Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Rambling Review: The Totally Geeky Guide to the Princess Bride

You know how you're supposed to set your writing aside & let it ferment a bit before you go back & edit it? Well, this only works if you don't FORGET about it, like I did with this post I wrote a looong time ago.

WARNING! Contains spoilers. If you haven't seen the movie (Inconceivable!), go watch it before you read this. The rest of you, read on...

I LOVED this book. Let me 'splain. No, is too much. Let me sum up.

The Princess Bride has been one of my favorite movies since I was in junior high. I can still remember the first time we watched it, trying to puzzle out who the Man in Black was (I still can't believe I didn't know it was Westley. “I'd know it if I watched it for the first time today” my adult self tells my childhood self – yes, my adult self is a bit petulant and pouty, and mostly jealous that she can't watch it for the first time again) I then bought the book and the soundtrack as soon as I could. I still have both, although they are in dire need of replacing. I've already replaced the VHS version of the movie with a DVD after I discovered one day that the sound on the tape was like listening to the dialogue underwater – it had simply been watched too many times. For years, my brothers and I have often left each other at the end of visits, phone calls and e-mails with “Have fun storming the castle!”

So, when I was online one day and tripped across The Totally Geeky Guide to The Princess Bride by MaryAnn Johanson, my thoughts immediately flew to the bookstore giftcard my brother and sister-in-law had given me for Christmas. How perfect to spend it on THIS book, I thought! (It didn't take the whole gift card – I used the rest to start my Neil Gaiman glom. I think he might be my next new obsession.)

Reading the first chapter was like finding a new friend who also loves The Princess Bride and really wants to talk about it. This has happened before, in real life, although those conversations never really turn into the philosophical breakdown of the movie that comes with this book. They're usually more of a goodhearted volley of quotes, almost as if we want to see who can bat quotes back and forth the longest, where no one really wants to win. The game is so fun, you'd hate for the other person to lose and cause the game to end.

This is what Johanson refers to as The Princess Bride Test,” saying “drawing upon the movie for commentary on life, the universe, and everything is reflexive, almost unconscious on the part of any fan of the film. The movie's philosophy is as attuned to our own that quoting from it is totally natural; in fa

ct, we only ever realize we're testing a new acquaintance when he or she fails the Test...” (Did anybody notice the Douglas Adams reference? It tickled me. She's truly a kindred spirit, I think.)

FAILS THE TEST??? I don't think I've ever met one of those people. I don't think I want to. I mean, this is The. Princess. Bride. It's not Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, which is one of my other favorite movies, and in somewhat the same vein as The Princess Bride. I would say that Rosencrantz is to Shakespeare what Princess is to fairy tales. And yet, not a single person I've recommended Rosencrantz to has come back happy. “I didn't get it” is the most common, and most polite, response I've gotten. Maybe if we were all taught Shakespeare the way we're taught fairy tales, Rosencrantz would get a better reception. How I'd love to say to someone “I've often not been on boats,” and have them reply “Ah, but what you've been is not on boats!”

Johanson has a lot of fun with quotes from the film in two of my favorite parts of this book. The first is “Casablanca, or the Princess Refugee,” the story of Casablanca told entirely through quotes from The Princess Bride. The other is a scene where Westley, Johnny Cash, Agent Jay and Agent Kay have a conversation because they're all (say it with me) Men in Black! If you just snorted coffee all over the keyboard, get thee a copy of this book!

Have fun storming the castle!