The well of lost plots, p.1
The Well of Lost Plots, p.1Part #3 of Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde
The Well of Lost Plots
For Mari Who makes the torches burn brighter
A wise man wants for only nourishing cabbage soup; seek not other things. Except perhaps a toaster.
– from the teachings of St Zvlkx™
the wisdom of St Zvlkx™ is wholly owned by
the Toast Marketing Board
Thursday Next: the story so far …
Swindon, Wessex, England, circa 1985. SpecOps is the agency responsible for policing areas considered too specialised to be tackled by the regular force, and Thursday Next is attached to the literary detectives at SpecOps 27. Following the successful return of Jane Eyre to the novel of the same name, vanquishing master criminal Acheron Hades and bringing peace to the Crimean peninsula, she finds herself a minor celebrity.
On the trail of the seemingly miraculous discovery of the lost Shakespeare play Cardenio, she crosses swords with Yorrick Kaine, escapee from fiction and neo-fascist politician. She also finds herself blackmailed by the vast multinational known as the Goliath Corporation, who want their operative Jack Schitt out of Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Raven' in which he was imprisoned. To achieve this they call on Lavoisier, a corrupt member of the time-travelling SpecOps elite, the ChronoGuard, to kill off Thursday's husband. Travelling back thirty-eight years, Lavoisier engineers a fatal accident for the two-year-old Landen, but leaves Thursday's memories of him intact – she finds herself the only person who knows he once lived.
In an attempt to rescue her eradicated husband, she finds a way to enter fiction itself – and discovers that not only is there a policing agency within the BookWorld known as Jurisfiction, but that she has been apprenticed as a trainee agent to Miss Havisham of Great Expectations. With her skills at bookjumping growing under Miss Havisham's stern and often unorthodox tuition, Thursday rescues Jack Schitt, only to discover she has been duped. Goliath have no intention of reactualising her husband, and instead want her to open a door into fiction, something Goliath has decided is a 'rich untapped marketplace' for their varied but ultimately worthless products and services.
Thursday, pregnant with Landen's child and pursued by Goliath and Acheron's little sister Aornis, an evil genius with a penchant for clothes shopping and memory modification, decides to enter the BookWorld and retire temporarily to the place where all fiction is created: the Well of Lost Plots. Taking refuge in an unpublished book of dubious quality as part of the Character Exchange Programme, she thinks she will have a quiet time.
Extract from Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (copyright © Evelyn Waugh 1945) by permission of Peters, Fraser and Dunlop on behalf of the Evelyn Waugh Trust and the Estate of Laura Waugh.
Reference to the Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling (copyright © The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty) by kind permission of A. P. Watt Ltd.
References to Shadow the Sheepdog by Enid Blyton by kind permission of Enid Blyton Limited and with thanks to Chorion plc.
Frederick Warne & Co. is the owner of all rights, copyrights and trademarks in the Beatrix Potter character names and illustrations.
Extract from Tiger Tiger (copyright © Alfred Bester 1955) by kind permission of the Estate of Alfred Bester and The Sayle Literary Agency.
1. The absence of breakfast
2. Inside Caversham Heights
3. Three witches, multiple choice and sarcasm
4. Landen Parke-Laine
5. The Well of Lost Plots
6. Night of the grammasites
7. Feeding the minotaur
8. Ton sixty on the A419
9. Apples Benedict, a hedgehog and Commander Bradshaw
10. Jurisfiction session number 40319
11. Introducing UltraWord™
12. Wuthering Heights
13. Reservoir near the Church of St Stephen
14. Educating the Generics
15. Landen Parke-somebody
16. Captain Nemo
17. Minotaur trouble
18. Snell Rest in Peece and Lucy Deane
19. Shadow the Sheepdog
20. Ibb and Obb named and Heights again
21. Who stole the tarts?
22. Crimean nightmares
23. Jurisfiction session number 40320
24. Pledges, the Council of Genres and searching for Deane
25. Havisham: the final bow
26. Post-Havisham blues
27. The lighthouse at the edge of my mind
28. Lola departs and Heights again
29. Mrs Bradshaw and Solomon (Judgements) Inc.
31. Tables turned
32. The 923rd Annual BookWorld Awards
34. Loose ends
This book has been bundled with Special Features including: the 'making of' wordamentary, deleted scenes from all three books, out-takes and much more. To access all these free bonus features, log on to: www.jasperfforde.com/specialfeatures.html and enter the code word as directed.
The absence of breakfast
* * *
'The Well of Lost Plots: To understand the Well you have to have an idea of the layout of the Great Library. The library is where all published fiction is stored so it can be read by the readers in the Outland; there are twenty-six floors, one for each letter of the alphabet. The library is constructed in the layout of a cross with the four corridors radiating from the centre point. On all the walls, end after end, shelf after shelf, are books. Hundreds, thousands, millions of books. Hardbacks, paperbacks, leather-bound, everything. But beneath the Great Library are twenty-six floors of dingy yet industrious sub-basements known as the Well of Lost Plots. This is where books are constructed, honed and polished in readiness for a place in the library above. But the similarity of all these books to the copies we read back home is no more than the similarity a photograph has to its subject; these books are alive.'
