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Self Deprecation / Literature

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Self-deprecating characters

  • Claudia and Mallory from The Baby-Sitters Club, for very different reasons, are the most prone to this.
  • In The Pleasure is Mine the main character Prate constantly believes he is not taking care of his wife, or spending enough time with her, believing he is not good enough. This changes when his son has him babysit Jackson, Prate's grandson, who teaches him to believe he is a good person for his family.
  • As first-person narrator of the Jeeves and Wooster stories, Bertie often cheerfully lampshades his Upper-Class Twit status. He may be stupid, but at least he's self-aware.
  • Jedi Versus Sith: The Essential Guide to the Force contains an essay that Luke Skywalker, by then a Jedi Master, gave as a speech to some of his Jedi students. In it he talked about an event from Shadows of the Empire: building the green lightsaber he has in Return of the Jedi, how he worked slowly and carefully in full awareness that getting something wrong would be a disaster — at best it wouldn't work, at worst it would explode. He tells his students that only Artoo was with him as he finished, and he told the droid to wait inside.
    "It may sound ridiculous, but I thought if something went wrong, I needed someone to tell Leia that Luke Skywalker, the galaxy's biggest idiot, had flash-flamed himself into a black crisp because he couldn't follow an elementary circuit diagram."
  • In Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince, Lori and Dimity are discussing the diverse exhibits at Skeaping Manor when Dimity writes: "You and I are living proof—more or less—that some people prefer the pretty to the icky." As she writes this, Dimity Westwood has been dead for about a decade.
  • The Hunger Games: Peeta Mellark is said to have this.
  • The Dinosaur Lords: Emperor Felipe confides to his daughter that he likes to repeat all the platitudes his nobles bestow upon him to his toothless, old and blind pet T-Rex, stating that the beast would be venerated as much as he is, was it elected.

Self-deprecating authors

  • Jasper Fforde's The Fourth Bear introduces the setup early in the book for a ridiculous tongue-twisting punchline much later. One character comments on what an elaborate setup that was for such a lame joke and the other sadly agrees, "I don't know how he gets away with it.", which was a line from The Goon Show.
    Hatchett: I like the title, Mr Fforde, 'The Woman Who Died a Lot'. Where does it come from?
    Fforde: I'm not sure. It's been on my list of titles for a while, along with 'Seven Things to do before you Die in Talgarth', my faux misery memoir 'A Fork of my Own' and 'The Life Debt of Phoebe Smalls'. The title just seemed so perfect for the book. Not only does it conjure up the notion of a noir thriller, but also a, well, rubbish noir thriller. The sort of title an idiot who can't write to save his life would come up with. Hmm. Worrying. I wonder if it's an ironic thing?
    Hatchett: Yes, Mr Fforde, I'm sure that's the case.
  • Fforde has nothing on Robert Rankin, who constantly breaks the fourth wall to self-complain about plot holes, stupid running gags, and absolutely ridiculous plot devices (Elvis with a time-travelling sprout in his head has to kill the Antichrist! Yeah!). At one point he actually inserted himself, writing the novel in a bar, in the novel itself.
  • The Cairo Jim books (starring a Captain Ersatz slash Affectionate Parody of Indiana Jones) by Geoffrey McSkimming regularly quote negative reviews on the back cover... said negative reviews written by the author himself from the perspective of the books' main villain.
  • Similarly, some of Terry Pratchett's Discworld books have a quote from The BBC's Late Review: "Doesn't even write in chapters... a complete amateur... hasn't a clue..."
  • Iain Banks's extremely controversial first novel The Wasp Factory went one better, by reprinting every negative review the book had received, alternated with more positive reviews. Some of the negative reviews were hilariously extreme, with one critic claiming that the decision to publish the novel showed that civilization had come to an end.
  • In one of the books of the Tamuli, David Eddings takes the opportunity to have one of the heroes describe heroic fantasy as being written by sub-par authors. Guess which genre contains vast numbers of very thick books with the name "Eddings" prominently emblazoned on the cover?
