The Preface – What sayest thou?

“A preface is an introduction to the main text of a book, when an author or critic can write directly to the reader.” (

Following is a preface to an ancient story:

You who so plod amid serious things that you feel it shame to give yourself up even for a few short moments to mirth and joyousness in the land of Fancy; you who think that life hath nought to do with innocent laughter that can harm no one; these pages are not for you. Clap to the leaves and go no farther than this, for I tell you plainly that if you go farther you will be scandalized by seeing good, sober folks of real history so frisk and caper in gay colors and motley that you would not know them but for the names tagged to them…

Here you will find a hundred dull sober, jogging places, all tricked out with flowers and what not, till no one would know them in their fanciful dress. And here is a country bearing a well-known name, wherein no chill mists press upon our spirits, and no rain falls but what rolls off our backs like April showers off the backs of sleek drakes; where flowers bloom forever and birds are always singing; where every fellow hath a merry catch as he travels the roads, and ale and beer and wine (such as muddle no wits) flow like water in a brook.

This country is not Fairyland. What is it? ‘Tis the land of Fancy, and is of that pleasant kind that, when you tire of it—whisk!—you can clap the leaves of this book together and ‘tis gone, and you are ready for everyday life, with no harm done.

And now I lift the curtain that hangs between here and No-man’s-land. Will you come with me sweet Reader? I thank you. Give me your hand.

  • Without cheating by using Google, can you guess the name of the book or the story?
  • Have you used a preface in your books?
  • Do you wish you could be so direct with your readers?
  • If you could be so bold, what would you say?
  • And, as a reader, do you enjoy a message from the writer?
This entry was posted in preface, Writing by Steve Hooley. Bookmark the permalink.

About Steve Hooley

Steve Hooley is the author of seven short stories published in four anthologies, a Vella serial fiction, and is currently working on the Mad River Magic series – a fantasy adventure series for advanced middle-grade to adults. More details available at:

41 thoughts on “The Preface – What sayest thou?

  1. It sounds like someone who thinks they are writing like Shakespeare but are doing so badly. That’s all I can offer.

    Novels, these days, don’t have prefaces unless they are written by someone who offers scholarly comments on the novel some poor student must read. Nonfiction can have a preface written by the author, however.

    So, no, I would never use a preface for any of my novels. Their content speaks for itself.

  2. Thanks for you thoughts and comments, Marilynn.

    I’ll add another clue: The author of the preface and the book adapted the dialog and language from Middle English (late 12th century until the 1470s).

  3. Beowulf? That’s all I can think of that old.

    I haven’t seen the word preface used in novels, but there are plenty with an author’s note that I would consider the same thing.

    • Thanks for the guess. And it’s a good one, but not the answer. I’ve added another clue in response to JG’s comment below. Check out that clue and try again.

      I agree, an author’s note is a preface if it’s at the beginning of the book.

      Thanks for your participation.

  4. First I thought “Don Quickoats,” but rejected that in favor of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” by “Jakes Beer.” Then maybe “Gullible’s Travails?” “Beowulf” seemed too scary for this. Hans Christian Andersen, perhaps? But the clew, “The author of the preface and the book adapted the dialog and language from Middle English (late 12th century until the 1470s),” points to a student of linguini, which could likely be a guy whose middle initials speak of transportation. which is where I’ll call a halt.

    I’ve employed prologues, occasionally. Prefaces, not so much. Here’s the opening of the foreword from my ‘pooetry’ book:

    “If you are that rare person who is curious about why or how poets write poetry, or if you just want to take advantage of every page you paid for, read on.
    I wrote most of my poetry between 1989 and 1999 under the pen name “Nostromo,” borrowed from the space ship in the movie Alien, which took it from Conrad’s novel. . . “

    • Great thoughts and guesses, JG. The initials of the author we are looking for are H. P.

      I like the opening of your foreword for your poetry book. Sounds like a message to the reader.

      Consider the initials H.P. and try again.

  5. You rascal, you. You threw me with ancient story. I was thinking Chaucer, but quickly rejected that because the language is too modern. Which means this excerpt can’t, by definition, be ancient! I’m calling the league office to report you.

    As for prefaces, they can work for epic fantasy or historical. Series genre writers sometimes weave preface material into the opening chapter, like Kinsey Millhone or Stephanie Plum explaining who they are and what they do, then getting on with the story.

  6. Too tired to guess, I Googled, but I won’t give it away. In any case, evidently I never read the story (or skipped that part) because this sample didn’t sound familiar.

    I confess I was thrown off by the use of the word preface in relation to fiction, but I see in the comments it is intended to be, in effect, an author’s note. I rarely see them for fiction. This brings up a good question–would I ever use one? Generally, I’d say no. The only possible reason I can think where I might include an author’s note is for historical fiction, if it it was worth the author’s note to make some sort of clarification regarding a historical place/person, etc.

    As a reader, I enjoy a message from the writer in non-fiction. In fiction, I want to escape the world and disappear right into the story. Perhaps if the author had a dedication page, or wrote something super-short like “a novel I’ve waited thirty years to write” or something. Those are fun to read to see where the author’s heart is (briefly), but that’s about it.

