The Princess Bride – William Goldman’s Misunderstanding of Buttercup

That’s right. I’m claiming that William Goldman does not understand one of his own characters.

This post is about the book, so some things are different than the movie. Also, spoilers.

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The Misrepresented Princess Buttercup

First, let me say that Goldman gets a lot of things right – We all know that Princess Buttercup is the most beautiful woman in the world, and we all know that she loves Westley. She is somewhat naive, perhaps a little lacking in trust, at least initially, and certainly far from perfect.

But she is not stupid.

Goldman presents her as someone who struggles with math, and is unable to come up with useful plans. She agrees to marry Prince Humperdink, saying “I can live without love,” jumps into shark-infested waters, pushes Westley down a hill, expects Prince Humperdink to take Westley to his ship safely, and then expects Westley to save her from marriage to Humperdink.

None of these actions are necessarily a result of her lack of intelligence.

Goldman says, “If you read back into Florinese history, it did happen. The facts, anyway; no one can say about the actual motivations” (Goldman 47). In fact, the entire book is presented as Goldman’s abridgement of a Florinese history. So, not only do we have the inherent bias of Goldman’s abridgement, but also the bias of S. Morgenstern, the fictional writer of the history. So, I feel free to explore alternate explanations for Princess Buttercup’s actions.

1. Marrying Prince Humperdink

Prince Humperdink gives her an ultimatum – marry him or die. Buttercup agrees, but only with the promise that their marriage will be loveless. She says “I can live without love.” The Princess Bride  would have you believe that “true love” is life, as shown by a) the remark that “true love saved her in the fire swamp,” b) Westley’s ability to withstand torture by thinking of Buttercup, and c) Westley’s return from the dead in the name of true love. I think Buttercup is actually showing remarkable sense here – her true love is dead, and so she is honest with the Prince, but has the tenacity to go on living without Westley. Perhaps this act though portrayed as a character defect, really should be seen as a demonstration of Buttercup’s tenacity, honesty, and wisdom.

However, Buttercup does finally decide that she cannot live without love, and upon her marriage to Humperdink, plans to commit suicide. At this point, she knows that Humperdink is a coward, a liar, and not someone she should be married to, and so she is not willing to suffer the injustice of being married to him. Also, at this point she thinks Westley is alive (and he is). She is being loyal to him in the only way left to her.

2. Jumping into Shark-Infested waters

Maybe this is not the smartest move ever, but she would not have known the water was shark-infested. She grew up on a remote farm village. Also, this action further demonstrates her tenacity and her willingness to take risks. She would likely have succeeded, too, if there had not been sharks. Besides which, it was certain death if she had simply stayed in the boat, because Vinzzini had been hired to kill her, so the swim to shore was a sensible risk.

3. Pushing Westley down the incredibly steep hill

Again, Buttercup shows some agency, and everyone just blames her for her stupidity. There is no way she could have known that pushing Westley down the hill would force them to go into the Fire Swamp – she is from Florin and she is in Guilder, there is no reason she would know the geography. Perhaps we can blame her for not knowing that the Dread Pirate Roberts is Westley, but she thinks Westley is dead, and is probably not staring into the masked pirate’s eyes nearly enough to know that he is Westley.

4. Her trust of Prince Humperdink

She does not know that Humperdink is not to be trusted – how could she? He is nothing but understanding towards her. Granted, he has a Zoo of death, which is highly disconcerting, but other than that he seems, externally at least, like a pretty upstanding guy. Buttercup uses what bartering power she has to try and at least get something out of the hopeless exchange.

5. Her trust in Westley

While it seems naive and impossible, she ends up being right. Looks like she learned her lesson that Westley would always come for her.

6. Math

Why would Buttercup be expected to know math? She grew up on a farm with parents whose only encouragement to her was that she bathe more. It would be more strange if she did know math.

7. Solving Problems

Buttercup’s solutions to her problems do not always pan out (see points 1-4), but by the end she’s grown enough that she is the one who is able to get the whole group out of the castle – she tells the exterior guards to go save Prince Humperdink. As a result, the whole group is able to escape without further casualty.

Essentially, whenever Buttercup’s actions seem to be a result of her stupidity, they are actually not as ridiculous as they may at first seem. She is naive, but she is also trusting, tenacious, and a victim of her circumstances. I can only hope that I would respond with as much trust, tenacity, and courage if I were in her place.

