Carrie Fisher's 'The Princess Diarist' is moving, witty

“Who do I think I would’ve been if I hadn’t been Princess Leia? Am I Princess Leia, or is she me? Split the difference and you’d be closer to the truth.”

This striking musing appears at the end of the first chapter of Carrie Fisher’s 2016 memoir, “The Princess Diarist.” The book is a fascinating, often heartbreaking, look at Fisher’s life and mind, as well as a sobering picture of what it’s like to be immensely famous before becoming a legal adult. I went into “The Princess Diarist” expecting it to be funny and light. I left deeply saddened, but impressed by Fisher’s witty writing and her deep thoughtfulness.

“The Princess Diarist” is divided into three sections. The first contains background information about Fisher’s life up until “Star Wars” and some behind-the-scenes stories from filming. And, most famously, it reveals that she and Harrison Ford, who played Han Solo, had an affair while filming the first Star Wars film. But, Fisher also touches on more significant issues.  

She tells several stories that remind the reader how sexism and even sexual harassment have always been a problem in Hollywood. It’s painful to read the account of Warren Beatty discussing with a costume designer whether the 17-year-old Fisher should wear a bra while filming “Shampoo.” But even more painful is what we see of Fisher’s mind as a teenager. She had abysmally low self-esteem. She thought she was fat, stupid, ugly and uninteresting. She couldn’t imagine that any man would ever love her.

The second section is composed of excerpts from the journals Fisher wrote while filming, including both diary entries and poetry. This section is fascinating, too, though even more sobering. Her writings show that Fisher was a highly talented writer, even at 19, and also a keen observer of people. She even sees the foolishness of her own extreme self-deprecation, though she’s powerless to stop it. In her desperate, miserable diary entries, one can see hints of the mental illness that would haunt her the rest of her life. In one excerpt, she writes, “My panic is rising again. My sense of isolation and worthlessness. And no other senses worth mentioning apparently. It’s not nice being inside my head.”

The third section shifts significantly, discussing Fisher’s exploding fame and what it was like for her to be Princess Leia for the rest of her life. She sees clearly how surreal and strange her fame is and helps the reader to see it too. A large portion of this section discusses autograph signings and encounters with rabid fans, including several extended and rambling speeches she had to listen to. Though these speeches couldn’t have been recorded word for word, it’s disturbingly obvious that Fisher perfectly captures the spirit of an earnest, talkative fan.

One note—though “The Princess Diarist” is fascinating, well-written and thought-provoking, I wouldn’t buy it as a Christmas gift for your grandmother or younger sister.  Fisher uses several R-rated words and mentions sex and drugs frequently. Most college students, though, would probably benefit from Fisher’s book. They can learn from her mistakes, as she would have wanted.

One of the saddest things about “The Princess Diarist” is, of course, the inescapable knowledge that Fisher died less than a year after its release—indeed, one could even say that the book killed her, since her fatal heart attack occurred on a plane, flying back from a promotional tour. This knowledge gives an unwarranted sting to many of her musings. For instance, she writes, “…someone was complaining about how much celebrities charge for autographs at these events, and in our defense someone said, ‘Well, you know, it may cost that much now, but when she dies it’s really going to be worth a lot.’ So my death is worth something to some people. If I had enough pictures signed someone could put out a hit on me.”  

It also makes one realize how much was lost when Fisher died too soon. Not only did we lose Princess Leia, we lost an incredibly strong woman, an advocate for ending the stigma still surrounding mental illness and a truly gifted writer. “The Princess Diarist” shows us how to write about one’s life—with style, deep thoughtfulness, wit and humor. Knowing Fisher’s love for that humor, I feel it’s my duty to include the words that she wanted in her obituary: “She drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra.”

We miss you, Princess Carrie.

The views expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of The Torch.

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