(born 1932) is an Italian medieval historian, semiotician (semiotics: the study of signs and significationnote
), and philosopher. Outside academia, he is best known as a novelist, particularly his debut novel, The Name of the Rose
, which was made into a film starring Sean Connery
Because of his background, his works tend to avoid Small Reference Pools
and Viewers Are Morons
—only to go right through to the other side, invoking Viewers Are Geniuses
instead. His novels abound in language games
, meticulously researched
history and more than a little philosophizing. Basically, he's the polar opposite of Dan Brown
: a knowledgeable and skillful writer whose fiction is well researched, and full of genuine historical, narrative, and cultural intrigue, but who never pretends that his novels are anything more
than stimulating intellectual entertainment. In fact, he once humorously mused, in The Paris Review
, that Dan Brown might as well have stepped out the pages of his book Foucault's Pendulum
He listed Western
tropes in a 1975 comic essay "How to Play Indians". He also wrote an essay in 1984 about tropes called "Casablanca: Cult Movies and Intertextual Collage", which ends with what might as well have been to a reference to TV Tropes
, describing a possible future in which viewers and artists
are all equally aware of the universe of tropes and spend their time recognizing them and using them to communicate.note
List of Novels
List of non-fiction
- Why Read The Classics, an book by book discussion on many of Western Canon's works.
- Turning Back the Clock, a collection of essays, mostly dealing with current events of The Noughties.
List of children's books
- The Bomb and the General
- The Three Astronauts
- The Gnomes of Gnu
Tropes pertaining to his work in general
- Berserk Button: Apparently, a sure-fire way of getting thrown out of his lectures is to quote his own works to him.
- Bilingual Bonus: In some novels, it's almost necessary to understand three or four languages.
- Bookworm: Has a 50,000 volume library. The protagonist of the Mysterious Flame also counts.
- Cool Old Guy
- Consummate Liar: Baudolino
- Direct Line to the Author: As a postmodernist, he has a thing for the thin, blurry line between historical documents and outright fiction. Hence, some of his works purport to be genuine, yet unrecorded history:
- The Name of the Rose has a prologue on how he "found" Adso's manuscript in the 1960s.
- The Island of the Day Before is him commenting on a mysterious manuscript written by Roberto della Griva recovered from the In-Universe lost ship The Daphne.
- Baudolino alleges to be a Deleted Scene of sorts from the real Niketas's chronicles, which he removed on the advice of the sage Paphnutius. However, Paphnutius tells Niketas that one day, an even greater liar than Baudolino will tell the ostensibly true story of Baudolino reciting his fictional tale to Niketas, i.e. Umberto Eco himself.
- Downer Ending: Yambo finds the First Folio—then dies.
- Dwindling Party: Baudolino went to search for the kingdom of Prester John with 11 other people. By the end of the book, only three remain of his group.
- Everything's Better with Platypi: His essay Kant and the Platypus, despite acknowledging that Kant has nothing to do with the platypus.
- Heroic BSOD: Baudolino, after he finds out that he and his friends unwittingly killed Frederick.
- Historical-Domain Character:
- His works commonly feature real historical figures (sometimes lesser-known ones), like Bernard Gui, Ubertino of Casale and Michael of Cesena in The Name of the Rose, and Frederick Barbarossa, Niketas Choniates, Robert de Boron or Otto of Freising in Baudolino.
- An excellent recent example of his usage of this trope in his fiction would be his novel The Prague Cemetary, in which an early scene calls for the antisemitic Villain Protagonist Simonini to converse with a Jewish psychiatrist during his time in Paris. Upon realizing that Simonini's time in Paris coincided with a period of Sigmund Freud's life spent in Paris, Eco researched the restaurants and cafes Freud frequented at this time to provide his characters with a plausible meeting place.
- International Date Line: Plays a big role in The Island of the Day Before, where the protagonist believes he is stuck near one side of it.
- Irony: He has a good explanation in his comment for The Name of the Rose. Nowadays, a man who loves a well-read woman can't simply tell her "I love you more than my life", because he knows (and she knows, and he knows she knows, and she knows he knows she knows...) that these words have been overused by Liala (Italian author of Silly Love Novels). That's why he'll say instead: "As Liala would say, 'I love you more than my life'." It's ironic because we live in times where innocence has been lost, but it's still a way to talk about love.
- Laser-Guided Amnesia: Yambo cannot remember anything to do with his personal life, but recalls everything he's ever read.
- Locked Room Mystery: The death of Emperor Frederick in Baudolino.
- Eco's fascinated with this trope, and it shows up as a major or minor plot point in pretty much every novel he's written.
- The Longitude Problem: In The Island of the Day Before. It contains a number of different attempts to solve the longitude problem, including one that uses Sympathetic Magic (the theory is that a wounded dog is taken on the ship; the sympathetic magic is performed on the dog every night at midnight in Paris; by watching the dog's reaction and noting the local time, you can figure out your longitude much as with the "clock" method).
- Magical Land: The kingdom of Prester John in Baudolino.
- Never Heard That One Before: In one essay in How To Travel With A Salmon, he writes how many times he was told puns based one the similarity of his name and the word "echo". He states that the reason for this is that people who have an idea don't realize that other people already must have thought of that.
- No Name Given: The Archpoet in Baudolino, because he's based on a historical character whose name is unknown.
- Omniglot: Baudolino. Yambo.
Probably Eco himself.
- Postmodernism: In the critical, academic sense.
- Pretender Diss: When asked if he considers Dan Brown his literary heir, he once responded that the difference is that while he himself writes about conspiracy theories, Dan Brown simply repeats them - "as such, he's probably not my heir, but maybe my bastard."
- Reality Retcon:
- Foucault's Pendulum: In-Universe, with the editors constructing a fake conspiracy.
- Baudolino: A 12th century foster son of Frederick Barbarossa secretly shaped the events in his life.
- The Prague Cemetary: Simone Simonini crosses paths and influences many historical characters, culminating in his creation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
- Numero Zero: Involves shady plots during the Years of Lead, including the Masonic "Black" Lodge Propaganda Due, right- and left-wing terrorists, the CIA, the papacy, and sensationalist journalism.
- Shout-Out: Lots in The Mysterious Flame due to Yambo's illness.
- Shown Their Work: His novels come with footnotes, glossaries and bibliographies.
- Sophisticated as Hell: Occasional examples are found in his non-fiction works.
- Take That: The one at the end of Baudolino stands out.
- Title Drop: The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana was a name of a comic book the main character found in their childhood home.
- Viewers Are Geniuses: To give some illustration of the sheer magnitude of the permeation of this trope through his fiction, Foucault's Pendulum requires at least a modest familiarity with the conception of God in Kabbalah in order to understand the book's narrative arrangement; and though Kabbalah is hardly the most obscure of topics - and certainly not the most obscure form of knowledge required to understand Foucault's Pendulum -, this novel requires substantial reading into a major world mystic/faith tradition merely to understand its chapter layout.
- Unreliable Narrator: By the end of Foucaults Pendulum, Casaubon doubts his own sanity, and questions how much is true of what he had seen. In Baudolino, the protagonist admits that he's a great liar and deceived many people, so the veracity of his story also can be questioned, especially since it gets more and more outlandish as it progresses.
- Word Salad Title: Prefers titles of this nature.
- You Are What You Hate: Could be the case with Eco and occultism. While he savagely criticizes the occultists and conspiracy theorists, he himself shows interest and expert knowledge in such matters (most of his works feature this to some extent, expecially Foucault's Pendulum).