Maine in The Princess Bride

Today, instead of a throwback, we have a new article by S. Dorman, who has been an occasional but long-time contributor to the Superversive Blog.

The house of Steven King
in Maine

he first thing I noticed about The Princess Bride was its intriguing frame. I was taken in both by the narrative frame, telling how it came to be written, and by the fantasy novel’s conceit that it was based on an early 20th-century story which was itself based on older versions. Apparently William Goldman and the author S. Morgenstern were treating this old tale, in part, as satire. I wanted to know: was this frame a sham? Was it real, a guess, a farce?

I began reading William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of Love and High Adventure for the first time earlier last year. I’ve wanted to read the novel and watch the movie for years. Then I found an online offering of Mythgard Academy a perfect opportunity to do both in community with an enthusiastic scholar.

Two paragraphs into this piece you may be wondering what this has to do with anything Maine. Often I begin a piece wondering how it’s to be fitted together and given unity, but here I discovered how to make it work—on coming to the novel’s addendum, written in the late 1990s, entitled, “Buttercup’s Baby.” In real need of its rather desperate framing, it’s a truncated story, which cannot even be called a novella. Did you know there was a Princess Bride connection to Maine? That latter section of the novel is where we find it.

It turns out that the notorious spookster, Mr. Stephen King, is in some way connected to this fantastic sword-and-sorcery—through his ancestry (no less). (As is Mr. Goldman himself.) And you must know that the master of horror is a Maine author. I can testify from experience that Bangor, Maine is one spooky place. And that the Bangor International (yes!) Airport is another. You don’t want to go walking through either after dark without someone like Mr. King to hold your hand. Please keep this in mind if you ever have to travel from one nation to another via this famous connecting airport and its dim and spooky old-town-sinking-down into the Penobscot River Valley nearby. Remember, this Gothic metropolis figured as the nearest town in the initial isolated coastal, glam-vampire soap opera, Dark Shadows (famously ushering in the current sexy vampire craze). Dark Shadows featured Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins. Beware.

Frames are one way a writer triples his fun in writing. And it’s apparent that this author was rolling on the floor of his study even as he wrote. Entertainment all to the good—he must from time to time, as all writers must, wrestle with writer’s block. But, this time, blockage is the reason for the rolling around.

(The Princess Bride in the early 1970s was a time when American writers did not roll around in cafes because there were no cafes then. Only coffee shops and diners. In Maine the inhabitants of diners would frown and make no eye contact if someone started rolling around between the booths and lunch counter of, say, Moody’s Diner on Route 1. If it happened in Bangor they might suspect Barnabas Collins had something to do with it and quickly leave, dropping a dime on the table and hastily settling up with two bits at the cash register. You don’t neglect to pay even if you are scared out of your mind. It is expected. In fact, I’ve heard it said you’re not even to enter any kind of establishment in this state without buying SOMETHING.)

Apparently, as a child, Mr. Goldman was introduced to S. Morgenstern’s story by his melancholy and perplexed barber father. Even though the story’s setting is quasi medieval—even pre-medieval, say, the dark ages—the Barbers do not figure in the story of the Princess Bride except in this rather oblique reference. Instead, readers rely on “The Machine” with its frightening blood-boiling gadgetry—and the Bangor International Airport—for the terror they are willing to endure that Mr. Goldman might at last complete his profound and massive struggles with writer’s block. I’m a writer myself. I know how these things play out. You should see my study after I get done with one of these essays. Or the Nomad Cafe in Norway, Maine. Yes, there is a Norway, Maine. Unlike Florin’s rival city-state Guilder, it’s not just some made up frame meant to deceive you the reader.

Mythgard Institute is also not made up in order to tear down a writer’s block. It’s a real Tower of Guard meant to look out over the sea through a very great distance. It is not rubble for academics to paw through after its demolition.

Mr. Goldman, though a very tolerable writer, had to—I say HAD TO—humble himself and approach the great Master of Horror in the Bangor Maine International Airport, begging for the opportunity to retell Buttercup’s Baby as a complete story… because the publisher (who held rights) wanted to give it to…. Yes, the bloodsucking publishers had lost faith in Mr. Goldman, presumably because of his now infamous colossal writer’s block … and had given these precious rights, along with the baby and its bathwater, to—Mr. Stephen King.

