As You Wish

Inego Montoya

As You WishAs You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes and Joe Layden is the endearing memoir about the making of the beloved movie. I listened to the audiobook version as read by Cary Elwes with guest voices by costars Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, and Mandy Patinkin, Norman Lear (producer), Rob Reiner (director), and author/screenwriter William Goldman. To put things simply, if you like the movie The Princess Bride, then you will enjoy this book. It is filled with fun stories about the making of the movie as well as anecdotes about the cast and crew. The production seemed to be a blast, though of course there were a few hiccups (and memories are often gilded with fondness).

I would recommend the audiobook specifically (I borrowed it from my local library), since it is read by Cary himself and everyone listed above chimes in to discuss their own little stories or point of view about a specific event. Cary does great voices when quoting his friends in the production (my favorites being Andre and Rob Reiner), and it is just an all-around great way to take in these stories. I learned a lot about different actors in the film, especially Andre the Giant who seemed like such a fun guy with an amazing take on life. I had no idea Robin Wright was so young while on the set (the mere age of 20), as well as Cary Elwes (who turned 24 while filming).

To show my age here, I wasn’t even alive when this movie was first released in 1987. So I don’t feel in the wrong here for not knowing much about the movie or its production. I was surprised to hear that it did not do well in theaters upon initial release. This is probably because by the time I watched it for the first time, it was already an internationally beloved film. How could it not be? With so many incredible moments and memorable lines, who wouldn’t love this quirky film? It’s…Inconceivable

Right? Well, it seems the marketing departments didn’t know quite how to tell the world about this satirical fairy tale that pokes fun while being its own kind of serious with sword fights and giants and the Pit of Despair and the rodents of unusual size. After all, it is all read from a grandfather to his grandson. How could they not adequately tell the world of a movie that doesn’t fit into any one genre or aimed at any particular demographic? Well, they struggled to say the least and the movies theatrical release suffered for it. But the world came to love it for what it was and it has become one of the best-known films on the planet. I was surprised to hear that the movie was considered impossible for the longest time in Hollywood. Either no one knew how to do it or it built a bad reputation of attempted productions that failed before they started. Rob Reiner took it up and just did it. From this book, he made it seem easy too. I’m sure much was glanced over or missed since this text takes place from primarily Cary’s point of view, but it turned out better than I think anyone could have hoped.

I must admit at this point that I have not read the book The Princess Bride by William Goldman. It remains in my to-be-read pile and I know I’ll get around to it eventually. I’ve heard people say not to bother since the movie is so good and considered better than the book. Goldman wrote the screenplay so of course I wouldn’t feel any guilt if I never got around to reading the book, but I enjoy seeing the differences between the books and the films. It is very rare for a film adaptation to be better than the book, but it does happen, and I think I’ll make my own opinion in this case.

I think anyone who has never seen the film would like this book, but of course knowing the film first makes it that much more enjoyable. I had a strong urge to watch the movie again upon finishing this book. I think I may have a deeper appreciation for the film now knowing what I have learned. I can better enjoy each character and actor performance. I can look at certain scenes differently such as the epic sword fighting scene, which takes place after the climb up the Cliffs of Insanity (actually filmed at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland where I visited last year). I know exactly which scenes were filmed after Cary broke his big toe. There is so much more I can enjoy while watching the film now. So many little tidbits of information I can revel in knowing, but of course it is just as fun to sit back and enjoy the film for the masterpiece it is. As for this book, it is a glimpse behind the curtain. A glimpse filled with so many heartwarming tales it could even compare to the film it details, but let’s not get into the chicken or the egg argument.

Happy Reading.

On J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien AuthorI recently watched the Tolkien biopic and it reminded me of my own enthusiasm for words. I thoroughly enjoyed the film and wished it would have covered more of his life, but my own research and reading will have to suffice. However, it did inspire me to begin a new section of this blog where I will write about authors and their significance to me. There are many authors I’ve wanted to write about and share, and I have recommended many of their books, but I have never really talked about them directly. That is all about to change. The first author I shall discuss is one who has played a significant role in my life and someone I do feel I have cheated as far as recognition on this web page. An error soon to be corrected.

