Inconceiveable!: Why I Don’t Like The Princess Bride
*Today’s guest post comes from editorial intern, Samantha Otto. Samantha is well-known around the office for having terrible taste in movies. The following is in her voice, with limited, necessary, italicized editorial comment.*
I had just left a folklore class discussing traditional European fairy tales, so imagine my surprise when I walked into the TMR conference room to hear a fellow intern and our social media editor discussing the 1987 family comedy The Princess Bride, based on the book by William Goldman.
(A wonderful book, and a better movie, starring, among others, Kevin Wilson)
That was when I made my fatal blunder: “Are you talking about The Princess Bride?” I exclaimed, “I hate that movie!”
Ah yes, there it was. Did you catch it? Here it is in case you missed it: I, a twenty year old girl, openly admiting that I didn’t like one of the most popular 80s princess movies. Jaws dropped. Pencils snapped. Traffic outside screeched to a halt. Men at work removed their hats and shook their heads with resign. Even Chuck Norris did a double take.
(Here, Samantha is using hyperbole. Given both her fondness for it, and the expertise with which she wields it, one would be forgiven for showing surprise at her hatred of The Princess Bride, arguably one of the greatest movies in film history.)
Maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but honestly, I’ve never seen a group of English majors look more astonished. Someone in the room informed me that movie’s 25th anniversary is fast approaching (voice in my head: …so?). Since you, dear reader, probably reacted the same way my colleagues did, I will attempt to explain myself.
(I find it highly doubtful that you will convince me of your heresy.)
First of all, it must be established that I am in no way whatsoever opposed to the telling of princess-based fairy tales. It’s true that some of Disney’s earliest princess films set the feminist movement back a few decades, but I’m a firm believer in letting children enjoy the simple pleasures of childhood as long as they damn well please. Simple pleasures including (but not limited to) singing crabs and woodland creatures that help make the bed. Yes, I was a Disney daughter—firmly believing I was a mermaid princess until I joined a swim team and removed all possibility of living life in an aquatic environment. C’est la vie, I suppose. In any case, princesses for the win.
What bothers me most is the titular princess. Buttercup (what kind of a name is that, anyway?) is the princess bride. Buttercup has quite a few adventures, as I recall, but her greatest attribute was being a bride. Really? I know Cinderella’s accolades don’t extend much further but at least she was escaping domestic abuse. Buttercup is, as I understand, a spoiled girl who takes delight in ordering around the stable boy with a pencil mustache. It isn’t until one day she “decides” that she loves Westley and he is forced to seek his fortunes on the sea to win her hand. His ship is attacked, and, believing him dead, Buttercup is all set to passively marry Prince Humperdinck (a much better name that MSWord even recognizes) with a pretty pout on her princess face.
(Alright. This is sensible, logical, articulate.)
Which brings me to my next point: Buttercup doesn’t do much of anything. She’s one of the most passive characters I’ve ever seen portrayed on screen. They could have hired a my-size Barbie to stand in her place for 99% of the movie and seen no difference (no offense to Robin Wright’s acting abilities, she’s fabulous—this just wasn’t her script, or anyone’s for that matter). Example? The scariest scene of the movie: The Fire Swamp. Place yourself in Buttercup’s fire engine-red shoes: you’ve just been reunited with your dashing love only minutes before and now he’s leading you through a forest where fire can (and will) burst from the ground at any given moment, sand pits pocket the landscape, and giant rats rule the turf. You are terrified. Suddenly one of those giant rats, the aptly named “Rodents Of Unusual Size”, pounces upon your lover boy and rips a decent chunk out of his shoulder. Quick! What would you do? If you’re a true Princess Buttercup you’ll clap your hands to your mouth and…
…well, that’s about it.
(Agreed, it’s not ideal. But…)
Buttercup stands and watches as Wesley is almost mauled to death by a rat the size of the common Great Dane. No gasps, no swoons, no calls for help, no beating of the rodent with a nearby tree branch. Even Sleeping Beauty did more to motivate her man (and she was drugged)! For the love of all vengeful Spaniards, please give the girl some spunk! Buttercup wouldn’t bother me half as much if she took action against her captors instead of just mouthing off to them or standing in the background, eyes glazed over like an early-edition Kristin Stewart.
(You’ve got spunk, Otto. I hate spunk.)
I believe it is unfair to provide young girls with a role model that is about as motivated as a sack of royal potatoes. Although Disney princesses may not be the perfect example of the “go get’em girl” attitude I respect, at least they have goals and the courage to reach for them. Buttercup, at her darkest moment, threatens suicide. Give me ball gowns and godmothers any day.
Now, I will concede, The Princess Bride, is one of the most quotable movies of all time (“My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!”). I also believe it trumpets important values: teamwork, wit, persistence, and, of course, never going against a Sicilian when death is on the line. In addition, it revolves around a different kind of love than other fairy tales. Romantic love, sure, but also a deeper love based not on dashing princes and love-at-first sight. It is a love based on the unwavering desire to do whatever it takes to make the one you love happy. From the stable boy obeying Buttercup’s every whim to the grandfather agreeing to read again to his whiny grandson, love is the motivator. It may not be romantic or even seem like love at all—but it guides the hero home and soothes the ailing child.
(And a kind of gracious winner.)
Was that enough? Have I explained thoroughly my reasons for shrugging off one of the country’s great cult classics? Write me a new heroine with a spark in her and I will reconsider. Should I go away now so you can watch your favorite movie in peace?
As you wish.
