Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Princess Bride

Once, when I was about 9 or 10 years old, I slept over at the house of a friend from school.  I still remember his name: Robert Durr.  We weren’t really close friends, so I’m not sure how the sleepover got set up, but it did.  There were two main things we did that night.  One was go to the house of some people in the neighborhood whose kids essentially ran a business out of their house selling candy.  We each bought a couple dollars’ worth of candy.  We’d devoured most of it by the time we got back to Robert’s house.  The second was to watch the Princess Bride.  That was the first time I’d ever seen that movie.  I wasn’t sure what to think about it at first, but it turned out to be pretty cool, I thought.  There were sword fights, giants, swamps, and castles.  It was great stuff for a young boy.

Book cover.The Princess Bride by William Goldman (ISBN: 978-0-15-101544-3), now in a 30th anniversary edition, is the book form of the famous movie.  I wasn’t even aware that there was a book until a few years ago.  As I tend to be a books-are-better-than-movies person, it immediately went on my list when I heard about it.  If one has seen the movie, one has read the book.  There are very few differences.  I think the only difference is that in the movie the grandpa interrupts the story sometimes, but in the book, it’s the author doing that.  In fact, Goldman has concocted an entire alternate persona for himself that is part of the introduction, the main story, and even some end matter.  The story, of course, follows the hero after his return to the kingdom where the farm girl he once served is about to be wed to the evil prince, who has devised a plan to have her killed.  The story follows the death-defying adventures of Westley as he pursues Buttercup (the names are somewhat ridiculous, but there’s a definite element of humor to the book) and dispatches a few villains on the way.  Ultimately, he reaches his prize and defeats the evil, yet ultimately cowardly, prince in an anti-climactic scene where he successfully bluffs that he could get up and fight the prince in a duel, but, in reality, is mostly dead (to quote another famous movie), having recently been brought back to life.

While a fun and easy read, it really wasn’t as good as I had hoped.  As I indicated above, the movie followed the book quite faithfully, so there wasn’t much new material or deeper character development or any of the things you typically get from books.  Where there was, such as with Inigo Montoya, I’m not convinced it actually added that much.  The 30th anniversary edition that I read had some extra front and end matter that I didn’t find too interesting at all, and it honestly took me a good twenty pages of reading to figure out how it worked with Goldman’s interesting literary device of having the narrator be his fictional self.  Once I got that down, though, it was a fun read with a few humorous moments worked in there with the adventures, fighting, and an acceptable level of romance.  Although I’m not perfect in this regard, I found the swearing (really only present in the narrator’s portions) a little much.  Finally, it’s worth noting that my enjoyment of the book may have been just a little higher than it might otherwise have been because it reminded me of not just the sleepover with Robert Durr, but of other childhood viewings of the classic movie.  Fans of the movie will probably enjoy the book, but I’m honestly not sure if this was one’s introduction to the story.

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This work, including all text, photographs, and other original work, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives 3.0 License and is copyrighted © MMXIV John Pruess.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Putin’s Olympics

We go from Eurovision to world hockey championship, from the Olympics to the World Cup . . . We are going from holiday to holiday, entertainment everywhere.  Entertainment and pathos.  Because if people being to move beyond this fervor, and cool off a bit, clean themselves, then, you see, they will begin to see some things that the regime does not want them to see.  Therefore, we will continue to go from victory to victory, from holiday to holiday, it will be impossible to escape from all these holidays.  Holidays and war.  Anything that will serve as a distraction.

— Viktor Shenderovich (1958–)

I’ve been interested in the Olympics for as long as I can remember.  I have a couple stronger Olympic memories than others.  Obviously, the winter games in Salt Lake City stick out.  Unfortunately, they kind of stick out for the wrong reason.  I got to pick up trash as a volunteer.  I had friends who were interpreters and other more involved positions.  I know one friend of mine went skiing on the downhill course with the Uzbek skiers.  I was at the same venue, but at a different time, and doing a much different job.  Ultimately, I mostly enjoyed my experience volunteering for the Olympics, but it was certainly not what I had hoped for and not what I had been told to expect.  Much earlier in life, when I was four years old, I remember watching the Olympics on my parents’ old black-and-white TV.  It was a 12” model (at best) with rabbit ears.  We had it in a corner in the living room on a little stand by the bookshelves.  I remember seeing some ice skating from the competitions in Sarajevo.  Among other early Olympic memories, I remember sitting in our gray chair with my leg immobile because of a huge scab on my knee after a massive bike wreck that happened when I thought a car ramp would make a good bike jump.  I am also quite interested in Russia, having served there as a missionary and lived there more recently for work.

Book cover.Putin’s Olympics: The Sochi Games and the Evolution of Twenty-First Century Russia (ISBN: 978-1-315-81728-6) is a book by Robert W. Orttung and Sufian N. Zhemukhov that brings both of those interests together.  It takes a deeper look than the usual press on the subject at the Sochi Olympics and their greater context in Russia’s domestic and international politics.  The book looks at the problems surrounding the hosting of the Olympics in Sochi, which included corruption, a marginalization of civil society, problematic international relations, and the relation of security during the Olympics and its connection to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  The viewpoint of the book was from that of the Olympics being something the authors defined as a “mega-project” and how Russia’s rulers, especially President Putin, tried to use that to their own advantages, both personally and to bring Russia’s standing up on the international stage.  The authors come to what I consider mixed conclusions, noting that the Sochi games were secure, did result in much-needed infrastructure upgrades in Sochi, and, from Putin’s standpoint, his position was secured because Russians saw the Olympics as a positive for their country, although, as the Shenderovich quote above notes, this is not necessarily a good thing.  On the other hand, the successes came at a great price, both monetarily and in prestige internationally, where Russia was hurt by the scandals surrounding the games.

The book was, of course, interesting.  It was interesting to see some analysis of the Olympics in their political context, and they’ve most often had a political context, no matter the average fan’s desire to separate sport from politics.  The most explosive conclusion in the book was the connection between Sochi and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  The other stuff wasn’t really new for me, but that line of reasoning was new and fascinating and, really, rather hard to refute.  I was a little disappointed in the book because of its style.  It seemed to be long on background explanations, but then short on analysis by the authors.  That could’ve been because most of these conclusions have already been drawn in the media and there wasn’t really that much new ground to cover other than from a more standardized, academic approach, but it seemed to me to lack some punch in the sections other than the Ukraine conclusion.  Also, although a very small part of the book, I was disappointed that the book took the usual Western line of automatic support of the protest group P--sy Riot and automatic dismissal of Russia’s anti-homosexual propaganda law.  A more nuanced view than that of social media is something I would expect from an academic treatment of Russian domestic policy and its international context.  A relatively short book, it was interesting and presented some interesting, new ideas, and was worth the look.

Creative Commons License
This work, including all text, photographs, and other original work, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives 3.0 License and is copyrighted © MMXIV John Pruess.