But wait, there’s more!

In the immediately previous episode I mentioned reading a Japanese comic that eventually became rather tiresome. The manga is called Bleach, and while the story starts off strong, eventually it crumbles under its own weight, becoming an endless series of battles. Most of those battles follow a form of gradual escalation that is common in literature from all around the globe. Just when the good guy thinks he has the bad guy beat, bad guy pulls out a more effective weapon, and suddenly the tide changes.

The question in a confrontation like that is “why the hell was the bad guy screwing around with lesser weapons in a life-and-death struggle? Why leave your life to capricious chance when you have a devastating first strike at your disposal?” The question, while rhetorical to most readers of these august pages, is direct for the people that write these stories. Think about it. You have a gun and a sharp stick. Which are you going to lead with?

As with any cliché, using it artfully yields magical results. In The Princess Bride, one of the best parts of one of the best books I’ve ever read is when Inigo Montoya meets the Man in Black at the top of the Cliffs of Insanity. If you’ve only seen the movie, you’ve only caught a pale shadow of the scene. Inigo has seen the Man in Black in action, and hopes that, perhaps at long last, he’s going to have a good fight. He wants a worthy adversary more than he wants life itself. He decides to start lefty to give the Man in Black a chance. The Man in Black reaches the top of the cliff, and Inigo waits courteously while his enemy catches his breath. Why? Because he needs this to be a fair fight.

After a few minutes the Man in Black stands and draws his own sword. Inigo smiles when he sees his opponent is left-handed. Strength against weakness. They join battle.

The battle is amazing, and the Man in Black pushes Inigo to his limit. Inigo has not been happier since before the six-fingered man killed his father. The Man in Black corners Inigo, who says (something like) “ask me why I’m smiling.”

“Why are you smiling?”

“Because I am not left-handed.” Inigo moves his sword to his right hand and now the battle steps up. They go all over the place: terrain, footing, tactics, and physical conditioning all come into play, written in so naturally that you think you’re an expert on fencing when the battle is over. Finally Inigo has the Man in Black cornered, and his mysterious opponent is smiling. “I am also not left-handed,” the Man in Black says.

Now, see? If you want to escalate the battle gradually, that’s how you do it. Give the combatants a human reason why they would not open with their most devastating blow. In The Princess Bride it is a mutual love of the contest. In The Monster Within, I notice now that without consciously thinking about it, I did all right with the escalation because the opposition’s goal evolved from testing to intimidating to eliminating. In The Test, no opponent ever holds back. The tension comes from battles pending and battles avoided, but when confrontation occurs, the action is swift and fierce, and everyone, even timid little Jane, bites for the throat. The Test is also different because while there are very bad people, there is no evil. Evil is a cheap excuse to make the bad guys do irrational things.

Which brings me back to where I started. Japanese comic book. Evil in this narrative is not simple, but there is still evil. Where the story gets good (and eventually tiresome as they work it to death) is when the toughest opponents are not the classic evil folk but powerful people with misguided ideas. This one does pretty well with the evil beings, explaining their lust to eat human souls to replace the one they only vaguely remember having themselves. Even within the soul-hungry horde, there is a scale of sins.

Ah… foolish mortal. Do you not know of the power of nantuki?

“Well, crap, if I’d known that, do you think I wouldn’t have mentioned the power of USS Iowa?

14 thoughts on “But wait, there’s more!

  1. I must indeed read the book, which I know is around here somewhere. Inigo Montoya sounds very much like Zorro, who is so desperate for a challenging race that he convinces people to get fast boats like his and then coaches them to get them up to speed.

    At least he did say something about my giving him a good time Saturday.

  2. I will always give props to FDiddy for introducing me to the book Princess Bride. I read it to my boys when they were young, and they’re about ready to read it themselves. Then they can move on to Once and Future King. Then Ivanhoe. I taught Doug (11) Kingmaker this weekend. But I digress…
    Bob gave me Princess Bride, John gave me Coltrane, and Jerry gave me….beer pong?

  3. Keith, you PUNY human! Jerry gives you this blog! Prepare to have your soul washed on maximum spin in the ginsu lavator of eternal damnation and extra bleach

  4. Wow. I feel like an idiot (do you know where I can find one?)
    I had never even thought to read the book. I am in love with the film though. A corker of a story. So much brilliance.
    I shall have to add the book to my list. It will make for good reading to my little Harvey.

  5. The book is so much more than the movie. That’s a common thing to say, but in this case the difference is yet more pronounced. It’s funny how many people I know have read it aloud to others. I think this is more to allow the reader to say “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. Prepare to die” than it is to share the story.

    There’s an unintended irony in the book: it starts off a little slow. That pays off handsomely down the line, but a couple of people I know got stalled on the first chapter.

    Yes, CA, you do have a copy around somewhere. I gave a copy to Gerald, who, I think, got hung up on chapter one, leading to a conversation between the two of us strangely reminiscent of a conversation in chapter one of the book.

    Finally, Mr. Iron Monkey Soul of Discouragm (if that’s your real name), are you available as a consultant for evil villian dialog? And where can I gat ahold of that lavator thing?

  6. I was rereading a collection of Callahan’s Bar stories by Spider Robinson a while ago, and in one of the stories the narrator breaks his prized guitar, demolilshing the neck. Naturally he is despondent, for not even a master repair man has a chance of restoring the instrument.

    Someone else in the bar gives Jake the name of a repair man. “He’s not a master,” the friend confides, continuing with (inexact quote), “There is a skill beyond master, that few even know enough to know about. This man is one of them. He is a Wizard.”

    In the commentary at the end of the story, Zelazny writes something to the gist of, “You may have noticed that the part about the wizard came from The Princess Bride. It’s one of the best books ever. Read it.”

  7. When Douglas signs on to his account on the home computer, it greets him with the soundbite, “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” If an unrecoverable error dialog box appears (never happens on Windows), it is accompanied by “Inconceivable!”

    At work, I have multiple computers, a laptop and a desktop, accessing the same network software. Accounts associated with my desktop are named ksherwood_fezik while I access from my laptop as ksherwood_inigo.

  8. I would be interested in knowing if Bob and Jerry discovered the book independently, or if one introduced the other. Who gets progenitor credit?

  9. Hmmm. I remember discussing the book with my father as I read it (he had already read it) during the freshman-year drive up to Walla Walla, which would have been in ’82. I had a copy thereafter, until it vanished at some point in the decades since. I neither remember who recommended the book to me, nor who I might have inculcated into the cult.

  10. I don’t know when Jerry first read it, but I’d have to cede any discovery on my part to Bill. I’m sure he recommended it to me.

    I have to agree with the comment “its one of the best books ever”. It was so good, I’ve been tempted to go find the original, but have never done so. As you know, the story within the story was that this was the “good parts” verion. The author’s semi-snide comments about the flaws in the original added to the fun.

    Anyone out there ever read the original?

  11. If anyone has tracked down the original, I’ll buy that person a beer. A keg. A brewery.

    Same offer goes if anybody’s found the collected poetry of William Ashbless.

  12. Uh, yeah. Spider Robinson. That’s the guy. I fixed my previous comment.

    I don’t recall who turned me on to the book. I don’t remember where I was when I first read it, but I suspect I was in California, which would put me at the party later than John.

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