It is no secret that I love a good fairy tale. Or, if you prefer, “classic tales of true love and high adventure.” Let’s call it that. On the hottest night of this summer, I sat on my roof and read William Goldman’s adaptation of S. Morgenstern’s “The Princess Bride” cover to cover as the sun burnt down through the hot copper and gold clouds. I cannot recommend the book enough—all the best bits of the movie are in there, verbatim. And, like most things, the book is even better.
It was the Friday at the end of the heat wave in Boston. I had spent the day being horribly uncomfortable in my sweat-soaked skin, while also being riotously sad that we’ve made the world this hot. I was landscaping all day, trying to keep the remaining flowers in the gardens of strangers from crispifying in the heat. It’s not that I particularly care if the petunias and hostas of the greater Newton area live or die, but to see living things in the soil crumble and die because of the temperature concerns me deeply. I like food and, despite the changing climates and erratic growing seasons that are coming, I hope to eat for the next sixty to seventy years.
It was in this spirit that I clambered up to the roof, where I could almost pretend that I might feel a breeze and opened my book, looking for escape relief from the Cliffs of Insanity and the Pit of Despair.
However, as they say, “wherever you go, there you are.”
I am incapable of divorcing whatever is in front of me from my larger desire to find ways to save the world, from and for, our own sweet selves. My reading of “The Princess Bride” was thusly colored. And, perhaps not inconceivably, Fezzik and Inigo—the best adventurers of the book—turn out to be great models, if you’re looking for ways to rescue something important.
Here is the main introduction to Fezzik, as he is climbing up the Cliffs of Insanity:
“But his real might lay in his arms. There had never, not in a thousand years, been arms to match Fezzik’s. (For that was his name.) The arms were not only Gargantuan and totally obedient and surprisingly quick, but they were also, and this was why he never worried, tireless. if you gave him an ax and told him to chop down a forest, his legs might give out from having to support so much weight for so long, or the ax might shatter from the punishment of killing so many trees, but Fezzik’s arms would be as fresh tomorrow as today.”
We’ve all got arms. Fundamentally, I believe that every person has something, some talent or strength or gift that we can each put in service to whatever task we find before us. While I also believe as strongly in people being as capable as possible in as many disciplines as possible, I do think that everyone has a grounding passion that can be used without depletion. Whatever that is for you, it has equal power to Fezzik’s arms, Inigo’s sword, Westley and Buttercup’s love. It’s not fool proof, but if you’re looking for your arms, I’d suggest co-opting Rilke’s advice to a young poet: “acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to…”
Whatever fills that ellipsis are your arms.
Fezzik and Inigo rhyme all the time in the book. It is their private language of love, what gives them joy and sanity amid the controlling demands of Vizzinni, what keeps their fears of loneliness and failure at bay. So as they enter the five-storied underground “Zoo of Death” that culminates in what would more commonly be called the Pit of Despair. “I’m just scared to pieces,” admits Fezzik.
“Just see that it ceases,” replies Inigo. And so they go into the depths. When an enormous snake wraps itself around them both, squeezing the life out of the pair and immobilizing even Fezzik’s arms, Inigo says, simply, “Oh Fezzik…Fezzik…I had such rhymes for you…”
Fezzik, furious to know these rhymes before he dies, finds the strength to break both of them out of the coils of the snake.
We need to find our tools, and use them to save what we love, what gives us joy. And, what gives us joy, what we love, these feed into our strengths as well.
I don’t have a blueprint for this hope of world saving. All I know how to do is bumble ahead with my hopes and passions and a variety of skills. I know I am not alone—Inigo, Fezzik, Buttercup and Westley are unstoppable with their combined strengths and passions.
And for the scary, unknowing times when we are afraid and frustrated and cry through heat waves, we have the words of Inigo to Fezzik as they descend into the darkness and fight monsters and make up rhymes to cheer each other up while they quest: “Then let’s look on the bright side: we’re having an adventure, Fezzik, and most people live and die without being as lucky as we are.”
Let’s have an adventure, and save the world. You think a planet this nice happens every day?