 

The Beauty of Performance

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I love how a dance well performed becomes not about the dancers or the choreographer, not about the technique or the lighting, but about the message. As a dancer, my job is to be a vessel, to lay myself aside and do as I’m instructed. The best dancers are the most humble, the most willing to allow the choreographers to completely manipulate them. This is my job as a Christian too – get out of the way and let God work his miracles.

Perhaps the audience may not understand the piece consciously, but there is something about a dance well-choreographed and well-performed that sinks into the emotions and the subconscious that God may use to work on the audience’s hearts that we will never know about. To me, this is the power of dance.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV)

 

Esther – Queen Vashti

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The king is giving a party, showing off his wealth, and feasting his nobles and officials. In fact, they have been partying for a full 180 days, half a year! The king has finally decided to draw the celebration to a close, but not before a grand finale – seven days for feasting for all the people of the citadel of Susa. He invites everyone into the garden, decorated with white and blue linen, bedazzled couches, and costly mosaics. He serves food with no limits, and wine in golden goblets. Everyone is drunk and ready for a new spectacle. Including the king – King Xerxes.

Now, thinks King Xerxes, what do I have that I know no one else does? Aha! My queen. So he orders his officials to go and take her from the banquet that she is hosting for the women of the palace, and bring her to his palace. Wearing her crown – and quite likely nothing else.

What does Vashti do? She refuses. And the whole kingdom goes into an uproar.

Why does she refuse? Often this refusal is portrayed as insubordination and a refusal to obey the king, her husband. In fact, the advisors say that the whole country will view Vashti’s refusal as disobedience.

But perhaps, she was simply trying to protect the reputation of the king. Sleeping with a man’s concubine(s) was one way that men would claim each other’s stations in life. So, showing off his wife, the queen, to drunk party goers, could be construed similarly. If Queen Vashti were paraded in front of the spectators of all social classes, and they were allowed to feast their eyes upon her, that is somewhat similar to the king giving her to his people in a way that he should not. In a way, Queen Vashti is protecting her husband from making poor decisions in his drunkenness.

Additionally, Vashti demonstrates self-respect. She refuses to be seen as a trophy, to be seen as merely part of the king’s vast riches. Culturally, that is what she was, but she takes agency and holds onto her dignity. She sees herself as worthy of more than fodder for the lustful fantasies of drunk men, and acts on that conviction.

Though Vashti’s actions lead to her removal from the position of queen, Vashti’s actions may have provided inspiration for Esther. The removal of Vashti from power demonstrates the danger of disobeying the king, but her actions demonstrate a willingness to value human dignity above her life and her position. This ordering of priorities may have served as an inspiration to Esther to visit the king uninvited.

This is part three in a three-part series based off of Esther.

Esther – Character Traits

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Image Credit: https://thepearlsisters.blog/2015/06/02/the-favour-of-esther/

Role models are important, and we choose role models whether we think we do or not. So, it is beneficial to choose role models purposely. One Old Testament woman, Esther, is consistently held up as a role model for women today. What qualities did Esther have that enabled her to win “the favor of everyone who saw her,” and of generations who came after (NIV Esther 2:15)?

1. Obedience

Esther is introduced to us first as Mordecai’s younger cousin, his ward Hadassah. We learn that she did not reveal “her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had forbidden her to” (NIV Esther 2:10). We also see that, when her turn came to go to the king, she brought “nothing other than what Hegai, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the harem, suggested” (Esther 2:15). Esther obeyed those who gave her good counsel, even though she was no longer under Mordecai’s direct charge and she was in a higher position than the eunuch Hegai.

2. Humility

Through Esther’s obedience, we see her humility. We also see her humility in the way that she reported the conspiracy against the king’s life – she gave all the credit to Mordecai (Esther 2:22). Her humility is further exemplified in her way of speaking to the king.

3. Beauty

The Bible flat out states “This young woman, who was also known as Esther, had a lovely figure and was beautiful” (2:7). She basically wins a beauty contest to become queen.

4. Courage

Esther is taken away from her community and relocated to the palace, where she retains enough presence of mind and strength in the face of that chaos to become a favorite of the eunuch in charge of the Harem. And of course, there’s the classic example of the courage of her visit to the king. She goes to speak with him uninvited, which is punishable by death in Persian culture. She literally puts her life on the line. And she throws Haman under the bus while he’s in the room, rather than behind his back.

5. Wisdom

Esther is full of wisdom. The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord and a humble heart. She has the wisdom to work on a relationship with Hegai. She has the wisdom to seek and obey good counsel. She has the wisdom to feast the king twice before she tells him her request.