  • Older Than Print: Geoffrey Chaucer does this all the time; many of his dream poems include a moment (or three) where his Author Avatar narrator is castigated for being fat, dorky, and a writer of love poetry although he doesn't get any himself, and in The Canterbury Tales his pilgrim persona, when it's his turn to tell a tale, tells first a mock-romance that's so silly that the Host cuts it off before he can finish, and then a long, boring moral tale.
  • Chaucer's inspiration and near-contemporary Boccaccio did this a fair amount. The most famous is in his epilogue to the Decameron, an extremely funny but also obscene defense of his work. He responds to those who accuse him of being "light" by saying that he had been "weighed many times"—a clear reference to the fact that he was rather fat—and pretends to be flattered by the claim that he had the "sweetest tongue" in Italy by playing up the Double Entendre (to be brief, he has a conversation with a woman who talks of his "sweet tongue", by which they actually mean "he totally ate her out").
  • The Illuminatus! Trilogy features, as a running plot thread, a dialogue between a book reviewer and his editor about a book full of "conspiracy nonsense" and "gratuitous sex scenes" which seems to strongly parallel the novel itself.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
    • From Mostly Harmless, but it sums up the series' attitude to "Britishness":
    ''"It's just an arbitrary set of rules like chess or tennis or, what's that strange thing you British play?"
    "Er," said Tricia, "cricket? Self-loathing?"
    "Parliamentary democracy."
    • In And Another Thing..., Eoin Colfer gets meta about it: after describing the five entries in the Guide about the Guide itself as "a lengthy article, accompanied by many hours of video and audio files, and some dramatic reconstructions by some quite well known actors", it adds that there is also "a text only appendix, with absolutely no audio and not so much as a frame of video shot by a student director who made the whole thing in his bedroom and paid his drama soc mates in sandwiches."
    This is the story of that appendix.
  • Dan Brown in The Lost Symbol. Robert Langdon refers to a book heavily implied to be Digital Fortress as a "mediocre thriller".
  • Isaac Asimov often had his characters belittling him.
    • It's especially egregious in the "Azazel" stories, which always begin with the author having lunch with a character named George, who constantly insults him — and then proceeds to run out on the check (sometimes even borrowing money from Asimov) at the end of the story. In fact, just in case the reader missed it (the stories never explicitly state that the narrator is Asimov himself), he makes a point of saying so in the introduction to the anthology.
    • In the foreword to one of the Black Widowers stories, he acknowledged that when he portrayed the character of Manny Rubin as constantly insulting his "friend" Dr Asimov ("Just because I lend him some money, that makes him a friend?") the person he was really being unfair on wasn't himself but Lester del Rey (who Rubin was based on).
    • The novel Murder at the ABA includes several insult exchanges between Asimov (self-inserted as a minor character) and the protagonist Darius Just (who is based on Harlan Ellison®).
  • The second book of Matthijs van Boxsel's Encyclopedia of Stupidity consists of a list of the most stupid scientific theories published in the Netherlands and Flanders. He has included his own books on the list.
  • Robert Goldsborough wrote a number of Nero Wolfe novels after series creator Rex Stout's death. The final one features a victim who had been writing another author's character. At one point, Archie Goodwin slams the victim's writing. The motive for the murder is that said victim plagiarised his last novel.
  • As a challenge, try to find a James Herriot book in which the author does not mention how slow he is.
  • I Am A Cat, Natsume Soseki's social satire of late Meiji-era Japan, not only features a major character bearing more than a passing resemblance to the author who comes off about as well as any other character in the book (i.e. not at all), but has a passage in which this character and several others directly bash Soseki's other work. (Since none of these characters are at all likeable, it may be that we're supposed to disagree with them, which would make this either a Take That! at critics or a roundabout form of self-praise. It's hard to tell.)
  • Robert A. Heinlein takes a shot at himself in The Number of the Beast. At a point when the four main characters are polling each other on their favourite authors, one asks about Heinlein. Another promply snorts and admits to having read Stranger in a Strange Land. "My God, the things some writers will do for money!"
  • Edward Lear engages in a few pot-shots directed at himself in his nonsense-filled poetry. At least one of his poems is a spot of Self-Deprecation.
  • The loser protagonist of A Confederacy of Dunces is, when you know his life story, very very clearly based on the author, John Kennedy Toole.
