Do You Like the Story So Far?: Metafiction in Barthelme’s Snow White

snowwhite1When Donald Barthelme took popular characters (Batman and the Joker) and placed them in unusual, postmodern situations in his short story “The Joker’s Greatest Triumph” (1967), he was doing something new: taking an old, familiar story and turning it inside out. He did something as daring when he reinvented the story of Snow White in his 1967 novel of the same name.

The importance of these literary experiments can be seen in the influence they have had on generations of writers. Now reinventions of popular stories (such as the inversion of the superhero comic in Alan Moore’s Watchmen) and retellings of fairy tales (like Gregory Maguire’s Wicked) are as common as a cold, but when my paperback edition of Snow White was reprinted in 1971, the experiment was unusual enough to warrant this statement on the back: “Donald Barthelme’s Snow White is not the fairy tale you remember. But it’s the one you will never forget.”

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Tristram Shandy ****s Up the Page

Shockingly audacious even today, Tristram Shandy was printed in installments from 1759 to 1769, about two hundred and fifty years ago. Laurence Sterne misuses the stuff novels are made of — the ink, the symbols, the pages, the fly-leafs — to make readers aware of the materiality of the book. Flipping through the novel you will come across a totally black page, front and back. I say totally black, but only the part of the page where the text normally appears is blacked out. The block of ink is framed by normal margins and includes page numbers (33 and 34 in my edition). The motivation for this famous black page is the exclamation “Alas, poor YORICK!”, which appears twice on the previous page.

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