Why would they do this?! you ask. (I presume here. I presume you are still with me even though my framing appears to be bogus and I’m dragging out this awful essay by stuffing it with excessive wads of heavy padding. Why doesn’t she just get on with it? you’re saying. Again, I presume. You aren’t saying any of this, are you? Really I’m just making this up? You’re just in my head. I’m only imagining you, right?

In other words, you’re not really laying down your tip and slowly backing away. (You will, of course, stop nonchalantly at the cash register on your way out.)

So why would those publishers do that too poor Mr. Goldman after all his success, in which, btw, they shared?

In the Bangor Airport, Mr. King chastised Mr. Goldman for being afraid to do his research properly in Florin, where all the materials of this old story are neatly filed and collated and cross-referenced, lexomically analyzed and algorithmically vetted; and where the real landscape, ancient fortresses and towers, pathetic hovels still stand for the writer’s scholarly or fictive paws.

“Why is it, Bill,” said Mr. King (they knew each other from before; having worked together on a screenplay about another writer smitten with writer’s block and tied up by some maniac woman inside a spooky mansion in Beverly Hills, California right next to the LA Regional Airport).

“Why is it that you’ve got the gumption” (Yes, he used that rather old-fashioned word that nobody knows what it means any more) —”You’ve got the gumptions” (in the plural so we can know which part of the anatomy he’s really talking about) —”Why is it,” (etc.) “that you’re here in the Bangor International Airport, but you’re scared to get on a plane to go to Florin to research your heritage and the rest of this story? Tell me. Why is that?”

So that’s my essay on framing Maine in The Princess Bride. Since I presume much here, and no one else is raising a hand to stop me, I’d better just block myself there for now.

Dorman writes speculative Maine, and Otherworld science fiction. Her current-world story, “Pilot of Varying Lights” is slated for the June issue of Sci Phi Journal.


Superversive Blog — Review of Diary of a Robot by S. Dorman

S. Dorman reviews Diary of a Robot by Lewis Jenkins

Diary of a robot

Diary of a Robot on Amazon

The oddest thing about Lewis Jenkins’s first novel, Diary of a Robot, is the robot’s prime directive. That the “Doc,” its inventor, succeeds in his artificially intelligent creation is shown in Jenkins’ premise — or conceit, if you will — that the AI is the one telling us its own story.  But, I have not yet revealed the weird — the robot’s prime directive.  In the robot’s diary are respectful nods to I, Robot, Isaac Asimov’s work, and touches of evident love for Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner.  You’ll find history, science fiction, and mystery in this story.

Dr. Little’s invention, the TM 2000—Robey (pronounced Row-bee)—is on its way to becoming a self-directed systems, software, and hardware testing machine. The “Doc” does not invent without the aid of his little company (TLC —The Little Company). In much of Jenkins’ book Robey displays the learning process of an artificial intelligence. But the book does so much more, as regards the imaginative reading experience. What we want while reading science fiction is hardware, suspense, defined characters, situation, and the “what if” or BIG IDEA.  This novel has that, and more — corporate espionage, bad news, abduction, impersonation, intimations of murder, and chess problems.  But the real more is in TM 2000’s process of testing, of learning, What’s a human being?. Many questions are asked (by The Machine) and, as we watch it mature toward its full intellectual stature, many more possible answers are given (also by The Machine).

Have you ever heard of a computer program designed to test for truth? And why would financial backers invest in a testing machine with such a prime directive? Although to “do no harm” is an important directive suggested by Asimov, Dr. Maynard Little’s team have encoded those specs and others—but secondarily.

Robey wants to determine the thoughts and intentions of the human heart. Its aim is incisive: Precision in reading the human intention in order to act toward its goal of perceiving the truth about each person. Intelligently, even heroically, Robey intends to achieve it. Being designed specifically for the task, nothing can stop it but a command to … stop?…  What if the command to stop is not based on truth —?

