excisions, an aesthetic
Excisions are the italicized passages that Goldman likes to “interject” into the story of Wesley, Buttercup, and Co. The excisions act as a narrative device meant to show reality within the fantastic story of romance and high adventure.
Usually, the excisions are about Goldman’s personal life–primarily about his family, personal struggles in producing the book, and his overall publishing process. Before finding out more about the Simon Morgenstern that wrote the original Princess Bride and eventually, about this country called Florin, I believed that everything that was italicized was true.
And then I finished the book and looked up a lot of facts.
They were not true.
As an aesthetic, the excisions are really effective in giving readers a sense of reality to compare with the fantasy portion of the novel. The aesthetic is very similar to the one that we can observe in the popular T.V. show, How I Met Your Mother. Sometimes, in the show, we hear Ted narrating a scene multiple times and each time, the visual changes so that characters are saying things differently, dressing differently, or holding props as a way to show how Ted, the narrator, is thinking through the story he wants to say. Goldman’s excisions have the similar effect of letting the audience in on his storytelling process.
Arguably, we really can’t say that the excisions are excisions because the italicized passages supposedly about Goldman’s real life are actually not true. The excisions are a “fake reality” that is actually another layer of fantasy that Goldman uses to create a sense of reality vs. fantasy.
This topic reminds me of Peter Elbow’s article called “The Believing Game–Methodological Believing.” In the article, Elbow defines two main ideas: the doubting game and believing game.
The doubting game represents the kind of thinking most widely honored and taught in our
culture. It’s sometimes called “critical thinking.” It’s the disciplined practice of trying to be as skeptical and analytic as possible with every idea we encounter. By trying hard to doubt ideas,
we can discover hidden contradictions, bad reasoning, or other weaknesses in them–especially
in the case of ideas that seem true or attractive. We are using doubting as a tool in order to
scrutinize and test.
In contrast, the believing game is the disciplined practice of trying to be as welcoming or
accepting as possible to every idea we encounter: not just listening to views different from our
own and holding back from arguing with them; not just trying to restate them without bias;
but actually trying to believe them. We are using believing as a tool to scrutinize and test. But
instead of scrutinizing fashionable or widely accepted ideas for hidden flaws, the believing game
asks us to scrutinize unfashionable or even repellent ideas for hidden virtues. Often we cannot
see what’s good in someone else’s idea (or in our own!) till we work at believing it. When an
idea goes against current assumptions and beliefs–or if it seems alien, dangerous, or poorly
formulated—we often cannot see any merit in it.
In Princess Bride, we see a balance of Peter Elbow’s “doubting game” and “believing game.”