6. Confidence

Esther has confidence. But not in the sense that she knows she can do anything, and is a “strong independent woman” – rather, she has confidence in God. Having her confidence in the right place, as evidenced by her insistence on praying and fasting, enables her to be an effective tool for God to use to save his people.

7. Acceptance

Finally, Esther accepts the place where God has placed her. She does not fight against being summoned to the court, but rather continues to live as she has been taught – in humility, obedience, wisdom, and most importantly, reliance on God. Mordecai tells her, “If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14). Because Esther accepts God’s calling on her life, and chooses to live up to her potential, God uses her to rescue his people.

This is part two of the three-part series based off of Esther

Esther – Where is God?

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Image Credit: http://ancientmesopotamians.com/ancient-mesopotamian-history.html

Where is God?

That’s the question I have after reading Esther. Life just sort of happens to her. There’s no dramatic revelation or covenant, no mountaintop experience or middle-of-the-night call. She’s living her life in exile, an orphan raised by her cousin Mordecai.

At the king’s command, she is brought to the king’s palace to be a concubine with the slim chance of becoming queen. This is the inciting action within her life. In the midst of the apparent hopelessness of the situation, and the fact that she did not choose it, Esther pleases Hegai, head of the harem, and as a result she benefits from the honor and advice he shows her. She follows his advice, and becomes queen. At one point, Mordecai uncovers a conspiracy against the king, and Esther conveys the information to the king.

Then the king, urged by Haman, signs a proclamation that orders the annihilation of the Jews. Mordecai tells Esther to go to the king and beg for the life of her people, and Esther asks Mordecai and the Jews to fast and pray with her and her women for three days. After the three days of fasting and praying, Esther invites the king and Haman to dinner, showing incredible bravery by approaching him without an invitation. She invites them to dinner again, and asks the king for the lives of the Jewish people, including herself. The king signs a new edict allowing the Jews to defend themselves, and later extends their day of vengeance to two days. The Jews defend themselves, and, under the direction of Mordecai, begin the observation of the holiday Purim.

Unlike most of the Old Testament that we have been reading, there seems to be a lack of God’s involvement in the dramatic ways we see it in the books of the law. And the author of this book does not comment on the morality of things as the authors of Judges, 1&2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings, and 1&2 Chronicles do. God doesn’t tell Esther directly to do anything. As far as we know, Mordecai receives no divine revelation either.

In fact, we see God working much more similarly to how we expect to experience him working today. He works by moving people and nations, and we simply have to trust that the movements of kings and nations and powers and people are moving in accordance with his guidance and direction.

Is this change from a more direct involvement of God to a less direct portrayal of God’s involvement a result of the exile? Is the exile of the Jews from their land accompanied by an exile from the presence of God? Perhaps. If the exile of the Jews from their homeland results in a perception of God’s involvement that is similar to how we expect God to be involved, maybe there’s something we are missing. But this book also covers a lot less time, so perhaps it simply occurred during a period of time without revelations.

God is present in the book of Esther because he is with suffering people. He brings justice even when it seems that disaster is inevitable. Not only does he rescue the people, but he gives them victory over their adversaries.

 

This is part one of a three-part series based off of Esther.

Equality

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16 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.

Matthew 20:16

  1. Does God love some people more than others?
  2. And do we have to believe that in order to combat jealousy?

Question One

First, let’s set this basis. I’m not saying that the kingdom of heaven is a kingdom purely of equality. Some will be honored more than others, as evidenced by Mark 10:40 – “But to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared.” God obviously chooses some people to honor more than others.

I’m also not saying that everyone will be the same. God gives each person different gifts, as explained in 1 Corinthians 12:15-21, of which verse 19 states: “And if they [the members of the church] were all one member, where were the body?” (NIV). Clearly we all need our differences, and can rejoice that each of us is gifted in different areas.

1 Corinthians 12:22-26:

22 Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:

23 And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.

24 For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked.

25 That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.

26 And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.

I have heard this passage quoted to “demonstrate” that God loves some people more than others, because some parts of the body are more honored than others. However, this passage clearly demonstrates that God has “given more abundant honour to the part which lacked,” which demonstrates more a sense of God’s equality than his inequality.

God does choose some people and not others, otherwise we would not have the Israelites. Are we then to be jealous that God has chosen them and not us? On the contrary! First of all, Romans 8:14-17 calls us adopted children if we live by the Spirit of God. Adopted children are neither lesser nor more than biological children, but they are equal, and equally loved. Additionally, it calls us “joint-heirs with Christ,” saying that if we “suffer with him,” then we may be “glorified together.” That sure doesn’t sound like lesser love to me.