Robey’s heroism comes in when his maker, Doc Little, commands him to shut down. Not to turn itself off because Robey has disobeyed its directives, but because it has. From there on, The Doc gets his wish, and havoc results in the AI department of The Little Company.

Do you like exposition and introspection? This is the SF for you. If you read to escape, or for respite from, introspection, this book may not be for you. Yet, it’s a fun and funny novel.  The frequent SF take on AI, e.g. Clarke’s HAL, is often sinister, but this robot is different in being innocently tedious, or irritating, boring, obnoxious, office-disrupting; some kind of pain, depending on who is charging/spending time developing (in concert with Robey) its core directive.  The reader has fun watching it “test” (read bedevil) the crew at TLC.  However, we see that Robey is a servant and understands that it is a servant. Everyone is either Mr. or Ms., e.g. Mr. Guy and Ms. Marie. Robey is also, of course, the ultimate testing machine. This is, after all, how it makes money for The Little Company. There’s an abundance of humor in this book, the kind I like. I won’t give examples because the humor is always contextual. The kind that punctuates (or punctures) the silence of reading with small explosions of laughter.

A big theme, a BIG IDEA, in Robey’s story is (metaphorically) the increasing influence of surveillance in our lives.  C.S. Lewis has said about our human condition that the more we take precautions to be secure, the less secure we feel.   But this Big Idea is also not present at first in Jenkins’ story of Robey.  Instead, as intelligent software and machines increase at TLC, themes of security and surveillance accelerate the Diary’s narrative force, while underscoring C.S. Lewis’s observation about our condition.

Diary of a Robot is not a review of my brother.  It is a review of my brother’s book.

Diary of a Robot on Lulu

Superversive Blog: My Hero, Lost On A Mountain In Maine

Guest poster S. Dorman returns with another powerful essay:

My Hero, Lost On A Mountain In Maine

One of my heroes was lost on a mountain in Maine. Not on just any mountain, but The Greatest Mountain—Katahdin, it was named of the Abenaki. Highest mountain in the state and sharing with downeast coastal Quoddy Head first light each day in the continental U.S.. The mountain has a distinctive profile, standing lone and long. Its two often cloud-swathed peaks are connected by a narrow path of eroding stone called the Knife Edge, some places 2-3 ft. wide, some places dropping off almost sheer to the valley below. Below the summit of Baxter is a plateau where my hero spent part of his first day wandering in clouds, once dropping through krumholtz. Thoreau, one of the first to write about Katahdin, was guided partway by a native Abenaki and, going on from there, he may have taken the Abol Slide for his climb. We don’t think he made it to the top. The slide has been a well-known hazardous trail for generations. Abol is recently closed to hikers for its accident prone unstable debris, in most places solely an abrupt fall of talus, the unending eating away of rock in numberless pieces by frost-wedging — action begun by the glaciers. That glacial debris is in the Gulf of Maine an eon after these giants left us with nothing but rocks. Rocks.


My hero was lost on this mountain, terminus of the Appalachian Trail, in 1939. How can someone be lost on a mountain, you say? There’s only one direction to go — down. After reaching the summit with his companion, he descended to wander through cloud on the plateau below the summit over rocks and stunted mountain trees called krumholtz. But the surrounding wilderness below Katahdin is where my hero was truly lost, while searchers refused to look anywhere but on the mountain itself. They did not come within ten miles of him afterward, believing him perhaps fallen into a crevice of rock. He had fallen so, in the krumholtz, but managed to climb up and out. Altogether he was lost nine days, and covered perhaps 75 erratic miles. Coming from the suburbs of New York City, he nonetheless had had some youthful training in Boy Scouts, and tried to follow what he had learned with them: follow streams down. He needed fresh water more than anything and thought this plan would keep him from thirst and bring him out to civilization. He was dressed as a day hiker on getting separated from his party in clouds at the summit.

