From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Pale Fire (1962) is a novel by Vladimir Nabokov. The novel is presented as a poem titled "Pale Fire" by a fictional author, with an introduction and commentary by a fictional friend of his. Together these elements form a narrative in which both authors are central characters.
The novel's unusual structure has attracted much attention, and it is often cited as an important example of metafiction. Pale Fire has spawned a wide variety of interpretations and a large body of written criticism. The Nabokov authority Brian Boyd has called it "Nabokov's most perfect novel".
Explanation of the title
As Nabokov pointed out himself, the title of John Shade's poem is from Shakespeare's Timon of Athens: "The moon's an arrant thief, / And her pale fire she snatches from the sun" (Act IV, scene 3), a line often taken as a metaphor about creativity and inspiration. Kinbote quotes the passage but does not recognize it, as he says he has access only to an inaccurate Zemblan translation of the play "in his Timonian cave", and in a separate note he even rails against the common practice of using quotations as titles.
Some critics have noted a secondary reference in the book's title to Hamlet, where the Ghost remarks how the glow-worm "'gins to pale his uneffectual fire" (Act I, scene 5).
The title is first mentioned in the foreword: "I recall seeing him from my porch, on a brilliant morning, burning a whole stack of them in the pale fire of the incinerator..."