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.

 

Science Blast! Amazon Acquires Giant Mech!

Or, at least, the Owner of Amazon drives one, so watchout world! Here comes Robotech/Power Rangers/Escaflowne, and a million other beloved and frightening (Evangelion) futures:

Watch Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Control a Giant Mech Robo

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos got to live out every 6-year-old’s fantasy
when he got behind the controls of a giant “mech” robot.

The Verge reports that Bezos tried out the 13-foot-tall (4 meters) robot yesterday (March 19) at his company’s private Machine Learning, Home Automation, Robotics and Space Exploration (MARS) conference. Video of the bot, developed by Hankook Mirae Technology in South Korea, first surfaced in December in promotional clips. Live Science was skeptical of the robot’s existence and functionality at the time.

But the new video reveals that the robot does, indeed, exist. However, it’s far from clear how much the mech (a term for piloted, humanoid robots) can really do. Bezos flails the arms around using controls in the robot’s torso cockpit, but the robot does not take any steps and is tethered to the ceiling, presumably for safety reasons.

Read more…

 

 

 

The Bosom-Jiggle Factor

Today’s Thursday Throwback is one of our more popular Superversive articles:

A post explaining the concept of the Needs of Drama vs. The Needs of Culture using visual aids.

Normally, I avoid things quite this tacky, but it is such a simple way to make the point. I hope my readers will for give me for the lapse.

(Originally, I thought of calling this post The Boob-Jiggle Factor Index, but I was reminded that my Facebook feed ends up in many people’s living rooms, where their kids are. Thus, the slightly less tacky title. For the rest of the post, I will use BJF, and you may decide, in your own imagination, whether the B stands for breast, boob, or bosom.)

So, to refresh, my theory is that there are two forces at work creating a story. The forces at work are:

The Needs of Drama—the qualities that make a story dramatic, eye-catching, intriguing. Sex, sizzle, bang, POW! Seduction! Explosions! LOTS OF CAPTIALS AND EXCAMATIONS!!!!!!

The Needs of Culture—the desire to use the story to teach lessons needed to participate in the culture, like an Asops Fable or a morality play. These stories include topics like: How to behave. How to treat friends. How to treat strangers. What is and is not moral. – the message of the work.

It is not my opinion that one of these forces is better than the other. Rather, I believe that there needs to be a harmonious marriage of the two of a work to be really great.

Too much drama leads to meaningless sex and bloodshed. Too much culture leads to boring message fiction.

Without further ado, The Needs of Drama vs. The Needs of Culture, as illustrated by the BJF Index:

The Needs of Drama:

Lara croft 5  Lara_Croft_17_by_Nicobass

(And we can’t even see the jiggle factor here.)

The Needs of Culture:

lara-croft-2013

Here’s a comparison:

laracroft

For the second one, we move to Ms. Marvel/Captain Marvel. For those who are unfamiliar with comics, all the pictures below are of the same character: Ms./Captain Marvel.

For this second one, I am only discussing the straight out physical appearance—things like elegance of form vs. difficult to draw but easier to cosplay—not the race, religion, or any other aspect of the character.

Just the BJF.

The Needs of Drama:

ms_marvel_avengers_age_of_ultron

The Needs of Culture:

Ms Marvel

(I’ve seen some really cute cosplay costumes for this new Ms. Marvel outfit. Ironically, the real dresses look better than this drawing.)

An elegant mix of drama and culture, perhaps?

Ms. Marvel cap 2

Any questions?

 

Signal Boost: Style Is The Rocket

Yet another fantastic collection of essays on writing by Mr. Superversive himself, Mr. Tom Simon. My husband, John C. Wright, enjoyed this book so much that he read it a second time while we were on vacation last summer.

Fantasy writer, essayist and critic Tom Simon looks at some elements of successful and memorable fiction. What makes a story stand out and grab a reader’s interest, and how does it happen? What kind of imaginative elements are most likely to have enduring appeal? How important is prose style to a good story? In eleven essays, Simon investigates these and other questions, and his researches lead him to some surprising places.

Like all Bondwine books, this title is sold without DRM.

See on Amazon

Read about Style Is The Rocket at Bondwine Books

Why “Realism”…Isn’t

Today’s Throwback Thursday is one of my more-popular Superversive posts:

Subversive Literary Movement

Today’s post is a polished reprint of a post I did several years ago. This subject came up in the comments of my last post, so it seemed topical.