    • Thanks for not giving away the answer, BK.

      Good thoughts on when, as a reader, you would enjoy a message from the author. That could lead into a discussion on the first pages of a book that are available for the prospective buyer to read before they make the purchase. What could the writer say to convince the reader to give the book a try?

  7. Teacher, you didn’t tell us there was going to be a quiz. That’s not fair! 😉

    H.P. Lovecraft?

    I don’t use prefaces but I can see where they might be helpful when world-building in fantasy or sci-fi, which this seems to be.

    Fun riddle, Steve.

    • This was a pop quiz. No warning given. That happened to me once in a literature class in college. I had not read the assignment, because I was studying for a test in another course. Never again.

      H. P. Lovecraft is a good guess, but not the answer. I’ll give you another clue: The link between the “story” and the book is musical.

      Good thoughts on prefaces in Sci Fi or Fantasy. I also like to say “what if” in a crowed book world where it is hard to get your book noticed. What daring way could we grab the reader’s attention?

      Thanks for your thoughts and participation. Take that clue and try again.

  8. Good morning, Steve. This is a tough one. It almost seems like Lord Dunsany, but I don’t think that’s right.

    I have used a preface once, with my recently published story collection, Rules Concerning Earthlight because I wanted to discuss the purpose of the collection, which is highlighting my writing friendship with my late friend K.C. Ball.

    It was an interesting experience speaking directly to the reader. I also included introductions to each of the stories. As a reader I enjoy prefaces for non-fiction and story collections/anthologies.

    Have a great Friday!

    • Thanks, Dale. Good thoughts on use of prefaces for story collections and anthologies. And nonfiction.

      Sorry, the answer is not Lord Dunsany. Good guess. Here’s another clue: The story has inspired at least 11 movies.

      Thanks for your thoughts. Have a great day!

  9. Good morning, Steve.

    1) Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll.

    2), 3), and 4) No. No. No. I don’t like prefaces.

    5) I like hearing directly from the author, but in an Afterword. The one exception is when the book is the latest in a long-running series where each succeeding volume builds up the last. In that case, I like a “What Has Gone Before” summary of what has occurred. I at this stage quickly become “at sea” in the story.

    Thanks, Steve. Have a great weekend!

    • Good morning, Joe.

      Great guess, but Lewis Carrol is not the correct answer. Another clue is below.

      I like your idea of a “What Has Gone Before” summary from the author in a long series. That certainly makes sense.

      Another clue: The author was an American illustrator and author, and eventually founded his own school of art and illustration.

      Have a great weekend!

    • Good one, Ben. And perfect clue imbedded in your comment.

      Thanks for stopping by and increasing the excitement. That was perfect, Little John. If someone can’t figure it out now, we need some more coffee (or ale or mead).

      I’m enjoying following your tweets.

      Hope your weekend is merry in the forest.

  10. What a creative post, Steve! But making us use our brains on Friday doesn’t seem fair.

    I also thought it might be Lewis Carrol, but I saw your response to Joe, The “Fairyland / Fancy” reference made me think of Peter Pan, but I don’t think that was a novel. So I’m stumped.

    Off to Google to satisfy my curiosity.

    • Oops. I didn’t answer your questions.

      I’ve never used a preface, but wouldn’t rule it out if I thought it would be a good idea. I’m open to anything that makes a story more appealing to the reader.

    • Good morning, Kay. By now you’ve found the answer from Google. Check the above comment from our Little John, Ben, and the Merry Men. Azali was quick on the pick up and apparently has it figured out, but has yet to officially announce the answer.

      Yes, we writers must never put our brain in neutral, not even on a weekend. Even when we’re day dreaming we’re working, brain storming, working on the plot.

      Have a merry weekend!

    • Congratulations, Azali.

      The story is Robin Hood. The book is The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood. And the author is Howard Pyle.

      The prize is the golden arrow. We’ve sent out the Sheriff of Nottingham to see if he can catch Robin in the Sherwood Forest and retrieve the arrow, which Robin won in a competition while disguised. Thus far we’re hearing that the Sheriff is tied up and his bags are being emptied of gold and silver. If we retrieve the arrow, we’ll let you know.

  11. Prefaces are good with anthologies and collections of short stories.They introduce the gathered writers or the

    But, surveying the usual fantasy/horror/scifi/fanfic/ etc etc and other genres on offer over at reddit and other mesne places the temptation is there to do a forward infodump. “Here’s what’s behind door number three but don’t look!” I don’t like to be told what I’m going to read before I read it.

    It seems like a cheat, in a way, telling the story before you tell the story.

    • Good points, Robert.

      I agree. Readers don’t want info dumps, or being told what they’re going to read. Like everything else in fiction, it must be done properly. And the subtle clues picked up in the story are better than being hit over the head with a shovel.

      Thanks for your comments.

  12. I happen to have a hardcover edition of the book, with its beautiful illustrations, from my parents’ library. One of my favorite books as a kid. I need to read it again.

Comments are closed.