Sunday, July 12, 2009

Thief of Time, or, Why I Idolize Terry Pratchett and Why I Am Unlikely to Write a Time Paradox Novel

It never fails. I crack open a new Terry Pratchett novel, and before I've turned page one I'm writhing on the floor (figuratively, at my age), groaning, "I'm not worthy! I'm not worthy!" I'm scorpion-zapped by the knowledge that I'm in the company of one so vastly my superior, in wit, wisdom, and wordplay, that it's almost enough to make me hang up my word processor. But here ecstasy and torture overlap, and I happily plow onward. Someday I may need to write an essay, for my own education, on all that Terry Pratchett does so well, but that sounds suspciously like an Auditor thing to do.

But back to my unworthiness. The first Pratchett novel I read that was not written for children was Wyrd Sisters, and before I'd gotten five pages in I ran for my college paperback of Macbeth, not wanting to be deprived of a single allusion. Thus Pratchett is both delicious and nutritious. I don't know if all his novels are a direct parody of a cultural touchstone, or not. Thief of Time, as near as I can tell, wreaks happy havoc upon snips of the book of Revelation. Any attempt at plot summary would be futile. I'm going to need to read it again myself. Time paradox stories always make my eyes glaze over. Sooner or later, every fantasy series inevitably wanders into that sand trap and loses its credibility somewhat thereby. Do they ever work? I would scarcely know. I'm in it for the yarn. Smoke and mirrors don't bother me much, unless the failure is so obvious, so lame, so hastily contrived by Hollywood committee, that even a metaphysical dumbhead like me can spot it plain as the zit on your nose. Oh, but I'm dithering off topic. The thesis of this post is that Terry Pratchett makes me swoon, and snort out loud with glee, and those are two things I like a man to make me do. I mean, a book. If there are any time wrinkles in Thief of Time, Pratchett greases his machinery so well with yak butter-whimsy that it doesn't matter anyway. All roads lead to Ankh-Morpork, The Death of Rats and Quoth the Raven are never far away, Nanny Ogg has a cameo and Igor gets featured billing, the Schoolteacher from Hell finds a soulmate, War finds relief from intermittent flatulence, much weight is attached to a bottle of strawberry yogurt, the murderous properties of chocolate creams are laid bare, and proper stress is laid upon Rule One: "Do not act incautiously when confronting a little bald wrinkly smiling man!"

Good rule, Rule One. But if you've never read a Discworld novel, Rule One for you is, Do So.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Princess Bride's Perfections

Our family watched The Princess Bride tonight. It was the first time any of our boys had seen it, the first time I'd seen it in probably twelve years. We'd purchased the Blu-Ray disc from a bargain bin, and the quality was fantastic. I loved seeing how much my boys enjoyed it. The Fred Savage & grandpa dynamic was perfect for them.
As I watched, I was struck by all the elements that were so successfully packed into this story. I confess, I haven't read the book, but using the movie as a source, I jotted down a list of The Princess Bride's assets, just as Westley would have liked. Character types. Plot devices. Props. Motivations. Defining qualities. Here's my brain dump. I'd love to hear any additions I missed.
Romance, right off the bat
Thrown within minutes into huge problems: Westley dead, Buttercup betrothed to froglike prince, and wham, she’s kidnapped.
Pastoral beauty, magnificent geologic variety, creating evocative settings
- opening farmland
- festive city settings
- eel-infested waters
- Cliffs of Insanity
- mountains, ravine
- Fire Swamp
- Thieves Forest
- Royal castle w/ chapel, dining hall, kitchens, honeymoon chamber, corridors

Impossible or improbable settings: fire traps, sand pits, sheer cliffs
Florin & Gilder, rival kingdoms
An artificial plot to start a war
Attempted murder
Chases, rescues
Impossible feats of strength
A flaming holocaust cloak
Contest of wits, daring
Long-brewing revenge
An evil prince
A sinister advisor
A pirate with a pen-name
A giant
An alcoholic swordsman
An egotistical mercenary
A mutant with a recognizable mark: the six-fingered man
A beautiful princess (least interesting part, oddly, titular character and focus of exciting male activity)
A senile king
An underworld descent where hero must die: The Pit of Despair
Hidden entries (into the pit)
A resentful miracle worker and his nagging crone wife
Other hideous crone: the “Boo” lady who castigates Buttercup
An albino stooge
Mad science: Count Rogin doubles as evil advisor and evil Faustian/Nazi sicko scientist/inventor
Freak monsters (Rodents of Unusual Size, Shrieking Eels)
Storming a castle
Blocking a wedding
Reviving a dead man
Miraculously locating “the man in black”
Miracle cure via chocolate coated pill
Dead, and yet …

For each character, a defining attribute

Buttercup: brainless beauty
Westley: indestructible confidence
Inigo Montoya: passionate sense of honor
Vezzini: unscrupulous greed, ego
Fezzik: unflappable, benign
Humperdinck: arrogance
Rogin: perverse sadism, sycophant
Miracle Max: wisecracking
Wife: calls it like she sees it