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The cover to "the thinking man's War and Peace", Shrek!.

Shrek!, written by William Steig, was a comic and literary masterpiece that has captured the hearts of millions since its publication in 1990. Described by Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain as "defining the '90s", the work indeed tapped such core period issues as smelling funny, being hideously unattractive, and the ne'er-do-well trend that developed in the crack-drowned 1980s.

Fundamentally a love and life story, Shrek! examined deep philosophical meanings through light wit and crude illustrations not unlike cave paintings. The Pulitzer Prize committee described it as "The best coming-of-age story since To Kill a Mockingbird."

Plot and analysis


For those without comedic tastes, the so-called experts at Wikipedia have an article about the book Shrek!.


For those without comedic tastes, the so-called experts at Wikipedia have an article about the movie series Shrek.

At its very surface, Shrek! is about an ogre with a considerable personality deficit and a predilection for living off of his parents' generosity. Decidedly disenchanted with this style of living, they force him to evacuate to the countryside and fend for himself. Through the course of the story, he lives out a traditional fairy tale life in a blatant flaunting of convention and a wittily humorous irony.

The reputation of the book as a modern classic has been virtually uncontested since its publication and subsequent acclaim. A detailed analysis of the deceptively simple text quickly tells us why.

Part 1: Shrek's Departure

This introductory part deals primarily with Shrek's beginnings and introduces the main conflict in the book: Shrek being a total douche. It is in this part where the plot develops.

First, the unforgettable vignette in which Shrek is introduced:

The wealth of rich adjectives present in this textured, detailed passage simply transcends description. While a lesser writer may have penned "His mother was of unpleasant stature, as was his equally unkempt father. However, when these two most uncouth of monsters combined for the sake of procreation, their progeny was of doubly unpleasant looks", Steig chooses to instead allow the reader to visualize their own adverbs. This intentional omission of descriptive vocabulary is symbolic of Shrek's equally emptyheaded nature. This perfectly encapsulates what the visionary Steig saw wrong with society.

Then, the heartrending scene during which Shrek is forced to leave his home:

The ne'er-do-well Shrek being kicked out by his loving parents.

What delightfully humorous prose! What ever-so-subtle wordplay! And, most importantly, what incredibly deep subtext. In this ever-so-subtle passage, we get a glimpse of the deep psychological harm inflicted upon a child of the "shoot first, ask questions only when you miss a vein" era. Indeed, an allusion to the most popular stimulant of the punk era can be found in the ugliness introduced earlier. So, as one can see, the "ugly" (read: addicted) parents had a super ugly child (read: drug baby) and kicked him out (read: kicked him out).

Then, the famous "Witch's Poem":

Apple Strudel! Perhaps the most timeless quote since Shakespeare penned "To be or not to be; that is the question," this simplistic heroic couplet singlehandedly serves a triple purpose. First, it makes reference to the ancient Indian epic "Ramayana". Written in Sanskrit and when transliterated to English bearing absolutely no resemblance to the iambic pentameter upon which the witch's poem is based, the two poems bear striking resemblance to each other. Secondly, it ever-so-subtly references the timeless Welsh and British mythology of King Arthur, slyly hinting at the intrigue of knights and gallantry through wordplay. Finally, the mention of Apple Strudel expresses distaste for the spread of Communism in post-Iron Curtain-era China. How? Well, by simply inferring that by apple strudel, Steig was truly speaking of apple pie, the most American of all delicacies, and by that was referring to American values, the direct antithesis to China, he was obliquely pointing out that the secret to success is not in China, one can easily see the reference.

Regardless of this, however, the main plot progression has been introduced, leading to...

Part 2: Shrek's Journey

Now that the main objective of Shrek's journeying has been introduced, he actually departs on his journey. The main conflict, Shrek's douchebaggery, is still present.

The next scene of note is after the throwaway situation in which Shrek scatters every living thing in the forest into various sadistic traps and subsequently eating them. It involves thunder and lightning that, through some miracle, have gained the ability to talk. Lightning, in an ill-advised attempt to hit on thunder, makes a move to kill Shrek, who promptly diminishes the threat:

The object of Steig's ire, the ever-elusive HIV/AIDS infection. Bastards.

