In preparing for Mythgard Academy’s engaging interactive lectures, the first thing I noticed about The Princess Bride was its intriguing frame. I was taken in both by the frame and the fantasy novel’s conceit that it was based on an early 20th-century story which was itself based on older versions of the text. Apparently William Goldman and the author S. Morgenstern were treating this old tale, in part, as satire. I wanted to know: was this a shame? Was it all 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 this year as part of Mythgard Academy’s ongoing free series of studies led by Dr. Corey Olsen, The Tolkien Professor. I’ve wanted to read the novel and watch the movie for years, and found this offering a perfect opportunity to do both in community and with an enthusiastic scholar. (I’m looking forward to the upcoming academy series, reading Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell.)
Two paragraphs into this piece you may be wondering what this has to do with a blog dedicated to things Maine. Often I begin a piece wondering how it’s to be fitted together and given unity, but here I knew how to make it work on coming to the novel’s addendum entitled, “Buttercup’s Baby.” A rather truncated story, which cannot even be called a novella. And, I find, really needs its rather desperate framing. Did you know there was a Princess Bride connection to Maine? That 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 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 isolated coastal, initial, glam vampire soap opera, Dark Shadows (famously ushering in the current sexy vampire craze)—featuring 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 around 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 real reason for the rolling around.
(This was in the early 1970s when American writers did not roll around in cafes because there were hardly any coffee shops and no cafes then. Only 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. If it happened in Bangor they might suspect Barnabas Collins had something to do with it and quickly leave, dropping two bits on the table and hastily settling up 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.)
(I’m so glad that paragraph is over with, aren’t you?)
Apparently, as a child, Mr. Goldman was introduced to S. Morgenstern’s story by his melancholy and perplexed barber father. Even though the 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 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 pieces. 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 the Guard meant to look out over the sea through a very great distance—not provisioning rubble for academics to pick 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 Stephen King. 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. 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 weren’t saying any of this, were you? Really I’m just making this up? You’re only 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, 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 use.
“Why is it, Bill,” said Mr. King (they knew each other from before, having worked together on the screenplay about another writer smitten with writer’s block and tied up inside a spooky mansion in Beverly Hills, California next to the LA Regional Airport by some maniac woman).
“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 post on framing Maine in The Princess Bride. Since I presume much in this entry, and no one else is raising a hand to stop me, I’d better just block myself there for now.