To tell you why Donn is my hero would take a catalog of physical, mental, and spiritual difficulties. At the head of the physical list is weakness from hunger. Next, for me, would be biting bugs: relentless blackflies, deer flies, mosquitoes, and another category of blood eaters, leeches, a.k.a. bloodsuckers. Partial nakedness was a difficulty: Before his separation in the clouds he’d kept his jacket but given his sweatshirt to a companion. Donn also lost his dungarees to miscalculation in a leap over one of the numerous gaps caused by glacial erratics in a stream he was following. After slashing his sneakers on talus, he lost them and suffered embedded thorns, deep cuts and swollen feet, stiff toes, and the loss of part of his big toe. I don’t need to add wild animals to the list because these turned out to be a source of comfort to him, even the bears. I think this would not be so today because coyotes now roam in packs through the state, but add rainstorms, fierce sunburn, sickness and vomiting.


A catalog of my hero’s difficulties would not be complete without acknowledgement of both psychic and spiritual sufferings. And this is where the real heroic harrowing comes in. He had punctuated the first day with prayer, and ended it with more. (Later he discovered that people across the USA had been praying for him.) On the second day, Donn was afflicted with images of delusion so strong that he was instantly convinced of their reality. He could not understand why people and mechanisms would not respond to him when he tried to communicate or confront them. It wasn’t until his knees, on trying to stand, appeared as metallic mechanisms that his prayers took on a strong character and were no longer simply a matter of habit. His prayers became a potent necessity.

Praying worked miracles in his ordeal, but always he felt God encouraging him to get up and keep walking. He had to make choices regarding his route that were beyond his ken. There was the time he decided to forsake an old tote road and telephone line tacked to trees in order to follow the water. Things of human make he came across in this wilderness were moldering and decrepit, camps, bedding, empty tin cans. Sometimes he was forced just to put one foot before the other. Sometimes he was unable to do so and had to crawl. Once he felt strong gentle hands lifting him by the shoulders, setting him on uncertain trembling legs, moving him along just a bit.

Sometimes it seemed Someone else was talking to me. They wanted me out of the woods, going home. They would keep me sane if I listened.

Another time, near the end, he felt empty blackness come up into his head and mind. To me this blackness seems spiritual in nature but may have been caused by near starvation. Or perhaps it was simply incapacity of a body that could not follow on forever.

As noted, the book was first written and published in 1939 after the ordeal, but has since become iconic, and read in the Maine schools. The same first person narrative in other editions of print and audio have followed, with plans to dramatize.

The riveting audio book performance is by actor Amon Purinton. He portrayed the experience of Donn’s receiving a bowl of soup, after near starvation in the wilderness as though he were being given a chalice of shed blood just then turned into wine.

One thing to add to this catalog of heroic ordeal. My hero, Donn Fendler, was 12 years old when he was lost on Katahdin in Maine.


Donn Fendler,

Lost on a Mountain in Maine.

The riveting audio book performance is by child actor Amon Purinton. He made the experience of Donn’s seeing a bowl of soup miraculous.

And here is a connection to science fiction:

The Hunt Trail Donn climbed to reach the summit:



Superversive Guest Post: Transport and Guides from Hellish to Heavenish

Subversive Literary Movement

Today, we have a guest post by the intrepid S. Dorman

Transport and Guides from Hellish to Heavenish


Without a guide, how is one to get from the city of destruction to the celestial city?  During the Middle Ages pilgrims traveled on foot (or hoof).  In John Bunyan’s work, Christian conversed with Apollyon, out of whose “belly came fire and smoke,” and whose look conveyed disdain.  But his intermittent guide was The Evangelist.  Modern characters traveled by comet or a train, and what about drones for post-modern transport? Below are some inklings of how one might be guided afoot, but first some variations on the theme of transport.

Nathaniel Hawthorne used the template of John Bunyan’s footsore progress to send himself comfortably toward his own celestial destination on the railroad. He wrote, “The engine looked more like a sort of mechanical demon that would hurry us to the infernal regions than a laudable contrivance for smoothing our way to the Celestial City.” (Hawthorne, The Celestial Railroad.)  The engineer of Hawthorne’s train is apparently Apollyon, who kept the Castle of Destruction in Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress From This World To That Which Is To Come.