Poor lightning, emasculated at the hands of the asinine Shrek! However, yet again, there is so much more than meets the eye in this situation. Here, we see a denunciation of the homosexuality and bravado among the increasingly urbanite youth. With the rise of rap music, the prominence of suburban homeboys became quite alarming to Steig, who penned this scene to mock the fucking white boys who were trying to be black.

A few pages later, the donkey promised by the Witch's Verse is found. The magic words cause him to say this:

After the delivery of this poem, which serves no deeper meaning whatsoever because it simply doesn't make sense that it would, Shrek rides the donkey for a long time. This is clearly an intentional paradox authored by Steig for the sake of a careful, worthy reader such as a literary analyst. By substituting "ass", a synonym for donkey, into the passage and tirelessly searching English vernacular, one can see yet another reference to homosexuality, or at least to intercourse. "Riding an ass," one learns, is a colloquial expression for anal penetration, thus implying that Shrek, a most detestable creature, is gay. Here, then, Steig is speaking out against the emerging AIDS virus, which at the time was considered to be a "gay" disease. What brilliant subtlety! Surely one cannot deny the brilliance of this work!

And yet there is still more, as the book enters its penultimate act.

Part 3: Shrek's Triumph

In this climactic part, Shrek is still an inexcusably boorish character who many would say had a penchant for being a jerk. Regardless of this, however, he finds himself nearly at the end of his mission.

Him and his partner, cleverly named Donkey, arrive at a castle. This cliché is furthered by the presence of a valiant knight, who orders Shrek to stop lest he be slain. Shrek incapacitates him in the following hilarious excerpt:

A castle protected by a moat, what a novel concept indeed! More importantly, Shrek's convenient superpowers give recourse for perhaps the most pointed observation out of all of Steig's biting satire. If one replaces "bellowed a blast of fire" with "infected the knight with HIV" and "dove into the stagnant moat" with "died" (which is easily done if you simply think about it a little), we find yet another indictment of the emerging virus. Also, Shrek's acts of violence escalating along with his homosexual tendencies hints that Steig was, in fact, an extreme and volatile homophobe. This is perfectly acceptable; everyone is flawed.

After a short run-in with an oddly-placed hall of mirrors, Shrek finds the princess he has been so desperately seeking. After exchanging sweet nothings, the book delves into its final section.

Part 4: Shrek's Unchangedness

I don't know what the hell this is, but it must be related to Shrek somehow...

Herein, Shrek makes a grave mistake indeed: he gets married. However, shockingly, this is not a bad thing for Shrek, as evidenced in the following passage:

How original! Turning the stereotypical fairy tale ending on its head! And in a way that nobody would have expected, let alone recorded!

But let us examine the other half of this passage:

This suggests that the character development promised by the exposition never occurs. Why? Well, because Steig wanted to end this tale the same way he handled all of its other aspects: with complete defiance of convention. Some would simply call this laziness or bad writing. However, as anyone with half a brain knows, this is simply not so. With this, he is making a commentary on society's need for instant gratification. He refuses to gratify us with the thing we want most - a concrete ending - to make a point. Brilliant to the very end.

Alternate interpretations

Though, for the most part, the above analysis is accepted as incontrovertible, there are certain closed-minded and stupid people who believe a noticeably shorter and conspicuously incorrect analysis. In the words of a certain choice idiot:

Clearly, this speaker was not of sound mind, because there is no one better to judge a work of prose than literary critics who tirelessly pore over every word placed lovingly and with meaning by the author.

Naturally, there is also the conspiracy theorist sect which claims that Shrek! was meant as a government-funded warning against an imminent alien invasion. According to these nutjobs, Shrek! predicts the coming of an extremely hideous cosmic monster not unlike Shrek. Rife with heretic symbolism and apocryphal supplementary texts (collectively known as the "S Files"), this theory has largely been abandoned by the easily distracted conspiracy theorists for several other more immediate projects.

Reception and accolades

As is to be expected, critics embraced the book, awarding the following glowing reviews:

Artist's conception of the appearance of (after the Writer's Guild of America and the Rest of the World Too gets through with it, that is)

However, despite all of these glowing responses, the bane of Steig's existence was the following, posted on LOLForum@ED:

Steig's eventual suicide has been attributed to this anonymous user. We dare him to come near us. We'll destroy him!

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