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I was recently re-reading Grant Morrison’s The Multiversity series, and it dawned on me that one of his books was an almost page-by-page ripoff of something I had read years earlier, like when I was maybe five.

The Multiversity is a nine-part comic event published by DC Comics comprised of a two-issue main series, six one-shot stand-alone issues, and a guidebook.

(https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/9/98/TheMultiversity1.jpg)

One of the one-shots was titled, Ultra Comics #1 (https://static.wikia.nocookie.net/marvel_dc/images/3/3c/The_Multiversity_Ultra_Comics_Vol_1_1.jpg) As Ultraa warns:

Only you can save the world If you value your lives You must NOT read this comic!

The entire comic book itself, being held in the readers’ hands then becomes the conceit of The Multiversity’s plot.

According to Wikipedia, Morrison describes the Ultra Comics #1 one-shot as:

Morrison describes this book as "the most advanced thing I've ever done. I’m so excited about this. I’m just taking something that used to be done in comics and captions that they don't do anymore and turning it into a technique, a weapon, but beyond that I don't want to say. It's a haunted comic book, actually, it's the most frightening thing anyone will ever read. It's actually haunted—if you read this thing, you'll become possessed."

The idea is that the book’s narrator, Ultraa, begins to realize there is something wrong not just with the plot of the comic but with the comic itself — there is a monster at the end of the book.

It was an interesting conceit, and a great tool to use by the guy known for breaking the fourth wall in his Animal Man series. But, I couldn’t get rid of this feeling that I’ve seen it before…

1971’s The Monster at the End of the Book, starring Grover the Muppet: (https://iamchiaravalli.medium.com/the-monster-at-the-end-of-this-book-feaa184a541e)

As far I I am aware, Monster at the End of the Book, while not being the first to break the fourth wall of fiction, is the oldest I know of that places the reader as the protagonist at center of the story’s conflict, and ultimately the party responsible for resolving the plot’s conflict.

Does anyone know of earlier work to use this conceit?

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  • 2
    do consider diary-style narrations "breaking the fourth wall"? Gulliver's Travels addresses the reader several times for example. Shout out to TV Tropes for citing Dante's Divine Comedy as an example as well - directly addressing the reader and instructing them to go read other things to learn more. War of the Worlds talks to the reader, etc...just looking for some clarity on if you mean merely breaking the 4th wall or 'choose your own adventure'
    – NKCampbell
    Oct 1, 2021 at 13:45
  • 1
    @NKCampbell To clarify: yes, I was looking for earliest “choose-your-own adventure” not merely earliest to break the fourth wall through some manner of incidental participation or vague or ambiguous reader reference or participation. Thanks. Oct 1, 2021 at 13:56
  • 2
    Choose your own adventure is closely related to interactive fiction. Tho pioneer in this genre was the Colossal Cave Adventure program, often abbreviated ADVENT. This was followed by Dungeon, Zork, and a score of Infocom games. Oct 2, 2021 at 17:20
  • Good points and history. I was not seeking out games per se, or as these interactive fiction items evolved. Rather I was primarily looking for early examples of a specific interactive revelation conceit in prose. Admittedly the line between game and interactive fiction can be murky at times. Oct 2, 2021 at 17:54
  • 1
    Hmm... I was going to point out the 1911 publication of Peter Pan, but rereading it, the "clap your hands" scene is not addressed directly to the reader, but rather referencing all children "dreaming of Neverland".
    – FuzzyBoots
    Oct 3, 2021 at 15:18

5 Answers 5

33

1938's "The House of Ecstasy" by Ralph Milne Farley.
It's a second person narration telling of an encounter with a dwarf hypnotist and a beautiful girl. The story is that the encounter actually happened to the reader but the hypnotist made them forget it.

This actually happened to you. I mean you - holding this book now and reading these very words.

1
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    This seems to be the oldest example for what I was interested in finding. Thanks! Oct 1, 2021 at 21:44
13

Maybe 1954 E. E. "Doc" Smith Children of the Lens? It is conceived as a (very long) message from Level-Three Guardians to the reader - the "Entity Able to Obtain and to Read It".

EPILOGUE

To you who have scanned this report, further greetings.

[...]

You already know that Civilization is again threatened seriously. You probably know something of the basic nature of that threat. While studying this tape you have become informed that the situation is sufficiently grave to have made it again necessary to force certain selected minds prematurely into the third level of Lensmanship.

[...]

One of us will enter en rapport with you as soon as you have assimilated the facts, the connotations, and the implications of this material. Prepare your mind for contact.

Christopher K. Kinnison

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  • This is great! Thank you. Oct 1, 2021 at 13:28
  • I don't see that as actually addressed to the reader of the book, but to whatever entities will replace the current guardians. Rather, this is a form of cliffhanger, indicating another book in the series. (Alas, never written as he died before it would have been possible to publish such a work. Back then the incestuous origins of level three guardians would have kept it from being published.) Oct 4, 2021 at 5:04
6

While not written in second person like a "choose your own adventure" story, The Man Who Folded Himself (David Gerrold, 1973) is a fine example of a story told by the protagonist, to the protagonist.

Daniel James Eakins inherits a shoe box when his uncle dies -- the uncle who had repeatedly told him he was a millionaire, living on a trust fund. In the shoe box, says the lawyer, is Uncle Dan's entire fortune.

It's a belt, and a thick sheaf of typewritten manuscript.

So begins one of the most thorough explorations of time travel ever written (rivaled only by Heinlein's The Door Into Summer and "All You Zombies"), told as the manuscript in the box. The protagonist (or minor alternate-timeline variants of himself) eventually gets much richer than Uncle Dan ever said, as well as becoming his own father, mother, Uncle Dan, and a cast of literally hundreds at the biggest, longest-running party in all of time.

0

Shakespeare

Back in Shakespeare's day, the fourth wall was at best only a window. Characters monologue extensively to the audience, to reveal their inner thoughts.

In general any questions or statements are rhetorical, of course, but my understanding is that in his day this would have been a highly interactive experience with the audience shouting back. Today we would only consider this normal for pantomime or stand-up comedy, but standards of audience interaction have changed over the years.

More than that though, most of his plays start and finish by addressing the audience directly. And looking at other plays of the time, this was pretty much standard.

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  • Do you happen to have a YeOleTube link to one of his performances? Oct 4, 2021 at 11:33
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I cannot put my hand to it at the moment but "Squares Of The City" is a choice led story. You are a detective working for Mitzi Law to solve a crime. After each episode you answer questions and then jump to an appropriate page to continue. It was published as a paperback which was slim to start with. By reading only part of it the story then becomes quite short.

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  • Never mind the issue of whether this is SF/F or not, it obviously shouldn't be confused with The Squares of the City by John Brunner (1965), which was very much NOT choose-your-own, fourth wall breaking, nor told in second person/addressed to the reader.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Oct 3, 2021 at 15:10
  • You are correct "(The) Squares Of The City" is not SF.
    – Furlouhg0
    Oct 5, 2021 at 3:31

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