Friday, August 22, 2008

The Silent Gondoliers

I justfinished S. Morgenstern's illustrated book The Silent Goldoliers. What's that? Who's S. Morgenstern?

You poor thing.

I recall when I first saw The Princess Bride -- yes, I saw it first, in a theater, with surround sound, on a date -- and I can assure you I didn't believe for a minute there was such a person as S. Morgenstern. The Princess Bride is a story about a grandpa reading a boy too sick for school "the good parts" of the book his father had read him when he was too sick for school. (The film's Grandpa is entertainingly portrayed by Peter Falk, whom I would like to say is famous from Himmel Über Berlin (titled Wings of Desire in English), but who is in fact famous for playing Columbo, which is what he was purportedly doing when he appeared as Peter Falk in Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire). The book Grandpa reads to the sick boy (who only with great reluctance turns off his video game when Grandpa arrives) is supposedly "The Princess Bride, by S. Morgenstern." But nearly all the action of the movie happens in the story-within-a-story, and there is no evidence of an S. Morgenstern, and nobody on the planet had ever heard of S. Morgenstern or The Princess Bride before the movie came out, which all suggest this book, like the Necronomicon, is a piece of fancy existing only to advance the plot of the movie.

And as one views the film, the proof the book is fake soon arrives: everybody knows that the book is always better than the movie, and the movie is so good that a better story is unimaginable. Therefore, the book described in the movie cannot exist. Q.E.D.

The book is always better than the movie.

And ... yet ... there is a book.

Therefore, you must order S. Morgenstern's The Princess Bride without delay and read it as soon as possible. I will, however, claim half-credit: The Princess Bride isn't written by S. Morgenstern, but by William Goldman, who presents his work as an abridgement of a longer work by S. Morgenstern -- a ponderous work which needed to have lots of stuff thrown out in order to make it suitable for young readers uninterested in the politics of Florin or the hat collections of ladies hoping to marry Prince Humperdink. Thus, S. Morgenstern is a joke created as a narrative device by Goldman, who takes the joke as far as anyone is willing. For example, persons writing the publishers of The Princess Bride for text that Goldman claims he wasn't permitted to publish receive bogus explanations that they cannot accede to fan requests for the requested passage due to legal troubles with the Morgenstern estate. As there was never a prior Morgenstern author, there is of course no estate with which to have legal wrangles, but this kind of interplay with fans -- and possible jokes on inattentive readers -- is also good entertainment.

Playing on the supposed death of S. Morgenstern (which one must conclude from the supposed wrangling with the Morgenstern estate), The Silent Gondoliers opens with a letter purporting to be from Morgenstern to his U.S. publishers explaining that though frightfully old, he still notices his hands moving as he writes and thus must be alive -- indeed, alive enough to have after careful research prepared a documentary manuscript of The Silent Gondoliers.

Using S. Morgenstern's puzzlement as an adult about the lack of Christmas-morning singing by Venetian goldoliers as the starting point, Goldman has Morgenstern (pretend to) faithfully report the results of his research into the reason the gondoliers stopped their world-famous singing. What? You've never heard of the famous singing gondoliers of Venice? It's all backed up by Morgenstern's claims to have documentary evidence at hand -- receipts and notes -- and he carefully identifies certain interviewee witnesses to support the credibility of his documentary.

I mean, you can't make this stuff up, can you?

The Silent Gondoliers is a good read, much shorter than The Princess Bride, and a sweet and uplifting tale. I don't want to spoil anything, but it's not a traditional boy-gets-girl in the style of ... well, in the style of The Princess Bride. It's good fun and suitable for folks without a week to spend on the much longer The Princess Bride.

The Princess Bride movie is so good that I can actually recommend it to people uninterested in taking the time to read the book. On the other hand, unless you have been diagnosed with a malady that leaves you with doubt you have enough time left to finish it, it's hard to believe you have something better to do than to read The Princess Bride. If you are worried about the time you have to read, consider The Silent Gondoliers as a possible warm-up for Morgenstern's longer work.

If you listen carefully, you can hear the dearly departed S. Morgenstern gently chuckling as you turn the pages.

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