Shrek! is the perfect antidote to the movie franchise that it inspired. Where that was a movie about discovering the beauty within and being a good “person” despite outer appearances, this is a book about being hideous in body and soul and revelling in it.
Shrek is a villain, not a hero. There are no heroes in Shrek’s world. It is glorious.
Written by William Steig, who was 86 at the time of publication, Shrek! tells the story of an ogre who is kicked out of home by his parents and terrorises the countryside while looking for a princess.
At 32 pages, there’s not much more it than that, but it’s worth mentioning that there is absolutely nothing of the Dreamworks film in this picture book beyond basic character designs. As a subversion of fairy tales, it works much better because there are no knowing winks to non-existent cameras, no waffles and, best of all, no Smash Mouth. I don’t know if it would be as subversive if the billion dollar franchise had never existed but, as the counterpoint to the bitter rantings of a man with a grudge against Disney, it’s brilliant.
Steig’s artwork is charming, and exactly as it appears on the cover. This is a very rough, hand made book. The dialogue generally rhymes and pretends to be set for a fantasy world, but it’s not important: Shrek is on a journey of self-realisation. Shrek suspects that he’s the greatest and most horrible, and it’s not until the ending that he gets it confirmed in the funniest way possible.
This incarnation of Shrek is truly like an onion; if you cross him he’ll make you cry. I wouldn’t have him any other way, and certainly not as a billion dollar franchise. Shrek! counts among one of the best dollars I’ve ever spent.