SSPX0165

Moments of Grace

or 

Why “Realism” Isn’t

I have never liked dark, gritty, ‘realistic’ stories—the kind that are unrelentingly grim. The kind where there’s no hope, everything is covered in dirt, and terrible things are happening one on top of another like a stack of pancakes. (Sometimes, these stories have a lot of blood or sex, sometimes not.)

For a long time, I could not put my finger on why.

Friends would say, “Oh, I understand, they are too dark for you.” Or “They don’t bother me, I don’t find them scary.” But that did not seem to put into words the impression I suffered when reading/watching such stories.

I wasn’t scared. Something else was wrong.

Oddly, it was a funeral that finally solved the mystery for me.

It was a few years ago. A friend’s father-in-law had died. It was a very sad thing. She had never known her own parents, and her upbringing had been difficult. This man had stepped in and become the father she had never had. His passing devastated her and shook her family. It was as if they lost a mainstay that kept them going. On top of this, they had new responsibilities. They needed to take care of an ill mother-in-law, for whom the father-in-law had been caring.

I was not able to attend the funeral, as I was out of town. What I remember was the looks on the faces of the people who had attended. When they talked about this man, light would fill their eyes. Again and again, I heard how they had not realized, until the funeral, how wonderful this man had been, what an amazing person and father he had been.

This death was a terrible and sad thing, but it touched their lives and brought to them an awareness of something greater. It brought a moment of grace.

I have read stories of soldiers in the battlefield suffering terrible conditions, yet often these stories are accompanied by someone rising above their ordinary circumstance to do something generous, something caring, something brave. Sometimes these events are extraordinary, but not always. Sometimes these are small things…but they are small things that stick in the minds of those who experience them.

Small things that make a difference.

What is missing from dark, “realistic” stories, in my humble opinion, are moments of grace – those precious moments when we see the silver lining of Heaven shining against the clouds of despair.

In real life, when things get bad, that is when we are called upon to rise beyond our narrow view of ourselves and exhibit something more.  In real life, we can always find signs of hope, if one is willing to look. What I don’t like about dark, “realistic” works is that they are stories about people who are not willing to look for hope, and that strikes me as unrealistic.

 

 

The Needs of Drama vs. The Needs of Culture

Subversive Literary Movement

In honor of Monalisa Morgan Foster’s kind words about my “Dating the Monsters” essay from Ardeur, this week’s Throwback Thursday is a repost of excerpt she mentioned — possibly my most famous essay:

Sing O’ Goddes of the Eternal Tug of War between Hestia and the Muses!

Of the constant struggle between the efforts to entertain and the efforts to spread a message. In particular, today, this manifests as the divide between what people say life should be like and the way life appears in stories and TV shows.

One of the great needs in dealing with these matters is: the need for proper terms to discuss what is occurring around us. Without proper terms, it is easy to be bamboozled by folks who want to pretend that their way is the only way. Introducing terminology helps make distinctions and aids in clarifying one’s position.

To that end, I would like to introduce the concept of the terms “The needs of culture” and “the needs of drama.”

The below is an excerpt from my essay “Dating The Monsters: Why It Takes A Vampire Or A Wereguy To Win The Heart Of The Modern It Girl” which appears in the Benbella anthology Ardeur.  (An anthology about the Anita Blake books in which you can see yours truly slammed by Laurell K. Hamilton for being a romantic. 😉

I offer it as an introduction to the idea of the Needs of Drama and the Needs of Culture, which I hope to return to in later essays.

ardeur

Anita Blake — A series that went from serving the needs of drama but not of  traditional culture–to serving the needs of modern culture, but not of drama.

Throughout history, a tug of war has existed between the desire to use stories to teach and the desire for them to entertain. At times, such the Middle Ages with its passion plays, teaching has won out completely. [Or so I thought when I first wrote this. I recently found out that there was a lot more to passion plays than I had realized!]

Other times, such as in Shakespeare’s age, entertainment triumphed. (It is amusing to look back and recall that Shakespeare’s plays, which so many children dread reading in English Class today, were written as pure entertainment for the masses!)

The desire to use stories to teach, I shall call: “the Needs of Culture.” Proponents of this are hoping to use the medium of entertainment to lead people to make the choices necessary for a moral, law abiding society. Such societies are great to live in – not fearing that you are going to be car jacked or molested really makes a person’s day! And if we could make our children truthful, upright, and brave through examples in literature, that would be a very gratifying indeed!