THURSDAY NEXT – The Jurisfiction Chronicles
Making one's home in an unpublished novel wasn't without its compensations. All the boring day-to-day mundanities that we conduct in the real world get in the way of narrative flow and are thus generally avoided. The car didn't need refuelling, there were never any wrong numbers, there was always enough hot water, and vacuum-cleaner bags came in only two sizes – upright and pull-along. There were other, more subtle differences, too. For instance, no one ever needed to repeat themselves in case you didn't hear, no one shared the same name, talked at the same time or had a word annoyingly 'on the tip of their tongue'. Best of all, the bad guy was always someone you knew of and – Chaucer aside – there wasn't much farting. But there were some downsides. The relative absence of breakfast was the first and most notable difference to my daily timetable. Inside books, dinners are often written about and therefore feature frequently, as do lunches and afternoon tea; probably because they offer more opportunities to further the story. Breakfast wasn't all that was missing. There was a peculiar lack of cinemas, wallpaper, toilets, colours, books, animals, underwear, smells, haircuts and, strangely enough, minor illnesses. If someone was ill in a book it was either terminal and dramatically unpleasant or a mild head cold – there wasn't much in between.
I was able to take up residence inside fiction by virtue of a scheme entitled the Character Exchange Programme. Owing to a spate of bored and disgruntled bookpeople escaping from their novels and becoming what we called 'PageRunners', the authorities set up the scheme to allow characters a change of scenery. In any year there are close to ten thousand exchanges, few of which result in any major plot or dialogue infringements – the reader rarely suspects anything at all.
The choice of book for my self-enforced exile had not been arbitrary; when Miss Havisham asked me in which novel I would care to reside I had thought long and hard. Robinson Crusoe would have been ideal considering the climate but there was no one female to exchange with. I could have gone to Pride and Prejudice but I wasn't wild about high collars, bonnets, corsets – and delicate manners. No, to avoid any complications and reduce the possibility of having to move, I had decided to make my home in a book of such dubious and uneven quality that publication and my subsequent enforced ejection were unlikely in the extreme. I found just such a book deep within the Well of Lost Plots among failed attempts at prose and half-finished epics of such dazzling ineptness that they would never see the light of day. The book was a dreary crime thriller set in Reading entitled Caversham Heights. I had planned to stay there for only a year but it didn't work out that way. Plans with me are like De Floss novels – try as you might, you never know quite how they are going to turn out.
I read my way into Caversham Heights. The air felt warm after the wintry conditions back home and I found myself standing on a wooden jetty at the edge of a lake. In front of me there was a large and seemingly derelict flying boat of the sort that still plied the coastal routes back home. I had flown on one myself not six months before on the trail of someone claiming to have found some unpublished Burns poetry. But that was another lifetime ago, when I was with SpecOps in Swindon, the world I had temporarily left behind.
I donned a pair of dark glasses and stared at the ancient flying boat, which rocked gently in the breeze, tautening the mooring ropes and creaking gently. As I watched the old aircraft, wondering just how long something this decrepit could stay afloat, a well-dressed young woman stepped out of an oval-shaped door in the high-sided hull. She was carrying a suitcase. I had read Caversham Heights so I knew Mary well, although she didn't know me.
'Hello!' she shouted, trotting up and offering me a hand. 'I'm Mary. You must be Thursday. My goodness! What's that?'
'A dodo. Her name's Pickwick.'
Pickwick plocked and stared at Mary suspiciously.
'Really?' she replied, looking at the bird curiously. 'I'm no expert, of course, but … I thought dodos were extinct.'
'Where I come from they're a bit of a pest.'
'Oh?' mused Mary. 'I'm not sure I've heard of a book with live dodos in it.'
'I'm not a bookperson,' I told her, 'I'm real.'
'Oh!' exclaimed Mary, opening her eyes wide. 'An Outlander.'
She touched me inquisitively with a slender index finger, as though I might be made of glass.
'I've never seen someone from the other side before,' she announced, clearly relieved to find that I wasn't going to shatter into a thousand pieces. 'Tell me, is it true you have to cut your hair on a regular basis? I mean, your hair actually grows?'
'Yes.' I smiled. 'And my fingernails, too.'
'Really?' Mary reflected. 'I've heard rumours about that but I thought it was just one of those Outlandish legends. I suppose you have to eat, too? To stay alive, I mean, not just when the story calls for it?'
'One of the great pleasures of life,' I assured her.
I didn't think I'd tell her about the real-world downsides such as tooth decay, incontinence or old age. Mary lived in a three-year window and neither aged, died, married, had children, got sick nor changed in any way. Although appearing resolute and strong minded she was only like this because she was written that way. For all her qualities, Mary was simply a foil to Jack Spratt, the detective in Caversham Heights, the loyal sergeant figure to whom Jack explained things so the readers knew what was going on. She was what writers called an expositional, but I'd never be as impolite as to say so to her face.
'Is this where I'm going to live?'
I was pointing at the shabby flying boat.
