Books: Six Walks in the Fictional Woods
Six Walks in the Fictional Woods,
by Umberto Eco.
In my recent review of Peter Rabbit I spoke about the dangers of “AI Arrogance” and the embarrassment of Narrative AI research that is done without an up-to-date understanding of narrative theory. Now I must confess that I am not as well informed in this area as I might be. I have attempted on several occasions to read some of the canonical books in this area (Booth, Genette, Brooks) and found them rather dry and hard going. Perhaps it is true of any creative discipline: there are those who are engaging authors and those who are skilled theoreticians.
Umberto Eco is the rare exception, the insightful analyst who is able to express his ideas with clarity and humor. This slim volume manages exactly that. While it is no text-book and will not provide you with a catalogue of current thought, it does provide an interesting and enjoyable journey through several of the puzzles that narrative theory raises: ideal readers and ideal authors, the distinction between fabula, suzjet and discourse, pacing, flash-forwards and -backs, and the role of counterfactual in narrative understanding. For all of these topics it provides references to more comprehensive works, should you wish to follow them further.
I thoroughly recommend this book as a starting place for anyone who wants to start digging into serious narrative theory, or who just likes thinking about story and wants an engaging read. The fictional woods are a delightful place and Eco is an amiable guide.