The problem is that, most of the time, the more wonderful a culture is to live in, the less interesting it is to read about. A really fine writer can make anything interesting, but few writers achieve this pinnacle of brilliance. It takes a superb writer to make the process of painting a landscape interesting to an outsider. It only takes a writer of ordinary skill to bring excitement to a chase scene with a thief and the Company assassin on ski mobiles in the midst of the Winter Olympics.

In TV entertainment today, the needs of drama often outweigh the needs of culture. We would like to teach our children to be peaceful and chaste, but violence and sex sell. They draw readers. But this does not keep those who would be the guardians of culture for criticizing our entertainment for the places where it falls short of the demands of culture.

So What Are These Needs of Culture?

What are the values those favoring improving the culture wish to put across? Currently, they fall into two categories: traditional cultural values and modern cultural values.

Traditional culture covers the kind of thing listed in the Ten Commandments or the Boy Scout’s Law. It wants people to be honest, upright, brave, clean, etc. The needs of traditional culture require that good guys be upright, bad guys always get their comeuppance, and that the line between the two remain crisply defined.

Modern culture, too, has needs, things it wants drama to portray as good and to encourage in its audience. This desire is so prevalent in our society that it has its own name: Political Correctness. Races must get along. All people, regardless of rank or birth, must be treated as equals. The old taboos are to be laid to rest, no one needs them any more. Nobility and grandeur are to be sneered at, and women must be the equal of men—or better.

What About The Needs of Drama?

The needs of drama are quite different from those of culture. They are ruled by the desire to entertain. Whatever enthralls the audience most, that is what drama requires. Unfortunately for those who would use stories to teach cultural mores, what makes a story entertaining is often directly at odds with what is good or virtuous or politically correct.

Drama is about conflict. It is about breaking taboos, the more shocking the better! Thieves, prostitutes, gamblers, alcoholics, adulterers – all the things that traditional culture does not wish to glamorize make for entrancing drama. But it is not just traditional culture that get trampled. Bigots, class struggles, and inequality among the sexes also makes for excellent storytelling!

Are the people who fear the effect of drama on society starting at shadows? Perhaps, not. Shock value is temporary. The moment you have seen a few stories that violate a particular taboo, that tension becomes old hat. Nobody cares any more. There is no sense of surprise. People do not care if they see the same thing in another movie. They start thinking of that particular behavior as normal, or, at least, as a part of reality that must be endured.

So, those who wish they could guard culture by controlling drama do have a strong argument on their side. But they cannot change the facts; a story that explores boundaries, breaks taboos, is often a better story than one that does not.

Of course, these categories are only generalizations. The same story can serve both forces at different times or support some cultural values while chipping away at others.

 

 

 

Seeing the light on romance

Author Monalisa Morgan Foster has posted a very complimentary essay about my “Dating the Monsters” article. It makes an interesting counter to Dawn Witzke’s insightful piece on Strong Female Characters.

——–
I have to admit, the last person I thought I’d see with an essay in Ardeur, a non-fiction book about Laurell K. Hamilton’s, Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series, was L. Jagi Lamplighter.

I’d read several of the books in the Anita Blake series after a co-worker got me hooked. I did not stay a devotee of the series. I honestly can’t recall where the series lost me, and I really didn’t think much of it. Most series romances lose me a few books in. “It’s not you. It’s me.” Honest.

Lamplighter was someone whose reputation I was aware of and whose short stories I’ve enjoyed. I may or may not have read her back when I was reading just for pleasure (and the fact that I can’t recall if I had or hadn’t isn’t noteworthy either, trust me–ask me what I had for dinner last night; go ahead, I dare you!). I do miss the days when I never had to worry about reading-as-a-writer. Reading-as-a-reader is more fun. Honestly, if you love reading, and you’re considering writing, turn back now. “Danger, Will Robinson, danger.” (This is not a condition unique to writing. Beware of turning any avocation into a vocation.) But, I digress…

This enlightening essay is called “Dating the Monsters: Why It Takes a Vampire or a Wereguy to Win the Heart of the Modern It Girl” and here’s a woefully brief excerpt. To my happy surprise, said essay wasn’t about the failings of men. I almost did a happy dance.

Read more…