Thursday, April 18, 2013

P is for Princesses

I stopped reading fairy tales a long time ago. I don't read books with princes saving princesses from towers unless I'm putting my sister to sleep, and even then, I usually do a simplified version of whatever book I'm reading - it's much funner and a whole lot more interesting. I stopped reading fairy tales right around the time I discovered kick-but heroines, which had more spunk, courage, and personality than all the princesses put together. Which gives me a perfectly good reason to be hesitant towards reading the book The Princess Bride by William Goldman. The reviews said it was an outstanding book, though, and the synopsis promised a kick-but heroine, fighting, and, well, everything. 

And so I read it. Then I hit my head on the wall a few times for not reading it earlier. And then I urged my younger brother to not make the same mistake and hurry up and read it. And then he hit my head to the wall a couple more times because I hadn't discovered it and gave it to him to read earlier.

So, what is it about?

What happens when the most beautiful girl in the world marries the handsomest prince of all time and he turns out to be...well...a lot less than the man of her dreams?
As a boy, William Goldman claims, he loved to hear his father read the S. Morgenstern classic, The Princess Bride. But as a grown-up he discovered that the boring parts were left out of good old Dad's recitation, and only the "good parts" reached his ears. Now Goldman does Dad one better. He's reconstructed the "Good Parts Version" to delight wise kids and wide-eyed grownups everywhere.What's it about? Fencing. Fighting. True Love. Strong Hate. Harsh Revenge. A Few Giants. Lots of Bad Men. Lots of Good Men. Five or Six Beautiful Women. Beasties Monstrous and Gentle. Some Swell Escapes and Captures. Death, Lies, Truth, Miracles. In short, it's about everything.

I really cannot sum it up better than that last sentence. This is the best thing I've read since Roald Dahl. I'd given up hope, and now I'm all hopeful again. Smart, witty, sarcastic, funny. It's the shortened version of a book hat never really did exist. The Princess Bride, by S. Morgenstren? That was a lie. So you can even see this whole book as one big joke. And the writing is just so clever. No matter what your age, if you can read, you should really go pick this up from your library. Better yet, buy it. And put it next to The BFG and The Secret Garden on your classics shelf. That's what I'm going to do, at least.

Did I mention how brilliant the writing is? Pure Genius.

Excerpts (to show you the pure good stuff I was talking about, and if you've already read it, which you probably have, then to remind you of the pure good stuff)

Prince Humperdinck was shaped like a barrel. His chest was a great barrel chest, his thighs mighty barrel thighs. He was not tall but he weighed close to 250 pounds, brick hard. He walked like a crab, side to side, and probably if he wanted to be a ballet dancer, he would have been doomed to a miserable life of endless frustration. But he didn't want to be a ballet dancer. He wasn't in that much of a hurry to be king either. Even war, which he excelled at, took second place in his affections. Everything took second place in his affections. Hunting was his love.

Me again. Of all cuts in this version, I feel most justified in making this one. Just as the chapters on whaling in Moby Dick can be omitted by all but the most punishment-loving readers, so the packing scenes that Morgenstern details here are really best left alone. That's what happens for teh next fifty-six and a half pages of the Princess Bride: packing. (I include unpacking scenes in teh same category.)
What happens is just this: Queen Bella packs most of her wardrobe (11 pages) ad travels to Guilder (2 pages). In Guilder she unpacks (5 pages), then tenders the invitation to Princess Noreena (1 page). Princess Noreena accepts (1 page). Then Princess Noreena packs all her clothes and hats (23 pages) and, together, the Princess and the Queen travel back to Florin for the annual celebration of the founding of Florin City (1 page). They reach King Lotharon's castle, where Princess Noreena is shown her quarters (1/2 page) and unpacks all the same clothes and hats we've just seen her pack one and a half pages before (12 pages).
It's a baffling passage. I spoke to Professor Bongiorno, of Columbia University, the head of their Florinese Department, and he said this was the most deliciously satiric chapter in the entire book, Morgenstern's point, apparently, being simply to show that although Florin considered itself vastly more civilized than Guilder, Guilder was, in fact, the far more sophisticated country, as indicated by the superiority in number and quality of the ladies' clothes. I'm not about to argue with a full professor, but if you ever have a really unbreakable case of insomnia, do yourself a favor and start reading Chapter three of the uncut version.

"For the last time I ask you. Please"
"For the last time I tell you, I am sorry. No"
"I gave my word that the sword would be made," Yeste said. "I cannot make it. In all the world no one can but you, and you say no. Which means I have gone back on a commitment. Which means I have lost my honor. Which means that since honor is the world I care about, and since I cannot live without it, I must die. And since you are my dearest friend, I may as well die now, with you, basking in the warmth of your affection"

Ahhh yes. I'm in love with this book. Now I shall watch the movie.