John Ronald Reuel (J.R.R.) Tolkien has influenced more than just the millions of people who read his work when it was first published. He changed storytelling forever and was a loud voice for the acceptance of fantastical stories as serious, or popular, literature. Like many others, I have been fascinated with the man since I was a boy. I first read The Hobbit when I was perhaps 9 or 10 years old. I quickly read The Lord of the Rings (LotR) shortly after. I can remember, quite vividly, the exact moment I finished the trilogy. It was summer and I was stuck in a church where my mother worked as a daycare teacher. There weren’t any kids around and I wasn’t entirely sure what obligations brought us there. I could only remember sitting in a short hallway between two classrooms as I read the final chapters of The Return of the King in an old copy that my father passed on to me which he had bought as a kid. On the top right of the cover was the printed cost of $1.25. For a mere $5 he had gotten the trilogy and its prequel. I still have the set sitting carefully on my bookshelf. Fairly worn and slightly discolored from sunlight. The cover of the last novel has a slight tear. All bearing cover images probably first drawn in the 1930’s. I will treasure these books for many reasons. One is the story they contain and the impact it had on me. Another is the fact that my father gave them to me. He has introduced me to several significant stories and I like to think I’ve come to an age and read enough to finally return the favor.

But back to the short hallway between classrooms. The walls were white-painted cinder blocks and there was a chair and a desk. I was leaning back in the chair with one foot on the desk as I read the final words. I remember sitting forward and contemplating the meaning of that ending or, rather, what it meant that there was no more of the story for me to read and what the completion of this story meant to me. It was one of the first times I’d ever had to simply sit and think after reading a book. To let the finality of it sink in and weave itself into the threads of my life experiences.

These books have influenced much of the fantasy that has been written since their publication, but Tolkien himself was influenced by much that was written well before his own time. I think it would be ignorant to say that Tolkien is the father of fantasy or that all fantasy writers must read him if they wish to be taken seriously. In fact, V.E. Schwab gives and excellent Tolkien Lecture where she proudly states that she has never read his work. She makes some excellent points about many doorways into the realms of the fantastic. Tolkien is just one of them. A large one that has ushered generations in, but, as Gimli would say, “it still only counts as one.”

My initial fascination with LotR was partly influenced by the movies directed by Peter Jackson. I remember, again vividly, attending the first movie in a tiny, three-screen theater in Marysville, Kansas. The nearest movie theater to Hanover, Kansas, where my grandparents live. I had not read the books at this time and did not know much of what was going on, but I loved it. I distinctly remember having to leave the theater to use the restroom and while waiting to enter the small restroom, I sneaked glimpses through a cracked door as I shuffled my feet at the pain of a full bladder. The scene was the infamous defense of Merry and Pippin by Boromir, and Aragorn’s showdown with the Uruk-hai captain Lurtz. I quickly learned how to control my bodily functions after that and was easily able to hold it in during the lengthy movies. Including the final installment, which I watched with my father after he came home from work and asked if we wanted to go see it that opening night and I of course said yes. His parents had come in town that evening and I felt bad leaving my grandparents home (they declined the invitation if I remember correctly) while we went off to see The Return of the King at a much bigger theater than where I’d seen the first movie. I made the mistake of drinking most of a gigantic soda during the previews but I rallied through the 3+ hours, willing myself to hold it in, as I watched the brilliance of film-making unfold with extreme detail the epic of Tolkien’s work. I can’t think of how many times I’ve seen those movies. In fact, I feel a re-watch coming again soon. The extended versions of course.

I remember these specific moments because they have become important to me as some of the first experiences I had with the magic Tolkien wrote. The movies had almost as much influence as the text itself having first been released when I was 10 years old. The brilliance, awe-inspiring magic of it left many impressions on a malleable mind. I was hooked. I had walked through a grand archway into a new world of possibilities. I wanted to create stories like these. Tolkien’s work wasn’t the first to make me want to create stories, but it was definitely an example of the type of stories I wanted to write. Of course I wanted to write about the magic and the dragons and the battles, but more than that I wanted to create stories that would impact people. Stories that would stay with them. Inspire them. It is a dream I am still chasing today, but I am much closer than I was at age 11. I have a story published after all. Somewhere out there in the world is a one-page story that someone may happen across and enjoy. I’ve also written many things. Most of which will never see the light of day, but I’ve written and continue to write. I may not have the fascination with languages that Tolkien himself had. I simply have a fascination with words and stories. If you are reading this, I imagine you do to.

Another unexpected thing that comes from a story becoming massively popular is what is known today as a fandom. There are many now and some contain toxic elements but they all originate from a love of a fictional world or the characters that inhabit it. I cannot imagine how many people have become friends because of a common interest in a book. Especially LotR. Stephen Colbert is a super nerd when it comes to Tolkien and his works. I like Stephen Colbert. Even though I probably shall never meet him (I would jump on any opportunity to do so), I know with certainty that I would have the subject of any of Tolkien’s works to fall back on as a topic of conversation should I ever mumble my way past a simple introduction before he walked off to continue his busy life. I know this about Stephen because he turned his entire set of The Colbert Show into a Hobbit hole and wore prosthetic Hobbit feet for the entire week he interviewed Peter Jackson, Ian McKellen, and others from the then soon-to-be-released Hobbit movies.

I received the Ring of Barahir, also known as Aragorn’s ring worn in the movies, as a gift when I was in high school. I’ve worn it every day since. It is a more obscure LotR item than those hanging in my office as I type this; which include a map of Middle-Earth, Gimli’s Axe & helmet, Legolas’s short swords, Aragorn’s sword (Narsil before it was broken and remade, aka Elendil’s sword), and a cardboard cutout of Ian McKellen as Gandalf from a standee I took home from when I worked at a movie theater. I am a big fan. I even visited several of the filming locations for the movies when I studied for a semester in New Zealand. I am also listening to the movie score as I am typing this. Whenever someone comments on my ring, I let them know where it is from, but when someone recognizes it, I have an instant common interest with that person and we can give each other a smile of appreciation for having similar tastes. This is an incredible thing. It often goes unnoticed how easy it is to have something in common with a complete stranger. This is just one of the things stories can do, and LotR was an extremely popular story that had an enormous fandom well before I experienced it or even knew it existed. It had shaped the lives of so many people before reaching me and it will continue to do so.

I mentioned earlier that I had cheated Tolkien regarding recognition on this blog. In my book recommendations, I never really recommended The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Instead I wrote a recommendation for a biography of the Tolkien and referenced the other titles in it because I felt like it was cheating to recommend one of my favorite books, especially a series that has been popular for over 80 years. I can’t tell you why I felt that way but I know it was stupid of me to feel that way. I should never hold back like that. (Neither should you for that matter. If you like something, don’t be afraid to let others know about it. Say “hi” to that person wearing the shirt or who has a tattoo of your favorite show or movie or book.) Let this post be a remedy for my mistake. J.R.R. Tolkien had no idea his work would take the world by storm. He never liked the attention it brought him either. I’ve read much of his work and have an entire shelf filled with volumes containing only his name. I know I can always go back and re-read LotR and enjoy it. I intend to. I’ve only read it two or three times in the last 15 years. But there are many other books I still need to read. Other worlds to discover. Other author’s works to fall in love with and expand my opportunity of having more interests that align with a greater number of people. Perhaps one day I will be able to walk outside and talk to anyone about a book we have both read.

Perhaps one day I will finish a few of my own books and have people talk about my work. Maybe they will find new friends because I created something they enjoyed enough to discuss with others. This is a dream that developed long before I knew what it was. Before I discovered Tolkien. He helped me figure out exactly what it was and helped me give shape to it. As have many other writers and creators I grew up with. I’m still learning about it today with every book I read and every story I write. It just so happened that Tolkien’s work came into my life a very important time and has remained with me since. I will never be able to tell him this like so many others who tried to when he was alive. I’m not sure if he read much of the fan mail that bombarded his living spaces. I will, however, be able to talk about him or his work with others and share in the fellowship he sparked. For this I am extremely grateful.

The Once and Future King

theonceandfuturekingToday I am recommending The Once and Future King by T.H. White. This book is actually a collection of four books. The first being The Sword in the Stone which was turned into and animated film by Walt Disney in 1963. This first book was originally published in 1938 (Beyond the first book, I’d say this novel is not particularly for kids as war and fighting and sex and death are, for the most part, shielded from the eyes of children). The collection of all four into The Once and Future King was published in 1958.

This recommendation does come with a few reservations. I enjoyed the lengthy novel (roughly 650 pages and nearing 300,000 words) which is centered around the Arthurian tales, but I’m afraid I may have come to it with a slight case of expectations. I know, I know, it is best to remove all expectations prior to experiencing a story so as to allow yourself to form your own opinion of it. I was planning on doing just that but seemed to have caught the little bug, which flew to me upon the words of Ursula K. Le Guin and Neil Gaiman as well as others who provided blurbs or introductions to this book. People whose opinions hold weight with me.