14For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. 15For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. 16The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: 17And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

Romans 8:14-17

Question Two – Jealousy

How does this worldview help us to combat jealousy? Well, if we believe that God loves us all equally, then what cause have we to be jealous? Rather, if we are all family, and all equally adopted children, we can rejoice as Esau did when his brother returned from Laban’s. We can rejoice as the Father in Luke 15:11-32 does when his son returns, rather than remaining in the field, bitter, because we think that Our Father loves the other children more than he loves us. We can rejoice when our fellow workers are honoured, because we love them. When we see God’s love for us, it changes us to be able to rejoice in our siblings’ successes, rather than envy them.

Fundamentally, the belief that God loves some people more than others is not supported biblically. Although he may choose to use some and not others in specific ways, this election does not indicate a difference in his love for each of us. God is love, so he can only love, and there is really no indication that he loves each of us differently. We may receive it differently, but our capacity to receive love does not limit God’s capacity to give it. Believing that God loves each one of us equally frees us to rejoice in both inequalities and differences because it removes competition and frees us from fear, worry, and jealousy.

What is She Posting? An “Artist’s Statement”

I am doing a series of posts for my Old Testament class. We were asked to do a project on something related to something we had done in class. That’s it. So, I decided to look at popular secular music and see what aspects of “The Fall” in Genesis chapter 3  each song demonstrates. Perhaps, I thought, we can find reverberations from the downfall of all humanity even in secular culture. The result? A mini-series of how culture reflects God’s story. Of how one decision changed so much, and is still felt today. Of how God’s salvation is the answer to our deepest hurts and our deepest longings.

Genesis 3: The Cycle of Sin

Genesis 3: Loneliness

Genesis 3: Mistakes

 

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Culture tends to reflect a distorted version of the truth, but can still point us towards the truth. By assimilating all three images, we begin to have an idea of this man’s real appearance. (Image Credit: https://www.vidamecreation.com)

 

Genesis 3: Mistakes

Dear God

By Hunter Hayes

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Each time I read Genesis Three, I have more questions. Why is there a tree in the middle of the garden? Why did God make the snake? Why did God make the snake crafty? Why does the snake talk? Is the snake possessed or the devil in snake form or simply a talking snake? Was the fruit on the tree special or did it just have a symbolic meaning? I am so glad that our God invites questions (James 1:5 NLT).

  If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.

Dear God is a man’s questioning of God, similar to how Job questions God and how David cries out to heaven. There are three main questions in this song: “Why does my life have to hurt so much?” “Why can’t I find any piece of love?”  and “Why do I feel like I’m not enough?” The “easy” answers to these questions are typically that:

1. Life hurts because sin hurts, and we live in a fallen world.

2. You can’t find love because you’re looking in the wrong places – only God can give you the love you need.

3. You feel insufficient because you actually aren’t.

But why are these the “answers?” Why does sin cause pain? Why can I only be satisfied by God’s love? Why am I not enough?

Perhaps we question because we know that life was not always supposed to be this way.

Perhaps our questioning of God is what leads us to the truth.

Perhaps we may work towards the answers by investigating our beginning, in Genesis. God questions Adam after the fall, asking “Where are you?” and perhaps He invites us to do the same. When we ask God “Where are you?” in all the pain and suffering, He opens our eyes to see His goodness through it. Through Jesus, God shows us that He is there suffering with us, and through His Holy Spirit, He comforts and carries us through trials.

Dear God, are you sure that you don’t mess up?

Dear God, just remind me you don’t mess up

How can God’s perfect world fall if God does not mess up? If He created everything in the world, then is he not responsible for the actions of His creations? There are two potential explanations I can think of:

a) God is not responsible for the actions of humans because He gave them free will, and so their choices are not His responsibility.

b) God did not make a mistake when He made us, and even what we view as “mistakes” are actually integral parts of His plan.

I suppose these are not mutually exclusive, in that, while God is not “responsible” for our choice of sin, He did plan for us to choose sin, since He would know beforehand that choosing sin was what we would inevitably do. God would’ve known the history of the world exactly even before He created any of it, so, although we see our “mistakes,” He already has them worked into His glorious plan. Actually, that’s quite a comforting thought.