On Writing Despite Rejection
*Today’s guest post comes via LaTanya McQueen, a first-year PhD student at the University of Missouri. Her most recent publications include stories in Nimrod, Fourteen Hills, The North American Review, Potomac Review, and War, Literature, and the Arts.*
In one of the earliest workshops I ever took, one of the students asked our professor for advice on finding the inspiration to keep writing despite life’s difficulties. My professor’s response was to tell her as well as the rest of the class to do something else. He advised us all to stop writing. “If you can find anything else to pursue in life, do that instead. You’ll be much happier. However, if after all of that, you still find yourself coming back to writing, then maybe you should consider it as a path.”
I understood why he told us that. We are often told how hard it is to write—the rejections we’ll face,the problems we’ll encounter. However, it’s one thing to hear the words but it becomes something completely different when you experience it. Getting a rejection can be a devastating experience, especially when you’ve feel that you’ve done the work, whether that involves completing a MFA program or finishing a book, poem, or short story. Better to just avoid the whole ordeal altogether, my professor advised. Find your happiness elsewhere, if you can.
Some time later I came across the 2008 issue of Poets and Writers. In it, there’s an interview with the author Andrew Porter where he talked about a burglary that happened shortly after finishing his story collection. His computer was stolen and all of his work was lost. All of his stories completely gone. It took him ten years to start over, culminating in his debut story collection, The Theory of Light and Matter which won the Flannery O’Connor Prize.
I was in my MFA program when I read this story. I ripped it out of the magazine, folded it up, and have kept it with me ever since.
I’ve never collected rejections. Common writing advice I’ve come across suggests that I should. The example of papering one’s wall with rejections is often given. The impulse to keep them makes sense. The positive remarks can be helpful and encouraging. Rejections can also be a rewarding reminder of the process it sometimes takes to write and publish a piece.
Instead of rejections though, I collect stories like the one with Andrew Porter. They are what I read in my moments of anguish. t keeps me going to know that someone else has been there. We may believe we struggle alone, but the truth is we’re all out there—each of us combating similar problems, harboring the same fears, however much most days we try to suppress it.
I am fascinated by those writers who continue writing despite the constant rejection. I think of Myfanwy Collins who wrote three novels before finally publishing Echolocation this past year with Engine Books. I think of Jac Jemc, who for years blogged about her rejections on her website. The writer Jacob Appel is another example. Chances are, if you’ve ever worked for a journal or even been published in a journal, you’ve come across his name. He’s published hundreds of stories and it’s only until recently that he finally had some success with publishing a book. His story collection, Scouting for the Reaper won the Black Lawrence Press contest and is forthcoming.
I wrote to Appel once asking about his publishing experiences and he wrote back and told me he had accumulated more than ten thousand various submissions. Try to consider that for a moment—not even a hundred or a thousand, but ten thousand. Think of all the folded pieces of paper. Think of the span of time it would take. Think of the amount of revisions. Think of all those new beginnings.
Yet, despite the constant no’s and the months trickling to years, somehow still believing in what you’re doing enough to keep going, to look at the story once more and try to make it better. To submit one more time in the hope that maybe this time you did it right.
I am fascinated by the struggle. I’m intrigued by those who make the decision to quit their jobs and pursue writing. Ben Fountain is one. It took him eighteen years after quitting his job as a lawyer to write and publish Brief Encounters With Che Guevara, a collection that ended up winning the PEN/Hemingway Award. As an aside, here’s a pretty remarkable interview he did with Ecotone that’s in their Spring 2010 issue.)
If you look for them, you can find these stories everywhere. Stories of writers who wrote despite whatever obstacles, who believed in what they were doing enough to keep going. There is something incredibly reassuring in hearing each one.
My same professor has a poem taped to the front of his door from W. S. Merwin. To my knowledge, it’s still there. The ending of it goes:
“I had hardly begun to read
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can’t
you can’t you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don’t write”
This is a question I’ve thought about over the years. It is, I think, something we all struggle with, whether we’re writers with published books or have only the fledgeling desire to begin putting words on the page. These are things I think about as I sit in an empty room staring at a story I’ve worked on for months or years. These are things I think about each day when I again recommit myself to writing, of saying to myself that yes this important, yes this is worth the time, and the sacrifice, and the patience.
Do I have it in me to continue?
Is what I’m doing worth it?
Am I or will I ever be good enough?
The truth is I’ll never know, not definitely, not for sure, but I am full of hope.
English majors learn real-life skills
I’m a believer in a liberal arts education and all that it stands for, including (but not limited to) the enhancement of critical reading and thinking skills, a broadened cultural perspective, an appreciation of the arts, and a context for determining why we’re here and what our purpose in life may be. That does not, however, preclude us from equipping our students with practical skills, such as those needed to communicate in an ever-increasing digital world.
Learning such communication skills is an important part of The Missouri Review internship program. Not only are our interns immersed in reading and discussing manuscripts, but they also learn about the larger business of running a magazine. Last semester, that included teams of interns producing video podcasts. These students experienced all aspects of production, including storyboarding, the capturing of video, and editing audio and video tracks. Video subjects included author and staff interviews, an interview with our poetry editor, and a short on the “The Life of a Manuscript.” For a brief insight in what happens to a submitted manuscript, click here. And thanks for the creativity and diligent work by this team of interns (which, by the way, does include more than English majors): Scott Scheese, Kate McIntrye, Lindsay Sihilling, Cody Horton, and Emily Wunderlich. Original music by Kyle Stokes. We’ll post more video podcasts in the coming months.
Low Rent Magazine Launched!
The Missouri Review has a long history of sending our former interns into the world of publishing. Jason Koo, our former poetry editor, becomes our latest flag bearer into the literary magazine world. He and friends Bill Hughes, Robert Liddell, and Jeff Bernard have just launched Low Rent magazine. Check it out at www.lowrentmagazine.com.