->''I was the shadow of the waxwing slain\\
By the false azure in the windowpane;\\
I was the smudge of ashen fluff -- and I\\
Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky.''
-->'''John Shade''', opening lines

->''For better or worse, it is the commentator who has the last word.''
-->'''Professor Charles Kinbote''', "Foreword"

''Pale Fire'' is a 1962 novel by Creator/VladimirNabokov. It ostensibly concerns a 999 line poem by nationally famous poet John Shade, which appears in the book with extensive commentary by Shade's neighbor and fellow professor Charles Kinbote. Once the commentary gets underway however, it is clear Kinbote's interpretation [[UnreliableNarrator differs wildly]] from the information available in the poem itself, which is soon eclipsed by the mad, paranoid, telescoping story that emerges from Kinbote's intrusion. Shade is unavailable to correct the work, having been [[AuthorExistenceFailure shot dead]] by a man who was likely trying to kill someone else entirely.

As inconsistencies in the narrative begin to pile up, more and more of the novel's premises become suspect, and the reader navigates through multiple layers of reality formed by variable amounts of truth and lies, while simultaneously navigating Kinbote's labyrinthine footnotes that allow the book to be read in any order the reader chooses.

Likewise, the story can be read any way the reader chooses (though not every layer of reality is created equal): as an exile's loving capsule of his vanished homeland, an international political thriller, a sad portrait of a lonely madman, a parent's ode to his dead child, or a scathing satire of academia.

According to Wiki/TheOtherWiki: "The interaction between Kinbote and Shade takes place in the fictitious small college town of New Wye, Appalachia, where they live across a lane from each other, from February to July, 1959. Kinbote writes his commentary from then to October, 1959, in a tourist cabin in the equally fictitious western town of Cedarn, Utana."