'I know what you're thinking.' Mary smiled proudly. 'Isn't she just the most beautiful thing ever? She's a Sunderland; built in 1943 but last flew in '68. I'm midway through converting her to a houseboat, but don't feel shy if you want to help out. Just keep the bilges pumped out, and if you can run the number-three engine once a month I'd be very grateful – the start-up checklist is on the flight deck.'
'Well – okay,' I muttered.
'Good. I've left a précis of the story taped to the fridge and a rough idea of what you have to say, but don't worry about being word perfect; since we're not published you can say almost anything you want – within reason, of course.'
I thought for a moment.
'I'm new to the Character Exchange Programme,' I said. 'When will I be called to do something?'
'Wyatt is the inbook exchange liaison officer; he'll let you know. Jack might seem gruff to begin with,' continued Mary, 'but he has a heart of gold. If he asks you to drive his Allegro, make sure you depress the clutch fully before changing gear. He takes his coffee black and the love interest between myself and DC Baker is strictly unrequited, is that clear?'
'Very clear,' I returned, thankful I would not have to do any love scenes.
'Good. Did they supply you with all the necessary paperwork, IDs, that sort of thing?'
I patted my pocket and she handed me a scrap of paper and a bunch of keys.
'Good. This is my footnoterphone number in case of emergencies, these are the keys to the flying boat and my BMW. If a loser named Arnold calls, tell him I hope he rots in hell. Any questions?'
'I don't think so.'
'Then we're done. You'll like it here. I'll see you in about a year. So long!'
She gave a cheery wave and walked off up the dusty track. I watched until she was out of sight then sat upon a rickety wooden seat next to a long-dead tub of flowers. I let Pickwick out of her bag. She ruffled her feathers indignantly and blinked in the sunlight. I looked across the lake at the sailing dinghies, which were little more than brightly coloured triangles that tacked backwards and forwards in the distance. Nearer to shore a pair of swans beat their wings furiously and pedalled the water in an attempt to take off, landing almost as soon as they were airborne, and throwing up a long streak of spray on the calm waters. It seemed a lot of effort to go a few hundred yards.
I turned my attention to the flying boat. The layers of paint that covered and protected the riveted hull had partly peeled off, to reveal the colourful livery of long-forgotten airlines. The perspex windows had clouded with age, and high in the massive wing untidy cables hung lazily from the oil-stained cowlings of the three empty engine bays, their safe inaccessibility now a haven for nesting birds. Goliath, Aornis and SpecOps seemed a million miles away – but then, so did Landen. Landen. Memories of my husband were never far away. I thought of all the times we had spent together that hadn't actually happened. All the places we hadn't visited, all the things we hadn't done. He may have been eradicated at the age of two, but I still had our memories – just no one to share them with.
I was interrupted in my thoughts by the sound of a motorcycle approaching. The rider didn't have much control of the vehicle; I was glad that he stopped short of the jetty – his erratic riding may well have led him straight into the lake.
'Hello!' he said cheerfully, removing his helmet to reveal a youngish man with a dark Mediterranean complexion and deep sunken eyes. 'My name's Arnold. I haven't seen you around here before, have I?'
I got up and shook his hand.
'The name's Next. Thursday Next. Character Exchange Programme.'
'Oh, blast!' he muttered. 'Blast and double blast! I suppose that means I've missed her?'
I nodded and he stared up the road, shaking his head sadly.
'Did she leave a message for me?'
'Y-es,' I said uncertainly, 'she said she would – um – see yo
'She did?' replied Arnold, brightening up. 'That's a good sign. Normally she calls me a loser and tells me to go rot in hell.'
'She probably won't be back for a while,' I added, trying to make up for not passing on Mary's message properly, 'maybe a year – maybe more.'
'I see,' he murmured, sighing deeply and staring off across the lake. He caught sight of Pickwick, who was attempting to out-stare a strange aquatic bird with a rounded bill.
'What's that?' he asked suddenly.
'I think it's a duck although I can't be sure – we don't have any where I come from.'
'No, the other thing.'
'What's the matter?' asked Arnold.
I was getting a footnoterphone signal; in the BookWorld people generally communicated like this.
'A footnoterphone call,' I replied, 'but it's not a message – it's like the wireless back home.'2
Arnold stared at me.
'You're not from around here, are you?'
'I'm from what you call the Outland.'3
He opened his eyes wide.
'You mean … you're real?'
'I'm afraid so,' I replied, slightly bemused.
'Goodness! Is it true that Outlanders can't say "Red-Buick-Blue-Buick" many times quickly?'
'It's true. We call it a tongue-twister.'
'Fascinating!' he replied. 'There's nothing like that here, you know. I can say: "The sixth sheikh's sixth sheep's sick" over and over as many times as I want!'
And he did, three times.
'Now you try.'
I took a deep breath.
'The sixth spleeps sics sleeks sick.'
Arnold laughed like a drain. I don't think he'd come across anything quite so funny in his life. I smiled.
'Do it again!' he urged.
'No thanks.4 How do I stop this footnoterphone blabbering inside my skull?'
'Just think "off" very strongly.'
The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde / Fantasy / Humor / Science Fiction / Mystery & Detective have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes