Monday, 16 May 2016

Story and Meta-story

"Buttercup's mother hesitated, then put her stew spoon down. (This was after stew, but so is everything. When the first man first clambered from the slime and made his first home on land, what he had for supper that first night was stew.)" (p.42)

Don't you just love it when the book really lives up to the film (and vice versa). Jacob bought Monkey a copy of The Princess Bride by William Goldman for Christmas and we just finished reading it, and having loved the film for many years it was wonderful to find it a very satisfying read. (For full disclosure I mainly love the film because of the presence of Fred Savage from The Wonder Years that I watched religiously when the children were small.) It is a very clever narrative, because it sucks you into the story of the book before it sucks you in to the story in the book. In an extensive and detailed 'introduction' Goldman tells us of his childhood link to the fictitious author S Morgenstern and his epic tale of (equally fictitious) Florin. The Princess Bride is a story he knows only second hand, it having been read aloud by his father, so it comes as a shock when, wanting to share it with his own son, he finds it is not the book he thought he knew. Throughout the book there are then numerous interjections by Goldman telling you about the edits he made to the story and the significance of certain aspects of the story to Florinese history. It is delightful to find that the story has all the humorous quirky characters and incidents almost exactly as they appear in the film, though you have the added interest of the back story of all the main characters, explaining how they came to be where they were for their involvement in this particular tale. 

The Sicilian, the Turk and the Spaniard kidnap Princess Buttercup to start war between Florin and Guilder, but hot on their tail is the man in black, also known as the Dread Pirate Roberts, and closely behind him are Prince Humperdinck and Count Rugen. The Fire Swamp, the Rodents Of Unusual Size, the pain machine, the Miracle pill and the holocaust cloak all take their anticipated part in the unfolding of the events, although people often appear far more dead than they turn out to be. Just as in the film there are also little 'aside' exchanges between William and his dad, reminding you again that this is a tale to be told, parent to child, a shared experience that travels down the generations. It reminds you that that is what stories are for, and that each child's understanding of a story is shaped by their parent. 

He takes the meta-story to a whole new level with an argument with Stephen King about who is going to edit the second story, Buttercup's Baby, the first chapter of which is included at the end. I did not like this inclusion as I have felt that such stories are best ended with the ride into the sunset, you are not supposed to worry about what happened next. As so often I find the story marred by its dearth of women characters and the way Buttercup is such a passive victim of events, but I'll try not to be a party pooper about it. Anyway, go read, enjoy.

""No one could be following us yet?" the Spaniard asked.
"No one," the Sicilian assured him. "It would be inconceivable."
"Absolutely inconceivable?"
"Absolutely, totally, and, in all other ways, inconceivable," the Sicilian reassured him. "Why do you ask?"
"No reason," the Spaniard replied. "It's only that I just happened to look back and something's there."
They all whirled.
Something was indeed there. Less than a mile behind them across the moonlight was another sailing boat, small, painted what looked like black, with a giant sail that billowed black in the night, and a single man at the tiller. A man in black." (p.98)

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