!!The novel provides examples of:
* AllOfTheOtherReindeer: Kinbote's social status at the university, with the (possible) exception of his relationship with Shade.
* AlwaysSecondBest: John Shade is always listed ''second'' after Robert Frost in the lists of New England poets, something he dislikes but lives with.
* AnachronicOrder: Most of the novel consists of footnotes that refer the reader all around the book.
* AuthorAppeal: References to butterflies, like every one of Nabokov's books.[[note]]Kinbote persistently misidentifies them or completely fails to recognise them, a clue to how much of an UnreliableNarrator he is.[[/note]]
** In-universe, Kinbote's tales about King Charles of Zembla are full of homoeroticism and distaste for women.
* AuthorAvatar: Near the end, implied to be [[ItMakesSenseInContext one of Kinbote's layers.]]
* AuthorExistenceFailure: In-universe. Shade is killed before he can write Line 1000 of his poem, but Kinbote helpfully tells us what it must have been. [[spoiler:It is also implied that Kinbote is spiraling down toward suicide; once his edition of Shade's poem is finished, he will clearly have nothing left to live for.]]
** Many critics of the novel go even further than this, arguing that neither Kinbote nor Shade truly 'exist' in the world of the novel, that neither of them are the true 'narrator' of the work, who shows himself only through very brief slips in how he writes the character of Kinbote near the end, who states that his 'notes and self' are slowly waning away-- in this reading, he truly is waning away as the novel draws to a close.
* BilingualBonus: "Zembla" is an old way of transcribing ''Земля'' (today generally transcribed ''zemlya'' or ''zemlja''), which means "land" in Nabokov's native Russian. It's also a reference to ''Literature/ThePrisonerOfZenda''.
* BiographyAClef: Kinbote more or less insists on reading Shade's poem in this fashion, and insists that real-life precedents exist for the thinnest allusions in Shade's poem, and presents his wild speculation and theory as proof of this.
* CompletelyMissingThePoint: Kinbote throughout the entire book.
* DepravedHomosexual: Kinbote is mildly promiscuous with certain of his students who are in the closet (he installed ''two'' ping-pong tables in the basement den of his rented house as a pretext/excuse for bringing younger men home), although he claims to have been heartbroken by one with whom he was seeking a less ephemeral relationship. His adoration of Shade also borders on HomoeroticSubtext.
* DieForOurShip: Kinbote absolutely adores Shade, while looking for every opportunity to put down his wife Sybil, including claiming certain parts of the poem are not about her ''when they explicitly are''.[[invoked]]
* DrivenToSuicide: Hazel Shade after being ditched by her jerkass blind date whom she had seen as her one chance for finding love.
* {{Expy}}: Professor Pnin (from Nabokov's previous novel) makes a brief appearance near the end, [[ShoutOut as does "Hurricane ]]Literature/{{Lolita}}."
** Kinbote is perplexed by the use of the name "Lolita", [[CompletelyMissingThePoint commenting that it is a popular name for Spanish parrots but mentioning that there was no hurricane called Lolita in 1958]].
** Despite John Shade mentioning Robert Frost as a fellow poet, it seems clear that Nabokov based him on Frost -- they are almost alike in appearance, share a vocation (university lecturer teaching literature), and have similarly evocative surnames.
* FootnoteFever: Nabokov occasionally has it, but Kinbote has it ''worse''. The novel is not quite as loony as ''Literature/HouseOfLeaves'', but was clearly an inspiration for it.
* IHaveThisFriend: Kinbote reports overhearing part of a conversation at a party between John Shade and another guest, Mrs. H.; Shade insists that "a person who deliberately peels off a drab and unhappy past and replaces it with a brilliant invention" cannot truly be called insane. When Kinbote innocently asks what they were discussing, however, Mrs. H. insists that they were merely talking about an employee at the local railway station who thought he was God and began redirecting the trains.
* InTheOriginalKlingon: Kinbote suggests a Zemblan etymology for Shakespeare's last name as being "the most probable".
* ItsAllAboutMe: The sentiment that allows Kinbote to write almost three hundred pages of "commentary" on his murdered neighbor's poem, imposing his own story upon it along the way.
* {{Jerkass}}: Kinbote. Although he could fall anywhere on the scale between here and TheWoobie, [[AlternateCharacterInterpretation depending on how pathetic you think he is.]]
* LiteraryAllusionTitle: "Pale Fire" comes from Act IV, scene iii of Creator/WilliamShakespeare's ''Timon of Athens,'' a fact Shade notes [[LampshadeHanging in his poem.]] Appropriate on multiple levels, in that it's deliberately stolen from a speech on the universality of theft -- and Kinbote, too, seems to be trying to steal his own 'pale fire' by reflection from the brilliance of John Shade.
** And this ShoutOutToShakespeare is, by Kinbote, [[spoiler: mistranslated into English from a Zemblan copy of ''Timon of Athens'' without the ArcWords, so he's CompletelyMissingThePoint]].
** Kinbote usually ''hates'' {{Literary Allusion Title}}s, considering them lazy. (So, apparently, does Shade -- some of the time.)
* MeaningfulName: Many, some overlapping with SignificantAnagram.
* {{Metafiction}}
* MetafictionalTitle: ''Pale Fire'' the book is named after "Pale Fire" the poem.
* MysteriousPast: Real, or imagined and achingly desired.
* NobleFugitive: King Charles the Beloved.
* NoCelebritiesWereHarmed: In terms of his physical appearance, evocative name, and his generally sober, unflashy, classical diction, John Shade could be considered this with respect to Creator/RobertFrost.
* PlainJane: Hazel Shade, John Shade's overweight, psoriasis-afflicted daughter.
* PostModernism
* {{Ruritania}}: A highly idealized example in Zembla[[note]] a distant northern land[[/note]].
* ShoutOut: MANY.
* SignificantAnagram: ''Very'' significant.
* SmallNameBigEgo: Kinbote again.
** Although, comically, he accuses his academic opponents of this, including his fellow teacher Gerry Emerald.
* SpySpeak: The assassins (supposedly) pursuing the exiled King Charles frequently do this; unfortunately for them, their codes change so often that the speakers at both ends of a conversation can completely misinterpret each other. Two spies apparently break into the bedroom of Charles' likewise exiled wife and find a letter from him, giving away his pseudonym and place of residence, in her bedside table; when they inform their associate that the clue was right where he said it would be, he claims to have told them ''nothing'' of the sort.
* StalkerWithACrush: The whole reason Kinbote first rented a cabin out west in Cedarn is that he heard through multiple channels that John and Sybil Shade had a cabin there themselves, and were to go there on their next vacation; he got hold of a rental property there and was going to find some excuse to "accidentally" run into John.
* StylisticSuck: Kinbote flatters himself that he can accurately ape the prose style of many other writers, but professes to be horrible at writing verse. Some of the "variant lines" which he claims were left over from earlier drafts of the poem -- the very lines that give him the excuse to bring in his otherwise irrelevant stories of Zembla -- seem suspiciously un-Shadeian, so to speak.
* UglyGuyHotWife: John and Sybil Shade.
* UnreliableNarrator: I'd give the example's name, but I'm pretty sure he lied about that too.
* TheUnreveal: A big part of why the book is so great: there is ''just'' enough information given to deny any single interpretation as valid.
* ViewersAreGeniuses: Or else Nabokov wrote it to amuse himself, and he just doesn't care if you get it.
* YouNeedABreathMint: After shanghai-ing Gerald Emerald into helping with a demonstration of Zemblan wrestling holds, Kinbote finds a note in his jacket pocket (probably left by Emerald) that says "You have h . . . . . . . s real bad, chum" -- i.e. halitosis. Failing to see the significance of the number of dots, Kinbote thinks he's being accused of having ''hallucinations'', which only adds to his resentment of his fellow lecturers; he also never addresses the problem of his bad breath because he never figures out what the note actually refers to. Justified in that Kinbote is strongly hinted to be an [[TheAlcoholic alcoholic]].