Jasper Fforde on the Relation of Information Technology and Narrative

In The Well of Lost Plots and his other novels set in an alternative universe in which fictional characters and real people move between this real world and the world of fiction, Jasper Fforde creates comedy from many ideas accepted by both eighteenth-century Neoclassical and twentieth-century Poststructuralist literary theorists — not as one might expect by mocking these ideas but by dramatizing them, by making them the stuff of his plots. In particular, Fforde, like any good neoclassicist, rejects romantic and modernist notions of creativity and originality: according to him, literature, especially storytelling, is a technology employing lots of off-the-shelf parts. As Miss Havisham explains at one point, all characters begin as generic types that authors then modify and embellish as they wish. Plots, too, have a limited number of possibilities, and this turns out to threatens literature as we know it. Most important media and infotech should be thought of as technologies, for as Wordmaster Xavier Libris explains Story Operating Systems,

First there was OralTrad, upgraded ten thousand years later by the rhyming (for easier recall) OralTradPlus. For thousands of years this was the only Story Operating System and it is still in use today. The system branched in two about twenty thousand years ago; on one side with CaveDaub Pro (forerunner of Paint Plus V2.3, GrecianUrn VI.2, Sculpt- Marble VI.4 and the latest, all-encompassing Super Artistic Expression-5). The other strand, the Picto-Phonetic Storytelling Systems, started with ClayTablet V2.1 and went through several competing systems (Wax-Tablet, Papyrus, VellumPlus) before merging into the award-winning SCROLL, which was upgraded eight times to V3.5 before being swept aside by the all new and clearly superior BOOK VI. Stable, easy to store and transport, compact and with a workable index, BOOK has led the way for nearly eighteen hundred years.

When we first came up with the 'page' con- cept in BOOK VI, we thought we'd reached the zenith of story containment — compact, easy to read, and by using integrated PageNumberTM and SpineTitleTM technologies, we had a system of indexing far superior to anything SCROLL could offer. Over the years . . . . we have been refining the BOOK system. Illustrations were the first upgrade at 1.1, standardized spelling at V3.1 and vowel and irregular verb stability in V4.2. Today we use BOOK V8.3, one of the most stable and complex imaginotransference technologies ever devised — the smooth transfer of the written word into the reader's imagination has never been faster.

Related Materials


Ford, Jasper. The Well of Lost Plots. Penguin, 2003.

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Last modified 27 January 2005