  • Brandon Sanderson, via the good ol' Literary Agent Hypothesis in Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener's Bones, the second book of the Alcatraz Series. Just after revealing a major spoiler which is, in fact, completely false, Alcatraz narrates thusly:
    You didn't want to hear that? I'm sorry. You'll just have to forget that I wrote it. There are several convenient ways to do that. I hear hitting yourself on the head with a blunt object can be very effective. You should try using one of Brandon Sanderson's fantasy novels. They're big enough, and goodness knows, that really is the only useful thing to do with them.
    • In Sanderson's novel Elantris, there's a bit of stealth Self-Deprecation. Apparently a while back Sanderson wrote a Beowulf-style epic called Wyrn the King, then decided it was pretty horrible and abandoned it. In Elantris, Wyrn shows up as the national epic of the evil Fjordell Empire, and the heroes at one point discuss it's literary merits (or rather, the lack thereof).
    • In Firefight Sanderson mocks his noteboard planning sessions from Mistborn by putting Mizzy in charge of taking notes.
  • Stephen King:
    • He does this to himself in The Dark Tower, as his Author Avatar character is a lazy Jerkass who can't be bothered to finish the Dark Tower series.
    • In The Tommyknockers, it's noted that Bobbi writes books you could read, "not all full of make-believe monsters and a bunch of dirty words, like the books that fellow who lived up Bangor way wrote."
    • He's also commented that critics have accused him of having "diarrhea of the word processor", given his tendency to write doorstoppers.
  • The Author's Note at the beginning of Dave Stone's second Doctor Who New Adventures novel, Death and Diplomacy, describes his first, Sky Pirates!, as just a joke book, "gags being the lowest form of tragicomedy, but the highest tragicomic form of which this author is capable." He goes on to say that Death and Diplomacy is a comedy, which is different from jokes because "for one thing, a comedy doesn't have to be funny". The following 280 pages prove him more than capable of doing something that isn't just gags, while at the same time being extremely funny.
  • Richard K. Morgan, author of the Takeshi Kovacs trilogy about a future where the mind can be digitised and transferred to other bodies, also wrote Market Forces, which takes place 20 Minutes into the Future. The protagonist in Market Forces is trying to relax and so picks up a book in which the main character digitises his mind and swaps into other bodies. He decides the book is too weird and unrealistic to bother reading and discards it.
  • Harry Turtledove is pretty fond of this. His characters frequently disparage the genre of alternative historical fiction. In Colonization: Aftershocks, one of his characters also describes the study of Byzantine history, the field in which Turtledove earned a Ph.D., as "uselessly arcane."
  • In the Star Trek Expanded Universe novel A Singular Destiny by Keith R.A. DeCandido, a character looking through another's PADD finds a complete collection of Battlecruiser Vengeance novels. She can't understand why anyone would read novels based on a drama series.
  • Halting State by Charles Stross has a scene in a Dungeons & Dragons-based MMORPG, where the characters fight a slaad (i.e., a giant chaos frog) and then discuss what a ridiculous monster it is. Stross wrote the magazine article for 1st-edition D&D that slaadi originally appeared in.
  • Anthony Trollope, in his role as a Post Office Surveyor, was responsible for introducing pillar boxes to Britain. In He Knew He Was Right, the character of Miss Stanbury considers the pillar box outside her house to be "a most hateful thing", and has rants against "chucking [letters] in an iron stump" rather than entrusting them to a postal employee.
  • Sisterhood Series by Fern Michaels: In Payback, Sweet Revenge, and Hide and Seek, the South is essentially derided for being sleazy and stupid while pretending to be genteel and high-class. What makes all these instances this trope is the fact that the author is a Southern woman herself, and it's possible that she is only showing what other people's opinion of the South is.
  • In The Brothers Karamazov, of all places, when Mitya is interrogated, he claims that to give the full story of the crime would "take you three volumes and an epilogue." How long is the book at this point? Three volumes!
  • The characters in Douglas Coupland's novel jPod lament that they're turning into characters in a Douglas Coupland novel. Later, as the characters are drinking Zima, one opines, "Drinking Zima is something Douglas Coupland would make a character do". There are also a couple of mocking references to Coupland's first book, Generation X.
