I’ve been thinking about EASTER EGGS recently–and not the kind hidden by the Easter Bunny. In fiction, Easter eggs are cultural, literary, or personal references embedded in the text that only a few readers will understand–little gifts for those who find them. It could be a visual pun, like the giant griffin in front of Dumbledore’s office in the Harry Potter books. Griffin-door. Get it? Gryffindor is Dumbledore’s house at Hogwarts. Or it could be a hidden reference to another book, a TV show, or a play. Some Easter eggs are purely personal–like giving a beloved character your grandmother’s maiden name, or naming a villain after the horrible little boy who threw ice balls at you in elementary school.
Although I’ve never disclosed it, my Kate Hamilton books contain a number of Easter eggs from British TV shows I’ve loved. The name of the proprietor of the Finchley Arms, for example, is Stephen Peacock, the pompous floorwalker in the long-running series Are You Being Served. These references make me smile, and I often wonder if anyone else “gets” the inside joke.
My question this week is: have you ever found an Easter egg in a novel? Have you ever hidden one?
I guess I haven’t been clever enough to recognize an Easter egg in someone else’s novels. I do plant them in my own books. Using names or combining first or last names of people I know is one of my devices. I have had a lot of fun naming places, not by the actual name but by using a name that the place is associated with. My hometown of Scituate became Hatherly after an early inhabitant. Hingham became Derby. Hull is Allerton, etc. People who know the area will catch on and hopefully chuckle.
Connie: Michele, that’s exactly what I’m talking about–a reference that only people “in the know” will understand. Fun!
I must confess that I didn’t know they were called Easter eggs, but yes, I’ve done that. Though they tend to be personal. I name one character Agnes because I had a friend I enjoyed, now long gone, whose name was Agnes. Toward the end of Maggie Dove and the Lost Brides, a number of people bring Maggie Dove meals, and all of those meals were based on dinners that people have brought me, and I used their names and the name of the thing they baked. I thought they’d enjoy that. But now I’m going to think about it more intentionally for my next book!
I’ve always thought of Easter eggs in fiction as bits that tie a story together, which are not obvious, but sort of fun. Recently, I read Hillary Clinton and Louise Penny’s thriller State of Terror. Near the end the protagonist needs a bit of help with some information without going through ‘usual routes’ and he contacts a man he met once on a job. That man was Inspector Gamache, Louise Penny’s longtime protagonist! He fit the bill as a character in State of Terror, but if you are a fan of Louise Penny’s series (as millions are!), then what fun! A tie-in to her other books. I suspect that there were Easter eggs of a sort tied back to Hillary Clinton’s life . . . but those went unnoticed by me!
Connie: That’s interesting, Tracee. I’ve always thought of Easter eggs as incidental to the story. If the reader doesn’t get them, nothing is lost. By the way, if there are tie-ins to Clinton’s life in that book, I would LOVE to know what they are!
I do plant them occasionally. More often in my romances than my mysteries I’ll drop a reference to a character in another book I’ve written. I also have my characters read books by favorite authors.
I have to confess I don’t watch much TV, and I’ve never read Harry Potter or seen the movies so I don’t use or recognize the references in other books.
Connie: I love the idea of referencing characters in other books you’ve written. That’s a pleasure reserved for authors who’ve written multiple series, I guess! And having your characters read books you’ve liked is wonderful. Thanks for the idea.
I never made the griffin-door connection and am feeling like a dunce.
As luck would have it, I believe this phrase, or a variation thereof, has made it into every book I’ve written since it was first spoken, “Nevertheless, she persisted.” I’ve seen it in other’s works as well.
Sharon: Don’t feel bad, Keenan. I didn’t get it either.
I guess I plant these kinds of things in my novels by naming my characters after authors I like. Burroughs, Stegner, etc. When I read things I’ve written, it’s like I revisit my fascinations at the time, whether it’s pyromania from watching too many Rammstein videos or various personal discoveries or struggles. So, my Easter Eggs are for my eyes only. As for finding them in novels, if I do, I feel very smart, but looking for them is exhausting and takes away from actually enjoying what I’m reading, so I generally forget to do it.
Connie: No! We never look for them–the fun is finding them accidentally!
I don’t think I’ve ever planted an Easter egg in my books, or at least, not a subtle one. Many of the restaurants and dive sites that Fin frequents in the books are real places. I hear from readers who say they loved diving on a site and enjoy remembering it when Fin dives there, or seeing a restaurant where they’ve eaten on the page when Fin and her friends drop by.
I have a rule though. Nothing bad ever happens on a real dive site or in a real business establishment. So I have to make some of them up so I have a place for murders or other unhappy events to occur.
Oh, and Jack’s cousin lent me his name for a character!
Connie: Very wise, Sharon! If you place a grisly murder in the Hyatt Regency, Downtown Chicago, chances are they won’t be selling your book in their gift shop.
Thanks for the responses, everyone!