 18th century. But yeah, the gist of it is that it's quite an old and common practice. Jan 20, 2017 at 23:59
  • Thomas Mallory uses "as the French book rehearseth" a lot, this way. But he is referring to actual texts. Aug 8, 2020 at 13:22
  • Ironically enough, as C.S. Lewis observed, Chaucer frequently said, "as I find in my source," when he was diverging from the work he translated.
    – Mary
    Aug 8, 2020 at 13:39
  • James Branch Cabell's 1919 fantasy novel Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice may be an example of the sort of thing you're asking about.
    – user14111
    Aug 9, 2020 at 2:46

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