Princess Bride: Reawakening the Old Tradition

JULY / AUG 2015: BY ELORA SHORE

princess

“When I was your age television was called ‘books’, and this is a special book. It was the book that my father used to read to me when I was sick, and I used to read it to your father. And today I’m going to read it to you…. fencing, fighting—torture—revenge, giants, monsters; chases, escapes, true love. Miracles.”

There are always movies that just stick in your head ever since you were a kid. Princess Bride has always been one of those movies that encapsulated the classic adventure genre for me. It had just that charm of living characters that make you want to quote their lines even as they are saying them.

Every once in awhile another nod to the classics is made, and it becomes a classic in its own right—it’s just its own thing. Princess Bride was a part of my childhood, the characters were always a part of my imagination, and mental canon of fantasy/classic adventure heroes. It is filled with wonderful leading characters and the amazing, amazing villains and side characters that breathe more fire into the life of the story.

I don’t think it’s just that it is told in a classic genre, a tale of a “time long ago” where heroes wore masks and clashed with swords, and there were giants and princesses. They crafted a story from life, our perception of the stories of our childhood. They took us back, put us back in that moment, and told something that was truly magic. Comforting, but dangerous and heroic in its proportions. They put us in the time of heroes, but also in the time of our life when heroes meant the most to us. They told it from the point of view of a child being read to by his grandfather, the carrying on of an old, basic tradition. The reawakening of it. The spur of imagination back into power, in a time of tech idolatry.

Remember when the gang kidnaps Buttercup? You look at that trio and (at least I do) think, Well, that one dude looks skeevy, but those other two dudes look too regular and… normal to be really bad guys. And then you see that Vizzini is the boss, the truly mean one—albeit hilarious—and the others actually seem to be pretty okay. Bad guys, but a sort of—okay bad guy. Good bad guys. For me that was a revelation. Bad guys that were normal, funny, and perhaps not truly bad people. You can actually root for them almost. Through humor, often comes the most human perception. Fezzik just wants a job, Inigo too, but he also has something else driving him (the lovely, age-old revenge angle), and Vizzini is just a selfish, crime-touting lout. With a funny business sense. And a high opinion of his bald intellect.

One aspect of this human portrayal in a brilliant story is the heart of Fezzik. He’s actually a good person. Just got caught up in things. I heard a story while watching the behind the scenes footage that in the cliff scene, Wallace Shawn (also known as Shawn Wallace, I’ve seen both used) was terrified of the height of the stunt. He was quoted as saying that even looking down at his feet gave him the heebie-jeebies. Andre the Giant put his hand on him and stroked him gently, saying, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you.” And Shawn wasn’t the least scared after that. Did the scene fine. Even though he’s scared to death of heights—I truly think Andre’s kindness, his own heart, carried over greatly into his character. It wasn’t just a great performance, but also his genuine heart.

And what memory is complete without Inigo and his, “Hello, I am Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die”? Honestly. It has to be the line of the movie. While so much of it is incredibly quotable, this line is a banner in the story. It is like a pinnacle of the adventurous hero, who has a bleeding heart. And his repartee with Westley, along with the epic swordfight so brilliantly choreographed by Bob Anderson (the god of film sword-fighting, God rest his soul). Inigo and Westley encapsulate that gritty, shady hero—the one that you know is a good man, but has lead a bloody, adventurous life. The romance of exploits and tragedy and adventures surrounded them like a charm.

Their banter leads to the truth, about Inigo’s father: “Without a word the six-fingered man slash him through the heart. I love my father. So naturally I challenge his murderer to a duel. I fail. The six-fingered man leave me alive. But he gave me these.” [Fingers the scars lining either cheek]

Westley: “How old were you?”

“I was eleven years old. When I was strong enough, I dedicated my life to the study of fencing. So the next time we meet—I will not fail. I will go up to the six-fingered man and say, ‘Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

“You’ve done nothing but study swordplay?”

“More pursue than study lately. You see, I cannot find him. It’s been twenty years and I’m starting to lose confidence. I just work for Vizzini to pay the bills. There’s not a lot of money in revenge.”

Priceless. Grandeur and tragedy, wrapped in irony and the everyday humor of the typical burden.

There are not many female characters that I like. Rarely are they done well. Even more rarely does a female character in the place of a damsel in distress get done really well—by not making her the damsel in distress. Buttercup is done realistically. She let herself go in some ways, she gave into her grief when she believed her love was dead, but—and I firmly believe this has a lot do with the astounding performance of Robin Wright—there was a strength to her grief. It wounded her, took the joy out of her, but it made her strong. It beautified a cocky brat into a knowing, wise, love-torn woman who came to realize a better version of herself because of someone she loved. She is both feminine and resilient, wounded and strengthened (aside my annoyance at that one scene in the Fire Swamp, where she was petrified. I was a bit annoyed at that one, her letting her rescuing lover get all torn up while she just stood there) and while she let herself go within the clutches of Prince Humperdinck, there is still a bit of steel underneath. It takes hope for her to remember it.

When the “Man in Black” taunts her with the murder of her love, Buttercup snaps back, “I died that day!!”

And when she discovers that Prince Humperdink has lied about sending his four fastest ships to find Westley, Buttercup  says, “es! I am a silly girl. For not seeing sooner that you’re nothing but a coward with a heart full of fear… Westley and I are joined by the bonds of love. And you cannot track that, not with a thousand bloodhounds. And you cannot break it, not with a thousands swords! And when I say you are a coward, it is only because you are the slimiest weakling ever to crawl the earth!!”

How’s that for a declaration of defiance and loyalty?

These stories and characters show us that a belief in the heroic, fearless and true is not dead. The story is full of superb villains and side characters that add yet more brilliance to the cast, and more memorable scenes. I could go on forever about how they flesh out the story even more, the brilliance they serve. But I don’t have the room. I think these have said it enough. You just don’t see tales like this anymore; they can seem like a dying breed. Then another pops up… and we fall in love all over again.

True classic heroism never dies.

julyaug2015

Elora Carmen Shore has been writing for almost fifteen years, has published a short story titled Eloise and her first collection of poetry titled A Road to Count the Days By last year, available on Amazon Kindle. It should also become available in print later this year. Her poems have appeared in several magazines, such as Moon Drenched Fables, Moon Washed Kisses, and Vox Poetica. She is currently working on a romcom and a fantasy trilogy. She likes to keep things diverse. Elora can be found at her blogs, Pendragon and Out My Front Door.

 

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