Sixty years after Hawthorne’s train ride, Mark Twain sent his first person character to heaven aboard a comet cum steamship.  In Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven readers are traveling through outer space along with Stormfield, hitching a ride on a comet far beyond our solar system.  Twain wrote:

In less than ten seconds that comet was just a blazing cloud of red-hot canvas.  It was piled up into the heavens clean out of sight—the old thing seemed to swell out and occupy all space; the sulphur smoke from the furnaces—oh … nobody can half describe the way it smelt.The captain of the comet had been rousted out, and he stood there in the red glare for’ard, by the mate, in his shirt-sleeves and slippers, his hair all rats’ nests and one suspender hanging, and how sick those two men did look!” Twain’s story carries the type of “backwoods fantastic” fairly even-handedly, balancing it with the comet-like steamship’s 19th C. applied science.


In C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce conveyance from hell to heaven is a flying bus.  The features of its driver, though filled with light, are a far cry from those of Apollyon.  Lewis, the traveller, saw in this driver’s face only competence, authority, and the intension to do his job.  He is one of Lewis’s “solid people” doing the work they’ve got to do. The bus and driver come from heaven itself, not the infernal regions suggested by Hawthorne’s engineer.  In his railway carriage, Hawthorne had seated himself comfortably with Mr. Smooth-it-away for a quasi-guide.  But Lewis was jostled by passengers fancying arrogance on the part of the driver while complaining that his steady competent look was offensive and unnatural.

These engines of transport suggest a progression, yet the personal is highly evident in this progress.  Will some near-future literary journey go a-droning?  No doubt some creative soul might fabricate such a journey.  Would anything be lost in the adventure, if so? The person as pilot is important to me, so it must be an artificially intelligent drone.  Not far off-topic—remember the robass in”The Quest For Saint Aquin” by Anthony Boucher? This artificially intelligent donkey was equipped with both wheels and hooves to aid over various terrains.

In the late 1600s, our first pilgrim began his journey to “The Celestial City” under his own power, on his two feet.  Being told as a dream, Bunyan’s tale of Christian is, as Hawthorne’s story, an allegory, a morality tale with allegorical names. Here now are two Inklings’ accounts of footsore travelers moving through hellish landscapes toward a celestial destination.  In these examples I usurp two stories as allegory for my theme of guides from the underworld towards an eventual celestial destination.

In CS Lewis’s The Silver Chair, Puddleglum is the literal footsore hero, a good guide through Overworld for two children who’ve been assigned by The Lordly Aslan to find Prince Rilian. Puddleglum leads the way and gives advice (albeit with negative commentary), and also becomes a saving figure in sacrificing a bit of his flesh to mesmerizing fire. However, in The Underworld they are guided by another. They’ve fallen under the earth, there encountering one of the lugubrious earthmen who commands them to journey with him, and come before the queen of the underworld. This journey through the underworld is dark with strange objects and living, sleeping things, including the gigantic Father Time. Clearly their guide is deeply melancholy, and the populace, through which they make their way, are all very unhappy.


Puddleglum, as played by Tom Baker (The 4th Doctor)

One of the guided children, Jill Pole, wishes she could cheer the inhabitants, and with her friend Eustace and Puddleglum’s help, guards against becoming hysterical or unhappy herself. The underworld queen and these experiences echo the narrative of H. Rider Haggard’s novel SHE as its heroes travel to meet her inside the mountainous earth—She, the Queen who must be obeyed. CSL’s lugubrious guide is under the enchantment of the underworld queen, along with all the realm, and cannot believe in the good of anything—because her will is not to be questioned.

Once their mission is complete Puddleglum and the children emerge with the Prince into Narnia in time to witness the passing in death of King Caspian the Seafarer. Caspian had always wanted to go to the end of the world, to Aslan’s Country, but had to oversee the kingdom of Narnia instead. Jill and Eustace are so sad seeing him die that they wish to be home in our world again. But joyfully, in this allegory of traveling to the celestial realm, they find him alive again in the Country of Aslan.

