Offering Literary Tributes


Most writers are avid readers, and most have encountered books that forever stand out in their imaginations. Tributes to these hallmark works may come in many fashions, not least of which is their inclusion in a novel of one’s own.

In The Penderwicks of Gardham Street, the author (Jeanne Birdsall) gives a nod to several well-known writers–she weaves in references to CS Lewis, E. Nesbit, and other authors whose works I assume she admired. One of Birdsall’s characters dreams of having experiences such as the Pevensies had in Narnia with Aslan, or adventuring with Psammead like the siblings in The Five Children and It. Birdsall is far from the first to offer a literary nod to other authors. In fact, I’ve noticed an increasing number of writers tipping their hats to their predecessors.

This sign of respect may be as subtle as the names of minor characters or settings or as blatant as the direct references in the Penderwicks stories. In fantasy, it’s more rare to find a direct reference–instead, it’s more likely to be discreet, like Peterson’s inclusion of Tollers and Tumnus in the royal family lineage of the Wingfeather Saga.

As someone who loves books, I appreciate this subtle form of respect for great authors who have taken ground in a genre or those who have personally impacted the writer. Of course, it can be done poorly, in a way that doesn’t add to the story, but for the most part, I find it enjoyable to stumble across those references and reminders of other fictive worlds I’ve enjoyed.

Have you noticed this trend? Does this practice break the fictive dream for you or enhance the reading experience?


  • Rebecca LuElla Miller
    September 1, 2011 - 2:53 pm · Reply

    I hadn’t thought of it as a trend, but I suppose when a growing number start doing it, that’s exactly what it is. I like it when it’s done well, too. I don’t always notice because I may not be as well read as the author, but when I do, I think it’s fun. I don’t like it when it is out of place and obvious. That definitely pulls me from the story.

    I recently read one of G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown stories and in it he referred to something as … elf and dwarf drums. I thought, that’s simply his nod to Tolkien. I liked seeing the influence of the Inklings even in that short piece of description.


    • Sarah Sawyer
      September 7, 2011 - 1:09 pm · Reply

      The more I notice these sorts of references, the more I wonder how many others have passed by me unnoticed. Every writer has their own list of influential authors, and as you said, they’re not always ones I’ve read.

      What’s also interesting to me is how the Inklings referred to writers they respected in their works, much in the same way we see today. It’s not a new concept, but it seems to be happening more frequently.

  • Shannon McDermott
    September 3, 2011 - 2:24 am · Reply

    I did not notice Peterson’s nod to Lewis and Tolkien. Was that in Monster in the Hollows? I finished that book earlier this week; it packed quite a punch at the end. Poor Artham.

    I haven’t noticed this trend like you have, but I’m all for it. I always love to discover inside jokes or subtle references in movies and books. It’s fun. It can also be fascinating to learn what was playing through the author’s mind.

    • Sarah Sawyer
      September 7, 2011 - 1:11 pm · Reply

      Yes, it was in the back of the book, where Peterson depicted the royal family tree. I thought it was a nice touch. 🙂

      And I’m in agreement with you–Monster in the Hollows had a powerful ending. I’m looking forward to discussing it in more detail during our upcoming blog tour.

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