I recently had a reviewer wonder why I’d included so many references to H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe, and I didn’t immediately blog anything in explanation because I worried I would be giving away important plot details for later books if I did. But I’ve just found a wonderful short vampire story by Gahan Wilson, called The Sea Was Wet As Wet Could Be, and not only did I love it, it also allowed me the perfect forum in which to discuss literary references in modern fiction.
Sometimes authors chuck in random references to classics in order to appear more intelligent or, God forbid, just to show off. But sometimes you simply find a classic piece that perfectly mirrors your own, and using it to plant clues for your readers can be irresistible and quite effective.
In The Sea Was Wet As Wet Could Be, Wilson masterfully uses Lewis Carroll’s poem The Walrus and the Carpenter (one of my personal favourites) as a road map for the reader to navigate his story. I don’t want to go into specifics here in case you get the chance to read this brilliant piece for yourself, because spoilers would quite literally destroy the cleverness of the story. Let me just say that early on in the tale certain parallels between his situation and the poem strike the main character so powerfully that throughout what follows he is actively looking for more similarities, and we, as readers, begin to do the same thing. If you know the poem in advance you find yourself racing ahead of Wilson, and drawing conclusions on how his story will end based entirely upon the direction of the poem. It’s a powerful, evocative method of storytelling, and one I haven’t found in fiction as often as I’d like. Maybe that’s why this one spoke to me.
In the Dark series, I was planning to use a similar method, to a lesser extent, with the Lovecraft overtures. While it won’t be adhering to the Lovecraft work so closely as Wilson’s story did the poem (and probably won’t be done as well, lol), I did plan to suggest certain themes with these references. If you really want to try and race ahead of me and guess what Atwater’s up to, what the strange new blood is, and what the lab might be for, then think about some of Lovecraft’s intrinsic themes. The clues, or at least some of them, are already there.