So we were watching “The Princess Bride” last night.
It falls down in a few places: when Westley threatens to hit Buttercup “because where I come from there are penalties when a woman lies”, the depiction of an albino character, the degree to which disfigurement is treated as worse than death. (That last could be merely because Humperdink is so vain, but I’d be more comfortable if that were better spelled out.)
But what struck me more than anything else was the Machine, the Life-Sucker.
Last weekend, we went to the windmill park near our house. My parents are visiting, and my father is a letterpress printer in his spare time*. As it happens, there is a linseed-processing windmill near us that was used to power a printing press just after World War 2, and the local letterpress enthusiasts had recreated the whole assemblage for the 70th anniversary of the liberation. Naturally, we had to visit.
Dutch windmills are impressive† pieces of heavy equipment. We live near what is sometimes described as the first industrialized area of the world, where the wind was harnessed to supply the massive power needed to saw wood, make paper, grind linseed oil, and process chocolate on a grand scale. Visiting the mills now, one is still overwhelmed by the force they produce, despite the variability of the power source and the relative inefficiency of the wooden mechanisms.
The Life-Sucker is a water mill, but there’s a lot of the same feel to it. And it makes me think that we’ve missed out on a potential genre, in our desire to play with the shiny brass of Victorian technoliogy. Where are the stories about the creaking, grinding power of wind and water mills, the impersonal forces of nature incompletely harnessed by early technologists working in the flameless dark? Why is there no love for them?
I think I want to read some millpunk.
* It’s ironic, but my bookbinding does not come from his printing. Apart from a certain passion for craftsmanship, that is.
† Thanks to Joris Meijer for supplying the link when I mused on this a little on Twitter.