With pastiche, the writer intentionally mimics the other work in order to celebrate that author’s achievements. It is the opposite of a parody that seeks to mock or make fun of what someone else did/made. Despite this, the tone of a pastiche is usually light-hearted and sometimes humorous. Readers should finish the pastiche feeling as though the author has done justice to the work they were imitating, not seeking to criticize it.
Definition of Pastiche
The word “pastiche” comes from the Italian “pasticcio” and the French “pastiche.” A pastiche is a homage to a previously created work of literature. It is made to honor, celebrate, or pay respect to the famous work it’s imitating. It is not created to mock or defame someone’s writing as a parody is. Usually, when this literary device is used, it appears within a longer literary work.
For example, a writer might create a character who is clearly a pastiche or write a passage/scene that pays respect to another literary work. These are also examples of intertextuality or references to literature. Authors might also tap into various sources to create one example of a pastiche. For example, one author draws from several works or incorporates themes from a particular movement in their writing.
It should also be noted that pastiches are not confined to writing. They can also feature in art, film, television, and any other creative pursuit.
Examples of Pastiches in Literature
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
This famous tragicomedy is a great example of pastiche. It references two characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern appear in Act II, Scene 2, and Act V Scene 3 of the play and are childhood friends of Hamlet. The King summons them in an attempt to distract Hamlet from his mental breakdown.
When Hamlet kills Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern escort him to England with a letter instructing the English king to execute Hamlet. The two die when Hamlet abandons them to an attack by pirates. The two characters were adapted for Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern Are Dead, a play that has since been made into a film. It is a comedy that also includes some distinct truths. Here is a quote from the play:
Rosencrantz: I don’t believe in it anyway.
Guildenstern: Just a conspiracy of cartographers, then?
Interestingly enough, another example of pastiche can be connected to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. That is, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead, a 2009 film written by Jordan Galland.
The British Museum is Falling Down by David Lodge
The British Museum is Falling Down by David Lodge is a commonly cited example of a pastiche. It mimics Franz Kafka’s work (in a haunting library scene) and uses the same wording as appears in a famous soliloquy from James Joyce’s Ulysses. These lines are included in the mimicked soliloquy:
[…] he said it’ll be wonderful you’ll see perhaps it will I said perhaps it will be wonderful perhaps even though it won’t be like you think perhaps that won’t matter perhaps.
The Traveler by Dave McClure
‘The Traveler’ is an interesting example of a pastiche. It references Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Raven.’ McClure didn’t try to mock Poe’s original. Instead, he took the rhyme scheme and some of the themes and remade them. The poem is humorous and light-hearted, but readers shouldn’t walk away from it feeling as though McClure made fun of Poe’s original. Here are a few lines from the beginning.
Long ago upon a hilltop (let me finish then I will stop)
I espied a curious traveler where no traveler was before.
As I raised an arm in greeting all at once he took to beating
at the air like one entreating passing boats to come ashore
like a castaway repeating empty movements from the shore
or an over-eager whore.
Readers should note McClure’s chosen rhyme scheme and how similar it is to Poe’s.
Pastiche and Fan Fiction
Fanfiction is a type of pastiche. It is created when amateur writers use already established, popular characters and settings to tell new stories. They do not try to hide the fact that they’re using someone else’s creation and are usually writing just for the pleasure of telling a new story. They usually use copyrighted elements of stories, but since they don’t usually profit off work, it’s not an issue. The vast majority of fan fiction is written on the internet and shared freely. Television shows, films, books, and real-life actors are often the inspiration for fan fiction. Popular choices include the characters in the Harry Potter, Twilight, and Fifty Shades novels.
Pastiche and Parody
These two literary genres are quite similar, but they have some very important differences. A parody mocks its original while a pastiche honors it. Both are used to create new, humorous works of literature and address elements from the works they mimic. But, writers who create parodies have different intentions than pastiche writers.
Why Do Writers Use Pastiches?
Writers use pastiches in order to honor the influence of another writer. One horror writer might create a pastiche that references Edgar Allan Poe’s works or Stephen Kings’s writing in order to celebrate his influence on the genre, or a science fiction writer might use elements of Philip K. Dick’s writing in the same way. Arthur Conan Doyle’s works are frequently the subject of pastiches due to the wide-ranging influence he had on the genre of detective fiction. For instance, contemporary writers are often creating new Sherlock Holmes mysteries that attempt to mimic Doyle’s style.
Related Literary Terms
- Symbolism: the use of symbols to represent ideas or meanings. They are imbued with certain qualities, often only interpretable through context.
- Plot: a connected sequence of events that make up a novel, poem, play, film, television show, and other narrative works.
- Comedy: a humorous and entertaining genre of literature, film, and television.
- Black Humor: a literary device that’s used in all forms of literature in order to discuss taboo subjects in a less distressing way.
- Aphorism: short, serious, humorous, and philosophical truths about life.
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