Umberto Eco (January 5, 1932 - February 19, 2016) was 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
He died of pancreatic cancer on February 19, 2016 at the age of 84.
List of Novels
- The Name of the Rose
- Foucault's Pendulum
- The Island of the Day Before
- The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana
- The Prague Cemetery
- Numero Zero
List of non-fiction
- Turning Back the Clock, a collection of essays, mostly dealing with current events of The Noughties.
- Ur-Fascism, an essay first published in the New York Review of Books in 1995, exploring the qualities of fascism, producing a list of 14 attributes common to fascist movements, and even recounting his own boyhood in Fascist Italy.
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 was to quote his own works to him.
- Bilingual Bonus: In some novels, it's almost necessary to understand three or four languages.
- Bookworm: Had a 50,000 volume library.
- Cool Old Guy
- The Conspiracy: Numero Zero involves shady plots during Italy’s “Years of Lead”, featuring the Masonic "Black" Lodge, Propaganda Due, right- and left-wing terrorists, the CIA, the papacy, and sensationalist journalism.
- Direct Line to the Author: As a postmodernist, he had 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 is presented as the recently uncovered manuscript of Adso of Melk, Eco's "Italian [translation] of an obscure, neo-Gothic French version of a seventeenth-century Latin edition of a work written in Latin by a German monk". Needless to say, none of this is true.
- 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.
- "How I Wrote This Article" Article: He had a column in the Italian news magazine L'espresso where he once wrote an article about how he can't think of anything to write about, but the space needs to be filled, so he's now writing this article about how he can't think of anything.
- 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.
- 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.
- He spent his entire academic career studying the effect of 'fake news' and 'alternative facts' on the individual and society at large, only to pass away in February of 2016, less than a year before Donald Trump's presidency, during which concepts like those entered mainstream political discussion.
- Locked Room Mystery: 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).
- 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.
- Omniglot: 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."
- Shown Their Work: His novels come with footnotes, glossaries and bibliographies.
- Sophisticated as Hell: Occasional examples are found in his non-fiction works.
- 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, especially Foucault's Pendulum). Though it could also be like the case of an atheist studying religion: Just because you know a lot about a subject, doesn't necessarily mean you believe it.