Sunday, May 08, 2022

Fortnightly Book, May 8

 "Has it got any sports in it?"

"Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest ladies. Snakes. Spiders. Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles."

"Sounds okay," I said, and I kind of closed my eyes. (p. 9)

According to William Goldman, he started writing when he was taking creative writing in college, which he was able to attend due to the GI Bill; he did poorly in the classes, and when we worked for the college literary journal, he found that other editors would reject his anonymously submitted material as unpublishable. In 1956, though, he wrote out a novel in three weeks and managed to get it published, and from then on he had a career, turning out novels occasionally, then collaborating with his brother (a playwright and screenwright) on theater, which prepared him for screenwriting. He intended to get back into novels, but found himself with writer's block. Instead he wrote a screenplay, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which sold for a very high price and earned him an Academy Award. His career was made. He wrote a number of other screenplays and novels.

But perhaps his greatest work came in 1973 with a comic novel in the genre of Ruritanian romance. The title of the work was: The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure, The "Good Parts" Version Abridged by William Goldman. The work began when his daughters wanted (ages 7 and 4) a story; one daughter wanted a story about princesses, the other a story about brides -- thus the title. It started out well; he got through the first chapter without any difficulty and then ran into problems in the second one. Complete roadblock. Couldn't figure out how to write through it to get to where he wanted to go. And that was when he had the key idea. Instead of trying to write the novel, write the abridged version of the novel, with only the good parts. From this came the central conceit: S. Morgenstern, Florin's greatest author, wrote a 1000-page cantankerous, rambling, heavily satirical historical-fiction tale of "true love and high adventure", and 'William Goldman' is just the editor abridging it. Thus, for instance, in the final version of The Princess Bride, Chapter Two, "The Groom", where Goldman was having difficulty, we find, instead of the story, a note from the 'editor' explaining why he is skipping it (S. Morgenstern here inserted sixty-six pages of discussion of the history of the Florinese royal family) so as to get to the good parts. 

Goldman also wrote a screenplay for the work, but the stops and starts with productions meant that the film did not get produced until 1987. The move, The Princess Bride, is of course a classic in its own right, and I'll be watching it again to go with reading the novel. This should be interesting in its own right, because, while the adaptation is by the same person who wrote the novel, it is in many way squite different. One notable point is that the movie, while not a 'kid's movie' is clearly pitched for an audience with kids; the novel much less so. In the frame story of the novel, 'William Goldman', the supposed editor, is pretty clearly getting obsessed with Morgenstern as a form of midlife-crisis escapism from his repulsion to his passive-aggressive psychotherapist wife and his fat son, with whom he has nothing in common. (Both are entirely fictional, not autobiographical.) That is, the editor is retreating to S. Morgenstern's tale of "true love and high adventure" precisely because he doesn't have either. The screenplay makes some minor concession to some parts of the frame story, but keeps it simple (which is probably for the best as far as the movie goes).

The version I will be reading is the 30th Anniversary Edition. In 1987, the book was given some revision to include references to the movie (which is another reason to watch the movie with the book). Then in the 25th Anniversary Edition, an Introduction was added that is in reality an expansion of the frame story. It also mentioned, in the epilogue a sequel (or perhaps 'sequel'), Buttercup's Baby, that could not yet be published due to 'legal problems' from the estate of S. Morgenstern. In the 30th Anniversary Edition, an additional Introduction and a 'chapter' from the 'sequel' is added, but the 'legal problems' continue, and, outrageously, he learns that Morgenstern wants the sequel to be written by Stephen King (who in the frame story is of Florinese heritage). It gives a sketch of where the story might go, and promises a full sequel by the 50th Anniversary. We have no idea whether Goldman would have ever followed through with a sequel or not, or indeed whether he ever really intended to do, because he died in 2018, five years short of the 50th Anniversary, which would of course be next year.