a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Princess Hoppy or the Tale of Labrador (1993)
Jacques Roubaud

French mathematician Jacques Roubaud, member of the Oulipo group, wrote this bizarre, postmodern, fairy tale which is decidedly for adults rather than for children. According to the cover,

(quoted from The Princess Hoppy or the Tale of Labrador)

The tale concerns a princess, her faithful dog (who happens to be a wiz at math), four royal uncles always plotting, four royal aunts always potting, a lovesick hedgehog named Bartleby, two camels named North Dakota and South Dakota, four ducks who double as boats (thus called doats), and an amphibious blue whale named Barbara—to name only a few.

In fact, the tale mostly concerns the tale. It is filled with self-referential analysis. The story never really gets anywhere, but the reader can get caught up in the feeling of it. The royalty and their interactions give it the ambiance of Arthurian legend. The talking animals and nonstop nonsense are certainly reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland. And, the mathematical terminology and notation make it seem academic, although as near as I can tell none of the "puzzles" actually make any sense.

Please allow me to quote enough from it to give you a sense of its Lewis Carrollish zaniness:

(quoted from The Princess Hoppy or the Tale of Labrador)

"When at dawn I would finally leave my telescope after a night studiously spent examining the Canis constellation, for example, I always took a few steps along the paths surrounding the garden where, from the top of the asbestos parapets ..." "I am very sorry to interrupt you again," said the dog, still very courteously and in English, "but why asbestos?" "To stop the afternoon sun from setting fire to the emeralds embedded there." " see," said the dog (When he didn't see at all.) "Whence, as I was saying," went on the young man, " one descries the old town still coiled in the arms of the Indus." "Oh!" exclaimed the dog, but he didn't continue. "A fresh perfume emanated from the (numerous) clumps of asphodel. At my feet stretched a soft carpet of strawberry plants like babouches and I only had to bend down to borrow one of their succulent fruits, still iced with morning frost. Not far away could be heard something like a polyphony of young voice: "Six times one, six; six times two, twelve; six times three, zero; six times four...'" "Six times four, six," interjected the dog mechanically. "It was a bed of small arithmetician tulips reciting their multiplication table modulo eighteen. But what's the point of descibing to you all the marvels enclosed in these gardens which I will in any case alas never again see?" And he discreetly wiped away a tear. "Two years went by, swifter than a lunar eclipse or a precession of the equinoxes, and then, after having brilliantly passed by BATD, I was appointed traineed ADAICCITOB (i.e. Attendant Dusting Assistant In Charge of Calculation of Imaginary Trajectories to the Observatory of Baghdad), and was asked to keep an eye on the Andromeda nebula which, apparently, nurtured some escape plans..."

The quotes above are from the translation by Bernard Hoepffner. I am grateful to Al Stanger of Saint Louis, MO for bringing this book to my attention.

Contributed by Henri Bourcereau

Mathematics puzzles really makes sense in this book. A recent french edition has a very interesting a postface which explains some of it : the kings and their interactions follow the laws of a Klein group. The cryptic dog language is based on a elaboration of the 'Sextine' permutation invented by Troubadours.

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Works Similar to The Princess Hoppy or the Tale of Labrador
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Math Curse by Jon Scieszka / Lane Smith (illustrator)
  2. The Anomaly [L'Anomalie] by Hervé Le Tellier
  3. Who Killed the Duke of Densmore? by Claude Berge
  4. La formule de Stokes, roman by Michèle Audin
  5. A Tangled Tale by Lewis Carroll
  6. Numberland by George Weinberg
  7. Matrices by Steven Nightingale
  8. Kazohinia [A Voyage to Kazohinia] by Sándor Szathmári
  9. An Angel of Obedience by John Giessmann
  10. Incomplete Proofs by John Chu
Ratings for The Princess Hoppy or the Tale of Labrador:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
3/5 (2 votes)
Literary Quality:
3/5 (2 votes)

GenreHumorous, Fantasy,

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Exciting News: The 1,600th entry was recently added to this database of mathematical fiction! Also, for those of you interested in non-fictional math books let me (shamelessly) plug the recent release of the second edition of my soliton theory textbook.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)