The feting of The Princess Bride caught my eye; it is simply a marvellous film, hilarious and heroic. I encourage my students, now younger than the film itself, to watch it, and I refer to it in my teaching. When I do so there are usually a few present who have memorized large portions of the dialogue. For those readers who have not seen it, I envy you. You will have the joy of watching it for the first time.
The two fairy tales are about love and treachery, honour and villainy. As such they are relevant wherever one finds the human heart, animated by all that and more. Yet here in New York, the search for "true love," as The Princess Bride puts it, has a particular relevance.
New York is full of talented, well educated, attractive, dynamic young people. Yet hardly a dinner advances to the main course without hearing the ubiquitous lament that it is impossible to find somebody to marry. I have heard this complaint at tables where, astonishingly, the complaint was aired by eligible young men and women, at the same table at the same time. These are wholesome and cheerful people, in the flower of youth. I do not speak of the nightclub hook-up culture, which does not attract those looking for serious commitments.
So what is going wrong — and not just in New York, although the urban professional scene is apparently more afflicted than most? What has made the fairy tale rescue of the damsel in distress a fantasy?
One observes first that the damsels are not in distress. They are doing just fine, with good jobs, an active circle of friends, participation in health clubs, book clubs, even a dynamic parish life. They are not lounging on the couch, playing video games and waiting for the phone to ring.
Perhaps many of them feel like Snow White, waiting for their prince to show up while stuck with the seven dwarfs, men of arrested development content to hang out with their "bros." An increasing number of young women hear the depressing compliment from their boyfriends that they are "just like one of the guys." The dream of every girl: to be an eighth dwarf.
A good number of such women have adapted to the bro culture, hanging out with men who become boyfriends without ever having had to summon up the moxie to take a girl on a date, involving actual planning and consideration of what she might like to do. It's au courant to be sure, but just as the film festival pays tribute to the fairy tale, so we might learn lessons from an older way of doing things.
One does not slouch toward love, but sacrifices for it, which begins with striving.
In The Princess Bride, the farm boy Westley simply says "as you wish" to every command of Buttercup. Cary Elwes, who played Westley, commented on his line: "I think when I die, they'll say on my gravestone 'as you wish.' Every woman wants to hear that."
Every woman wants to find somebody who puts her wishes ahead of his own interests. Westley does so in an extreme and endearing fashion. In time, Buttercup learns that love demands the same of her, to sacrifice for the good of the beloved. She, like Westley before her, rises to the occasion. The measure of love, and its only real evidence, is the willingness to sacrifice my good for the one I love.
In the fairy tale world the prince — or the farm boy — has to prove himself worthy of love by some act of heroism. The Princess Bride teaches that, with the added lesson that good humour and loyalty are lovely and lovable qualities too. Everyone remembers the line, both poignant and comical, expressing the depths of filial love: "Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."
Fairy tales are written for those in the real world, including Manhattan, where Westleys and Buttercups need instruction. One does not slouch toward love, but sacrifices for it, which begins with striving. True love without sacrifice? As The Princess Bride reminds us still: inconceivable!
Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.
Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Convivium and a Cardus senior fellow, in addition to writing for the National Post and The Catholic Register. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.
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