  • In Perelandra, C. S. Lewis introduces himself as a character, so the protagonist can explain things to him (and hence the reader). Lewis in the book spends most of his time being frightened and confused, often thinking cowardly thoughts he barely manages to avoid acting on.
  • An entire category of poems in the poetry collection Raving Lunacy is called "The Deprecation Shelf" and is about the things the author hates about himself.
  • Joan Hess once had her small-town police chief protagonist, Arly Hanks, read a mystery novel about an amateur sleuth whose daughter Talks In Capital Letters, while remarking that its plot seems ridiculously contrived. The bookstore-owner sleuth of Hess's other mystery series is the mother of a teen with this very Verbal Tic.
    • In Martians in Maggody, a character snarkily suggests that one of the UFO "experts" may already be planning a new book with some really stupid title, like "Martians in Maggody".
  • In one of Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels, it's stated that cop Meyer Meyer didn't like The Birds; in another, recurring Big Bad the Deaf Man singled it out as the only Alfred Hitchcock movie he didn't care for. The Birds was scripted by Evan Hunter (McBain's real name).
  • One more than one occasion in his stories, P. G. Wodehouse included comments about what brainless chumps writers tend to be.
  • The Captain Underpants series frequently has George Breaking the Fourth Wall to remark that the author is running out of ideas, or commenting on plots that only happen in bad children's books.
  • Thomas Pynchon, in the introduction to his collection of early short fiction Slow Learner, commented that in his second novel he seemed to have forgotten almost every lesson he'd learned from writing his first one. He also remarked that re-reading his early fiction caused him "physical symptoms which we don't dwell on".
  • From the New World: The narrator remembers that in her primary school days, her friend Satoru used to make scary stories to make his friends freak out: "At this time, I admired Satoru for his oratory skills. If there were ever a job for making scary stories, he would be the first to be picked for it. Though of course, I canít think of any society that would have such a dumb job."
  • In G. K. Chesterton's The Paradoxes of Mr Pond he separates Mr Pond's paradoxes from the flashy paradoxical epigrams that writers come up with, giving the examples of George Bernard Shaw's "The Golden Rule is that there is no Golden Rule", Oscar Wilde's "I can resist everything but temptation" and "a duller scribe (not to be named with these and now doing penance for his earlier vices in the nobler toil of celebrating the virtues of Mr. Pond)" writing "If a thing's worth doing, it's worth doing badly", which is from What's Wrong with the World by...
  • In Raymond Chandler's novel The Long Goodbye, the alcoholic novelist Roger Wade is partly based on the author. So is the emotionally scarred World War veteran Terry Lennox. They're not very flattering portraits.
  • The back cover of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales has the Little Red Hen ranting about how silly the book is. "Who will buy this book anyway?! Over forty pages of nonsense, and I'm only in three of them!"
  • The Divine Comedy:
    • Several times in Purgatorio, Dante meets someone and tries to show off some of his poetry, but Virgil rushes them along, saying his poetry doesn't matter.
    • While Dante expects a tender and loving reunion with Beatrice, she angrily lambasts him and tears him apart, calling all of heaven to bear witness to the fact that Dante doesn't love her like he thinks he does.
  • Early on in Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver, one of the characters asks another what the Cryptonomicon is. "A very queer old book, dreadfully thick, and full of nonsense," is the reply. "Papa uses it to keep the door from blowing shut." (Cryptonomicon exists in-universe as a nonfiction book but it's also the title of Stephenson's previous novel.)
  • The front cover of The Cynic's Dictionary by Russell Ash (essentially an updated version of The Devil's Dictionary) presents the usual bumpf a publisher would give about a new book, and then applies Ash's "translations" to it, concluding with "A load of old piffle cobbled together for a fast buck by an unknown hack with the improbable name of Russell Ash".
  • Asimovs Guide To Shakespeare: (Discussed Trope) Dr Asimov explains that Romeo and Juliet was being written around the same time as A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the subplot of Pyramus and Thisby shares similarities to Romeo and Juliet. Dr Asimov wonders at the order; did Shakespeare write the satire and decide to rewrite it seriously, or did he write it seriously first, and satirize his own work? The records are insufficient for a conclusion.