There’s another Inklings’ story dealing with guidance that is worth considering. I had considered using JRRT’s story of Beren and Lúthien’s journey because the pair must go through Angband, the underworld of the First Age. Their journey ended in the beautiful afterlife haven of Mandos before their return to life in Middle-earth. Though Huan was with them, still this episode had no guide. The best hell-land guide in a Tolkien story, I find, is the one in which Gollum guides Frodo and Sam through hellish Mordor, beginning on its outskirts. This pathetic, small and malicious guide, along with their horrendous journey, are so familiar to Tolkien readers that I will not recount it here. The demented Gollum has great stamina, is largely unheroic but not wholly so. Gollum’s hysterical inadvertent culminating success as guide saves him from his torturing obsession, and transforms the journey for his travelers. They are found worthy to transcend Middle-earth in a vessel powered by the Winds of Manwë, gaining life in the (Celestial) West and healing from all hurts of Middle-earth and hell (Mordor).

CS Lewis provides us with the most heroic guides in this thematic grouping. One is simply going about his business in a competent and conscientious manner; the other, though negative and depressing, is nonetheless of the heroic and sacrificial type. But in all these tales, the heroes are those who make the journey.

Links to Fantastic Travelogue: Mark Twain and CS Lewis Talk things over in the hereafter.:

On the Third Hand by S. Dorman

On the Third Hand

by S. Dorman

Christians commemorate what’s called Palm Sunday after the palm-strewn triumphal entrance into Jerusalem of someone special. Now the story sometimes goes that this was one of your typical ragtag joyful spontaneous moments.
A popular figure is glimpsed coming through the rock archway of city stone walls, in this case riding a donkey—surrounded by jubilant friends and wannabe friends. The shout of joy is infectious. Seems the whole world loves this man! except for those on-looking authorities over there.
The only ones who aren’t shouting and strewing the way with palm fronds and garments are … the stones. That’s what I’m thinking about here. Those stern stones. They aren’t shouting. They are just lying there crammed together, hard as rocks paving the streets down which (some now say) the LORD OF CREATION is making his slow way (toward the temple to throw out the lobbyists?). Maybe he’s smiling? Radiant? The story says he’ll be weeping when he gets downslope of the Mount of Olives later in the week. Another story says he’ll be going heavenward from the top in about 40 days. Mount of Olives—once covered in groves, today site of 150,000 graves, including those of rabbis, politicians, and Queen Elizabeth’s mother-in-law. Today it’s nothing but compacted minerals buried like gold in the earth, all mixed together, originally from star-particles physicists say.
They say no one’s even ever sat on this donkey before. Maybe this is even more special than your average celebrity parade? The donkey’s hooves are gripping the hard cobbles as they pass and all kinds of people are fanning the way as they mosey along. Hosannah! Hosannah! (What the heck does that mean, btw?)
But those stones! In all this tumult, this shouting and proclaiming over a prophet from Nazareth—well, it’s these stones underfoot I keep thinking of. How come they don’t get to shout? Wouldn’t you like to see stones shouting, carrying on? Maybe popping like corn kernels out of the pavement. Pebbles hopping and leaping and proclaiming that this is the most peculiar (singular) man that ever lived? But, according to physical laws, the stones are too heavy and hard for that.
I feel like such a stone sometimes myself. All tiny dense cold hard. Can’t quite make myself feel what this strange man is all about. I’ve heard of him and all that. He’s special, wants me to know him they say. But. I can’t quite feel that sometimes when I’m thinking of it. Sometimes when I’d like to feel that.
Maybe … maybe….
Maybe if everyone else was forced by the authorities to keep quiet? Maybe then, tentatively, I’d have nerve … and then even joy enough … to shout?
I’d like to think so. I hope so.
Yes, I’ll hope.
But, on the other hand, I’m only a stone, a hard little pebble. And the peer pressure would probably be too much for me.
But—on a third hand!—Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in low heavens and earth, and glory in the highest!!
Stones, I think, can be made to sing. Didn’t the stars sing and shout at their making? At their re-making? At their life, death, and resurrection as new being?