I understand their love for the book. The wit-filled pages that recount Arthur’s education and inauguration as king to his formation of the round table and the era of chivalry and through the years beyond where if falls into ruin. The story is interesting and entertaining. Some areas drag while others are captivating. It stays true to what is known about the legends (which most of us know of but may have never really read about) and White often refers to Mallory or other sources of the Arthurian legend. I felt that White relied on the reader having previous knowledge of the legend during certain passages.

The more I think about the story the more I like it, but I was not enthralled while actively reading it. White was funny and whimsical while also covering the darker story-lines and allowing tragedy. There are no detailed descriptions of fights or battles or hardships. Many are written without providing action but do provide some detail about the aftermath. The result is no blood and gore (which is perfectly acceptable and not really essential to the story) but plenty of description about scenery and the lands of England. The story of Arthur and his knights has captivated the world for centuries. I believe his story and legend will survive for a long time and White’s telling of it will continue to entertain. After all, it is written for modern audiences and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

The greatest thing about this book is its arching storyline of how England, through Arthur, was shifted from the “Might is Right” society to a more civilized land of laws. The tragedy of Arthur is in his good deeds. He transforms England into a peaceful land by channeling baser human instincts into a morally superior lifestyle. The new lifestyle is what ultimately causes the personal turmoil of the aged Arthur because he ties his own hands against saving the ones he loves.

If you are interested in, or already love, the Arthurian tales, then this book will likely be of great interest to you. If you know a little but would like to know more about these tales, then this book is a great place to start.

Happy Reading.

The Little Prince

The-Little-PrinceThis week’s book recommendation is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. This book is classified as a children’s book and, at only 83 pages with illustrations, can be read in one sitting (which I did in about an hour). The Little Prince was first published in 1943 and captured readers world-wide. It has been adapted into film a few times with the most recent being in 2015 as an animated movie produced by Netflix, which is where I first discovered the story. I was browsing when I came across it. I watched the trailer and thought it was interesting, added it to my queue, and decided to read the book before watching it. I never knew this story existed before I saw the trailer. I didn’t know anything about Antoine de Saint-Exupery either. Again, I find myself discovering new things because someone liked a story enough to adapt it into another medium in hopes of spreading the story to a new/larger audience. I myself experienced it for the first time.

Honestly, I’m surprised I’d never read this book before. Maybe I appreciate it more now that I’m older than I might have when I was younger. This book is one that holds elements that entertain children but remind adults something we may have forgotten. A reminder about what is important. It also reminds it’s okay to grow old, but we should never grow up, even when there is plenty of adulting to do.

What’s so great about this book is its transience. It can be picked up, read quickly, and read many times throughout one life to help keep a stable perspective in the chaotic world we inhabit. There are infinite points within this book that can by analyzed and broadened or delved into to make a grand allegorical statement, but it is also something that can be enjoyed without the need to build it into something beyond itself. It is a story that goes beyond the page, and these types of stories are important.

If you’ve read this story before, then you know what I mean. If you were like me a few months ago and had never heard of it, spare an hour to give a read and see what you might get out of it. Some books are meant for children. Books like this one remind us that we are all children.

Happy Reading.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Alice's AdventuresThis week’s book recommendation is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (whose real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson). With Disney’s animated movie based on this book, released in 1951, and their two live-action versions based on this book and its sequel Through the Looking Glass, I think nearly everyone knows of this story. However, I think the number of people who have read the book would be surprisingly low, which is why I’m recommending it. Have you read this book?

It is an easy read. You can usually find a version that includes both Alice’s Adventures and Through the Looking Glass in one volume (as I did). The first book was published roughly 150 years ago and was influenced by an actual girl named Alice. I’m much less certain about the origins of other beloved characters such as the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter.

I believe so few actually read the story nowadays because there are so many versions out there (mostly movies). Several books have been based on the original Alice stories as well. I have yet to read them, but I know about two “retelling”s of the story itself that take the story in a drastically different narrative. One I believe is actually quite dark. (Side note: A quick Google search produced at least 83 modern versions of this story which is insane, but it is popular for many reasons.)

My reason for recommending the original story is twofold. It is a good story and it’s always good to read the original content, and it is a glimpse into history. Sure, this book probably seemed insane when it came out 150 years ago (I mean, they did have drugs back them too), but Queen Victoria like it! They didn’t have nearly as many forms of entertainment back then that we do now, and it was definitely not as accessible, but this fun little story has persisted through the years to entertain us. I hope it will entertain you as well.

Because it came out that long ago, and Mr. Carroll/Dodgson is long gone, I can provide a free copy of both books to you without an ounce of worry. Feel free to jump right in.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

Happy Reading.