Fantasy Themes in the Princess Bride Term Paper

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Fantasy Themes in the Princess Bride and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Fantasy Themes in the Princess Bride and Harry Potter

Communication, or rhetoric, is a symbolic process humans use to share meaning and create reality. Sonja Foss (1989) explains fantasy theme criticism as a way to approach and analyze rhetoric. The word fantasy as used in fantasy theme criticism does not mean something someone dreamed up or something untrue. Fantasy in this case refers to themes that explain and order reality. When these themes are articulated or when we encounter them in rhetoric, they produce a sense of resonance in others who recognize them.

Rhetoric creates reality because what we know and understand about the world is known to us through language, or symbols. Words (symbols) are "organs of reality" and bring order to our otherwise disordered sensory experiences. Because fantasy-theme criticism looks for a shared worldview (or a common way of ordering an experience), it is an appropriate way to analyze an artifact like a movie to see what view is being rhetorically shared with viewers. What view produces that sense of resonance?

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A movie is rhetoric. Rhetoric is often defined as persuasion, but not all persuasion is rhetoric. "Please, pass the salt," for instance, is persuasive but it is not rhetoric. Rhetoric usually contains elements of planning, or art. A movie is, therefore, rhetoric because as an artistic vehicle, it contains messages about the world and shares a specific world-view. Foss (1989) points out the same can be said about fantasies, "...fantasies are characterized by their artistic and organized quality" (p. 291). Fantasies are "always slanted and ordered in particular ways to provide compelling explanations for experiences" (p. 291). Thus, the fantasy theme method is a particularly appropriate way to analyze the messages in a film.

Term Paper on Fantasy Themes in the Princess Bride and Assignment

In this essay we will explore themes about women in the Princess Bride and in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in order to identify how women's roles are portrayed and what the social implications of the film's messages might be. We will argue that the two films portray two distinctly different themes about women, their nature, and roles, a traditional view of women and a newer, more contemporary view that has been developing. Foss (1989) suggests three themes to explore, the scene/setting theme, the character theme, and the action theme.

According to Foss (1989) "Setting themes not only name the scene of the action but also may describe the characteristics of that scene" (p. 291). In the Princess Bride the scene is in "fairy tale" times when people earned their living agriculturally, and giants walked the earth -- perhaps the middle ages. People traveled by horse, watercraft was "fueled" by wind, and Stone Age ruins were common in the mountains. The countryside, dotted with castles, is pastoral and mountainous, possibly Italy, but definitely European. The clothing worn is Elizabethan with men in velvet tunics and tights, and women in long silk dresses with flowing hair. It is a patriarchal setting in which men are in charge of everything. The scene strikes a familiar chord in anyone who ever read a fairy tale and looked at the illustrations.

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the scene is also like a fairy tale but darker and more Gothic. In fact, the lighting in the film is consistently dark with many scenes taking place at night. This adds to the sense of mystery and danger. Most of the story takes place at Hogwarts, an enormous English boarding school for sorcerers with winding corridors, staircases, mysterious forbidden areas, and strange magical creatures. The place is both other-worldly (magic everywhere, unexplained happenings) and old (students write with feathers, for instance, and the architecture includes huge columns, mahogany woodwork, and great chandeliers).

Foss (1989) states, "Character themes describe the agents or actors in the drama, ascribe qualities to them, assign motives to them, and portray them as having certain characteristics" (p. 291). In the Princess Bride, Wesley is stereotypical of the "noble male hero." Despite his origins as a commoner, the princess has fallen in love with him, presumably because of his spiritual qualities -- such as, courage, bravery, and competence. The princess Buttercup doesn't even have a real name. Buttercup sounds like a name one might give an animal, which indicates her status as chattel or a possession. She is the essence of traditional femininity, the "fair damsel in distress." Wesley goes into the world to seek his fortune, while Buttercup stays at home passively to wait for him and worry. She lives only for him; in fact, when she gets word that Wesley has been murdered, she considers herself dead. Her life is her relationship to Wesley, and nothing else has meaning. She also has no power. When Prince Humperdink chooses her to be his wife, she has no choice but to marry him. If Buttercup is smart, she hides it well. When captured, she is seen blindfolded with her wrists tied -- symbolic of her social status as a woman in patriarchy. Interestingly, her subconscious is functioning, however, and she has dreams in which an ugly witch, the truth-knowing part of herself, protests vigorously. Buttercup's outstanding characteristic is her staunch belief that Wesley will not fail to protect her. "My Wesley will come," she says.

Unlike Buttercup, Hermoine Granger is arguably the most interesting character in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. For one thing, she is smarter than Harry or Ron. She often provides the information they need to get out of a tight situation. At first, they don't like her and perhaps feel threatened by her intelligence. She speaks up in class with alacrity and knows the answers to all the teacher's questions, although Harry does not. She likes to read so much that she calls a huge tome "some light reading." Hermoine can also take charge in an emergency, as when she opens the door with a quick spell so they can escape. She pulls the lock when a great beast comes after them. She reasons things out logically. Hermoine is not afraid to say what she thinks. The first time they meet her she says, "You've got dirt on your nose." When Harry worries about making a fool of himself, she says, "You will make a fool of yourself. it's in your blood." She is also superior as a magician or sorcerer -- at least, she is more advanced. She's an eager learner and doesn't try to hide her intelligence. She is also brave when the troll confronts her. Hermoine does have feelings, though, and cries during an early scene because Harry and Ron don't like her. Despite her feelings, however, she does not compromise herself. She is who she is. Harry helps her sometimes, but he doesn't save her. She doesn't need someone else to save her. At the same time she is supportive, but it's not her main role to be supportive. She is rich with inner resources.

Action themes, according to Foss (1989) "...deal with the action of the drama. The actions in which the characters engage comprise action themes" (p. 291). In the Princess Bride the action is performed completely by men. Three "terrorists" (in modern terms) abduct Buttercup, hoping to trigger a war between Humperdink and a third state. They make a pawn of the princess. In a rare show of assertiveness, Buttercup tries to escape but lacks the resources to save herself. Her captors pull her back into their boat and one of them says, "I suppose you think you're brave?" She replies, "Only compared to some." Buttercup is at the mercy of her rather stupid and brutal captors. In disguise, Wesley, who has learned to fence, snatches her from their clutches. Not long after that, she recognizes him. He leads her safely though the fire swamp, and she watches as he fights a ravenous beast that looks like a man-sized rat. She wants to give up, but Wesley cheers her and helps her to be brave. When Humperdink finds them and captures Wesley, she tells Humperdink she will marry him, if he will just let Wesley live; in other words, she sacrifices her own needs and happiness for the man she loves. It is after this that the witch in her subconscious speaks harshly to her. This leads her to tell Humperdink what she really thinks of him, "...you are the slimiest coward that ever walked the earth," and he locks her up, intending to kill her on their wedding night. Meanwhile, he tortures and kills Wesley. By a "miracle" she has nothing to do with, Wesley returns to life and all ends well.

In Harry Potter, Hermoine holds her own with the two boys, and they accept her as an equal and a team member. She commands respect and is in no way helpless. She saves Harry from the troll with quick thinking and a good spell. She takes responsibility for the incident, too, when they are caught breaking… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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