Okay kiddies—tuck yourselves in, and I’ll tell you a bedtime story. There was once a squire named Randall, who really wasn’t that brave, and cheated at cards. One day he and the knight he served, Sir William, were told to escort Princess Janice to another kingdom to be married. But right away they ran into trouble in the woods. They found a mysterious crystal, and when Sir William touched it, why, a beam of light shot out, and turned beautiful princess into a heap of ashes. But that’s okay—she was kind of snotty anyway. The end. Now go to sleep.
No? All right, but if you want to hear the rest of the story, you’ll have to buy Jeff Strand’s uproarious novel How to Rescue a Dead Princess. You’d think any book must have at least one line that wasn’t adolescent, crude or sarcastic. But then again we’re dealing with Strand, a self-styled “literary comedian” and darling of the e-publishing world, whose other novels include Graverobbers Wanted—No Experience Necessary and Single White Psychopath Seeks Same. In Dead Princess he gives us a delightfully ridiculous spoof of the fairy tale and its grown up cousin, the modern fantasy novel. We follow Randall’s lunatic adventures as he tries to gather the bizarre ingredients for a spell to bring the dead princess back to life, and in the process mocking everything from Shakespeare to Darth Vader. I think my favorite scene is when Randall is captured and brought to a dungeon, presided over by brothers Bob and Ben. Bob and Ben’s methods of torture are, well, a bit different:
Ben sighed and picked up Igor, a small hand puppet of a deformed hunchback. He gave it to Bob, who placed it on his hand, then held it less than an inch from Randall’s face. “This is Igor. Kissy, kissy!” He shoved the puppet against Randall’s face, moving it in a grinding motion.
“Quit it,” said Randall.
“Oh, he wants me to quit it! Had enough? Has the baby had enough? I’ll decide when you’ve had enough.” He continued grinding the puppet against Randall’s face. “Kissy, kissy!”
As you can tell, we’re not dealing with the witty comedy of a George Bernard Shaw here, or even the warm humor of a James Herriot. No, Strand’s books are the guffawing, snickering-in-the-back-seat-on-the-way-to-grandma’s-house sort of funny. They also happen to be well plotted, imaginative, and just a bit twisted. Oh, and there’s some romance too, with a girl named Yvonne that Randall picks up in a brothel; here Randall talks about his feelings with his friend Jack (of Beanstalk fame):
“I don’t know what’s going on,” Randall admitted. “It’s just that when I look at her, I feel this tingling inside, as if the Spiders of Love were dancing around my innards with their tiny arachnid feet.”
“Listen, Randall, you have to control yourself. This falling in love thing—it’s like I were writing a book, and I decided I needed to put some romance in it to make it more commercial, and even though the love story didn’t fit in with the rest of the plot and was extremely unbelievable and forced, I put it in there anyway. Do you see what I’m saying?”
So if you’ve just come off reading Buddenbrooks and feel a little down, or just feel like reading a book where the final confrontation between the hero and villain is a game of rock-paper-scissors, How to Rescue a Dead Princess is your ticket to inspired foolishness. It can be downloaded from Hard Shell’s web site (www.hardshell.com) for the whopping price of $5.50.
- Joel Van Valin