In the books, Oliver's most famous works are those featuring her vegetarian Finn detective Sven Hjerson. Since she knows nothing of Finland, Oliver frequently laments Hjerson's existence. In many of her appearances, Oliver — and her feelings toward Hjerson — reflect Agatha Christie's own frustrations as an author, particularly with the Belgian Hercule Poirot (an example of self-insertion). The self-caricature has also been used to discuss Christie's own follies in her earlier novels. For instance, in Mrs McGinty's Dead, Mrs. Oliver talks of having made the blowpipe a foot long in one of her novels, whereas the actual length is something like four and half feet - the same mistake Christie made in Death in the Clouds.
In The Pale Horse, Mrs. Oliver is acquainted with the Rev. and Mrs. Dane Colthrop, who are also friends of Miss Marple (as seen in The Moving Finger) — thus establishing that Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot exist in the same world.
Books by Ariadne Oliver and by a number of other fictitious mystery writers are discussed by the characters in the Poirot novel The Clocks (1963).
In a short piece in John Bull Magazine in 1956, Christie was quoted as saying, "I never take my stories from real life, but the character of Ariadne Oliver does have a strong dash of myself." The author of the article went on to state, "It is perfectly true that sometimes she works at her stories in a large old-fashioned bath, eating apples and depositing the cores on the wide mahogany surround.
Even in the one novel in which she appears without Poirot, Mrs. Oliver does not function as a detective, in that she rarely participates in the investigation and contributes only tangentially to the solution. In Cards on the Table she does interview some of the suspects, and in Elephants Can Remember she again interviews witnesses, but none of the essential ones. She is more usually used for comic relief or to provide a deus ex machina through her intuitive or sudden insights, a function that is especially apparent in Third Girl in which she furnishes Poirot with virtually every important clue.
Further functions of Mrs. Oliver are: to enable Christie to discuss overtly the techniques of detective fiction; to contrast the more fanciful apparatuses employed by mystery authors with the apparent realism of her own plots; and to satirise Christie's own experiences and instincts as a writer. Mrs. Oliver therefore serves a range of literary purposes for Christie.
The true first appearance of Mrs. Oliver was a brief appearance in the short story The Case of the Discontented Soldier which was first published, along with four other stories in the August 1932 issue of the US version of Cosmopolitan magazine (issue number 554) under the sub-heading of Are You Happy? If Not Consult Mr. Parker Pyne. The story first appeared in the UK in issue 614 of Woman's Pictorial on October 15, 1932 and was later published in book form in 1934 as Parker Pyne Investigates (titled Mr. Parker Pyne, Detective in the US). Within this story she appeared as part of Pyne's unorthodox team of freelance assistants. All her subsequent appearances (save one) were in Poirot novels:
A 1986 adaptation of Dead Man's Folly starred Jean Stapleton as Ariadne Oliver.
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