In The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien, IIlúvatar takes the discordant song, or mistakes, and transforms it into even more beauty:

For it seemed at first soft and sweet, a mere rippling of gentle sounds in delicate melodies; but it could not be quenched, and it took to itself power and profundity. And it seemed at last that there were two musics progressing at one time before the seat of Ilúvatar, and they were utterly at variance. The one was deep and wide and beautiful, but slow and blended with an immeasurable sorrow, from which its beauty chiefly came. The other had now achieved a unity of its own; but it was loud, and vain, and endlessly repeated; and it had little harmony, but rather a clamorous unison as of many trumpets braying upon a few notes. And it essayed to drown the other music by the violence of its voice, but it seemed that its most triumphant notes were taken by the other and woven into its own solemn pattern.

In a similar fashion perhaps, our greatest mistakes and struggles and failings are woven into God’s beautiful design for the world, and enhance His ultimate story.

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Michelangelo’s David – Made from marble that was initially thrown away because it was flawed. (Image Credit: http://signatureitaly.com/tours)

 

Genesis 3: Loneliness

Can You Hold Me

By NF, ft. Britt Nicole

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We’ve all felt lonely. It feels a lot like being invisible. I am loneliest when I succeed too much in hiding myself – sometimes physically, but more often because I succeed in muting myself and hiding my personality. Why is loneliness so incredibly painful? Perhaps because we are made to be fully known.
This song could be the cry of Adam and Eve when sin separated them from God and from each other. In the Book of Genesis, chapter 3 verse seven, it says:
Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.”
For the first time, they felt the need to hide themselves. They cover themselves up with clothing, which is a physical barrier between them. This physical barrier parallels the emotional distance placed between them. The first thing Adam does when God questions him is to blame his wife. As a result, a wedge forms between the first couple, and they can never again be one as they were meant to be.
In Genesis 3:8, we see that man’s relationship with God is fractured as well:
And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
Again, we see Adam and Eve hiding – this time from God. Their shame causes them to cover up, and as a result, they cannot fully experience God’s love the way that they were meant to. Because of sin, Adam and Eve seek isolation. Adam and Eve do not realize that what they truly need is to be fully known and loved. They do not believe that God could still love them if he knows what they have done, and so fear enters their lives. Fear of loneliness.
The song cries that life “Feels like I don’t even know me,” reflecting how the singer is hiding not only from others and God, but also from himself. Sin separates us from seeing our true identity because it causes separation between us and God. The song reflects how losing the connection with God “feels like a tear in my heart/
Like a part of me missing.” It declares “If I ain’t got you, I ain’t got nothing at all” and  demands “Do you hear my cry?” The desperate cry of loneliness began with the fall and continues until this day.
Salvation is the answer to this desperate song – it is God promising
Yes, I hear your cry.
Yes, I will hold you.
I will restore your relationship with me, and through this, I will restore your identity and your ability to live in community.
Alone in a crowd by Zubaidit
Alone and Hiding (Image Credit: Zubaidit on https://www.deviantart.com)

Genesis 3: The Cycle of Sin

Weak by AJR

Weak, by AJR, is about how difficult it is to choose to do what we know is right. It’s so difficult to choose what is right, because we know that there are rewards for choosing wrong over right. In the lyric video, the train represents doing wrong. The singer wakes up and feels disoriented, much as we do when we are caught in sin. Up, down, forwards, and backwards may become confused, as depicted through the camera angles. The singer feels trapped, and seeks escape. When he finally feels like he escaped, he is run over by the train that represents his own wrong choices. The cycle of sin that began in Genesis 3 continues to wreak havoc on our lives, because it confuses us, traps us, and eventually destroys us.
The singer rhetorically asks “I’m weak, and what’s wrong with that?” in a way that suggests that the answer is “nothing.” However, even he cannot deny that his choices will eventually catch up to him. Sin traps us in an inescapable cycle of a desire for things we know will negatively impact us. We trade the long-term benefits of a right choice for the temporary rewards from sin. The curse separates us from fulfilling our purpose and breaks us into pieces.
The promise of salvation is not limited to eternal life or to reconciliation with God, but extends to unification with our truest self. Salvation restores the ability to choose rightly, because it fully restores our relationship with God. This truth is why we say that Jesus was the “most fully human” human to walk this Earth – He lived in relationship with God and chose to do right all His life, just as we are invited to do. Salvation restores our free will by restoring our relationship with God, so that we may cease to live at war with ourselves.
Job 11:20 NLT
But the wicked will be blinded.
They will have no escape.
Their only hope is death.
Romans 7:15 ESV
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

 

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Temptation (Image Credit: https://www.mannaplus.co.za)