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    metafiction
    SYLLABICATION:  met·a·fic·tion
    PRONUNCIATION: mt -fk  shn
    NOUN : Fiction that deals, often playfully and self-referentially, with the writing of fiction or its
    conventions.
           -DEFINITION : "metafiction" (The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.)

If you look for the one trend that most sharply defines modern literature it would probably be the use of metafictional techniques, those which seek to keep the reader constantly aware of the existence of the author and of the fictional nature of the tale.  Of course, what's bizarre about this is that the novel, from its very beginnings in Cervantes' Don Quijote--in Part II of which, Cervantes refers to people having read Part I--has often utilized these techniques; when you get right down to it, there's really nothing modern about at least this one aspect of modernism.

However, the use of these techniques, even if they are nothing new, has certainly become much more pervasive over the past century.   Nowhere is this more evident than in children's entertainment.  In everything from the old "Fractured Fairy Tales" on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show to the televisions in the bellies of the Teletubbies, the culture assumes that even kids are prepared for self referrential irony and are alert to the wholly fictitious nature of the stories they are being told.

This trend received perhaps its ultimate expression in William Goldman's very funny novel, The Princess Bride, and the fine movie based on it.  Think of how many layers removed from "reality" you are by the time you get to the film, which is after all based on a book by William Goldman which ostensibly abridges a classic tale by S. Morgenstern, which Goldman's father used to read him; the abridgment having been made necessary by Goldman's discovery that his father significantly abridged Morgenstern's story himself, so as to make it more enjoyable for the boy.  Suppose for just a moment that some genuine occurrences inspired some "original" story, by this time we're awfully distant from them, aren't we ?  There can't be many folks who actually need further authorial tricks and devices to clue them in to the fact that we're in the realm of fiction.

But here at last we stumble on the key ingredient that makes The Princess Bride such a success : Goldman isn't so much trying to alert the reader (viewer) that the story is fiction, instead he's trying to convince us that it's real, or at least that there is an S. Morgenstern and an original version.  He wants us to appreciate, even to love, Morgenstern and his Princess Bride in the same way that he did as a boy, at least fictionally or at least books like this one that the real William Goldman recalls from his real childhood.  And this is the little-understood secret to any effective parody/satire/what-have-you : before the irreverence begins, you have to approach the source material with reverence.  It's just not very funny to make fun of something that no one takes seriously in the first place (which perhaps explains why comedy is so completely the province of conservatism and why liberals have no sense of humor--taking everything seriously but reverencing nothing, they find no amusement in irreverence).  Princess Bride is so funny precisely because Goldman has been so careful to follow the conventions of the fairy tale and because he's obviously thought them through so thoroughly.  Thus, for all the fun he has at the expense of the genre, in the end the good guys win, the bad guys are dead or vanquished, true love has been vindicated, and we all fondly recall having our father or grandfather read to us.

Thankfully, there is now a hardcover version of The Princess Bride--for a long time you could only find the paperback movie tie-in--and you can get a copy to read to your kids and your grandkids.   There's some kind of cosmic irony in a send-up of classic children's literature becoming a classic itself, an irony which probably galls the modernist apostles of irony--which is all the more reason to enjoy the story, which, even without this additional inducement, is an awful lot of fun.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A)

  

Websites:

Book-related and General Links:
    -ETEXT : of The Princess Bride Screenplay
    -INTERVIEW : Screenwriting: William Goldman Interview (Screen Writing Utopia)
    -William Goldman
    -Dread Pirate Roberts' Home Page
    -Princess Bride Cult
    -Deni's Princess Bride Page
    -ESSAY : The Princess Bride (Carl Hommel)
    -REVIEW : of The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure by William Goldman (Tony Bradman, booksonline uk)
    -REVIEW : of The Princess Bride (Sharon Galligar Chance, Book Browser)
    -REVIEW : of THE SILENT GONDOLIERS By S. Morgenstern (David Quammen, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of WHICH LIE DID I TELL? More Adventures in the Screen Trade By William Goldman (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of The Big Picture Who Killed Hollywood? and Other Essays. By William Goldman (Michael Sragow, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Hype and Glory By William Goldman (Janet Maslin, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of HYPE AND GLORY By William Goldman (Nora Johnson, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE. A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting. By William Goldman (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting. By William Goldman (Janet Maslin, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of HEAT By William Goldman (David Mamet, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of CONTROL. By William Goldman (Mary Cantwell, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  CONTROL By William Goldman (Evan Hunter, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of BROTHERS By William Goldman (Stephen Dobyns, NY Times Book Review)

FILM :
    -FILMOGRAPHY : "william goldman" (imdb)
    -INFO : Princess Bride (1987) (imdb)
    -BUY : The Princess Bride (1987) DVD (Amazon.com)

GENERAL :
    -DEFINITION : "metafiction" (The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition.   2000.)
    -DEFINITION :   "Metadrama, Metafiction" (The UVic Writer's Guide)
    -ARCHIVES : "metafiction" (NY Review of Books)
    -ESSAY : Metafiction (Victoria Orlowski, Spring 1996, Postcolonial Studies at Emory)
    -ESSAY : Theories of Metafiction
    -ESSAY : HOLLYWOOD AND THE NOVELIST - IT'S A FICKLE ROMANCE, AT BEST (EDWIN McDOWELL, NY Times)
    -ESSAY : NIGHT OF OUR GHASTLY LONGINGS (George Stade, NY Times Book Review)

Comments:

It's just not very funny to make fun of something that no one takes seriously in the first place (which perhaps explains why comedy is so completely the province of conservatism and why liberals have no sense of humor--taking everything seriously but reverencing nothing, they find no amusement in irreverence).

could only have been written by someone unfamiliar with Monty Python, not to mention the Firesign Theatre.

- bragin

- Apr-02-2006, 20:13

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