Post written by guest blogger Melissa Wise
The funny thing about the two books I get to compare (and turn against each other to battle it out! To the death! To the pain!) is that one of them hits particularly close to home and the other is a life-long love of mine, albeit in cinematic form. The Fault in our Stars and The Princess Bride are the most worthy of opponents. This has been a difficult fight and I commend both of the contestants for having fought fairly and with utterly charming quirk. Now if this battle were to be won or lost based on sheer volume of tears shed, the win would easily go to The Fault in Our Stars. It would absolutely be a landslide. (A cheekslide? A waterslide?) But, though the weight of tears will be considered, it will not be the only measure we take into account in this competition.
In one corner we have The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love & High Adventure written by William Goldman. Guys, I have seen this (classic, amazing, hilarious) movie roughly 17 hundred million times. I have practiced to perfection my version of Inigo Montoya’s heroic self-introduction/challenge to the six-fingered man. I have spent years asking if anybody wants a peanut (even lacking the proper rhyming set-up.) In fact this movie was one of the key features of my first real slumber party birthday (I want to say I was ten? The other main element of that party was, as I remember it, giggling and of course we did next to no slumbering at all.) BUT until this book fight, I had not ever read the book. As, in my experience, books are better than movies, I was pretty excited to actually read the original novel. The edition I read is beautifully illustrated by Michael Manomivibul and the 450 page count includes the first chapter of the long promised but not yet delivered sequel, Buttercup’s Baby. Not solely because of the mixed reviews of that snippet of the sequel, I chose to forgo reading that pre-released chapter to keep my assessment pure and limited to the original book.
Confused by the title? I was! Who is this Morgenstern? Didn't William Goldman write the Princess Bride? You remember that the movie has two storylines, right? The book does the same story-within-a-story trick but even more convincingly. The actual first chapter reads like an introduction in which William Goldman professes his devotion to this amazing book his father used to read to him and he's desperately trying to find a copy for his own son. It's hard to find; it's out of print. He decides he wants to republish the Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure, but only "the good parts." The novel The Princess Bride is then the "goods parts version" of S. Morgenstern's classic political drama/history of Florin.
I ended up having to start several times and I did indeed google S. Morgenstern. Whaaat. Not a real guy. Genius. Goldman absolutely had me. It is the most clever book premise that I have recently come across and I loved him for it instantly (instantly as soon as I figured it out.) The rest of the book is the “original” work of Morgenstern peppered with asides and interruptions from the “editor” Goldman. Yaaassssss. You guys.
It’s well written. It’s clever. It’s charming. It is everything you loved about the movie but because of the roomy flexibility of the written format there is MORE of all the good things. The loveable giant, Fezzik, but with more depth. The Spanish sword wizard, Inigo Montoya, but with more history. The terrible Prince Humperdinck, but ever so much worse! (He has a Zoo of Death!) Miracle Max and his witch of a wife, but with more shouting!! Goldman has a way with words and this book is absolutely fun and funny. Please please pick it up and read it if you, like past-Melissa, have never had the pleasure. It will not disappoint.
In the other corner, weighing in at 313 pages and not illustrated at all: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. The Fault in Our Stars is the story of a girl who has a terminal form of cancer. WAIT WAIT, it is the story of falling in love. It is Hazel Grace meets Augustus Waters and magic, heart-swelling love in spite of how hard the world is. It is a story about living life even in the face of the certainty that none of this will last (which, though Hazel is on a different somewhat faster track than many of us, is something we have all thought about.) It is predictably a very sad business, but the part I didn’t expect is how gorgeous and funny it is. Weirdly the second time I read it the funny beautiful humanity of it surprised me even more than it had the first time. The tender echo of sad sad had stayed in my memory but the sharp sparkle of champagne bubble hilarity had effervesced and been lost.
I had thought I might spare myself the tears by not re-reading The Fault in Our Stars for this book battle but I am so happy I didn't. SO HAPPY. John Green is some kind of hero superman with actual magic powers and it turns out he is popular for a very good reason. Not overrated but rated exactly where he should be: right at the top. Nearly unmatchable for his deft turn of phrase, Green writes characters that talk the way you think (on your sharpest days.) He writes characters that are smart and funny and breakable but buoyant. He writes characters that feel all your hurts but express them more clearly than you’ve ever managed. You have a choice in this world, he tells us through his young narrator Hazel, about how to tell sad stories, and John Green made the funny choice.
In a twist of coincidence this book also involves a book with in the book, though in a slightly different way. The not-a-real-book featured prominently in Fault is Hazel’s favorite book, An Imperial Affliction. She introduces Augustus to the most important book in her life, itself about a young girl with cancer, that she has read and read again. (Oh, the mirror reflected infinities!) They embark on a trip to Amsterdam ostensibly to find AIA’s reclusive author and end up finding that the trip was about them all along. Of course it was.
This book is full of sentences I want to memorize and repeat to myself for the sheer grace of their construction. Augustus describes the fight against cancer as a civil war. Hazel writes a love letter that is just a Venn diagram. They help their newly-blind friend, Isaac, egg his ex-girlfriend’s car and it is, honestly, a triumph. I am even in love with Green’s use of capital letters. I would read it every day but for the fact that I already think about cancer way too much (I am 8 years after my diagnosis and treatment for Hodgkins and I am doing fine but oh, this book hits me in all the fears and alllll the feels.)
(I want to mention that if you have seen the movie but not read the book, you have missed the greater part of the magic wonderfulness. Full disclosure: I have not seen the movie and won’t because of a long-standing agreement with myself that we don’t have to see movies made from books we love all the way.)
So NOW I have to somehow choose a winner? Just kidding, I’ve already chosen. Have you already guessed which one? Man, The Princess Bride is a great rollicking adventure of a funny good time. And holy crow is it ever better than the amazing, perfect movie. But here’s the rub, and possibly the deciding factor in this fight: the only character that didn’t get more depth and more awesomesauce in the book was Buttercup. Eeep. And true love, the dweam of wuv, welp it’s harder to buy in The Princess Bride. For depth and strength of female character, for sheer love story credibility, for epically broken hearts in this battle of the broken hearts, the winner is The Fault in Our Stars. For a good time please definitely read The Princess Bride but for becoming a better human being with a bigger heart and a better appreciation of the elegance of the universe, you must read The Fault in Our Stars. There will be tears (possibly all of them) and your heart will definitely break, but in the best way, in the very best way.