I can’t believe I waited this long to read The Princess Bride. I watched the movie hundreds of times as a kid, but William Goldman’s novel is funnier and more entertaining (if that’s even possible) than the film.
I am sure most of you know what The Princess Bride is all about thanks to the brilliant movie that came out in 1987, whose screenplay was also written by William Goldman. However, for those who have never heard of or seen the movie (do you live in a cave or Guilder, perhaps?), the novel is essentially two stories combined: one about the novel The Princess Bride written by S. Morgenstern, which William Goldman abridges to include only “the good parts,” and the other about Goldman’s relationship with the book. However, this two-story approach is just a framing technique that Goldman uses to fool readers into thinking that The Princess Bride (and all the characters in it) and S. Morgenstern are real.
The novel begins with Goldman reminiscing about the past, specifically, his failures, successes, and first encounter with the novel The Princess Bride, which is written by a Florinese author, S. Morgenstern. While convalescing from pneumonia as a child, Goldman was read the novel aloud by his father. Although the story did not contain sports, as young Goldman had hoped, his father promised him that it contained, “Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest ladies. Snakes. Spiders. Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles.”
Goldman had always felt that The Princess Bride was best enjoyed when read out loud by his father, who could barely speak English. So, though he had never read it himself, it became his favorite novel. Imagine his surprise when he discovers years later (now as a father to his 10-year-old son) that the book is not exactly how he remembered it to be. Goldman decides to give his son a copy of Morgenstern’s The Princess Bride for his 10th birthday, as Goldman was also 10 years old when his father first read it to him. However, he despaired upon learning that his son, Jason, couldn’t read it from boredom. Shocked, Goldman reads the book for himself and discovers that rather than being a tale of high adventure and true love, the book was actually a long critique on the monarchy in Florin, filled with historical facts, philosophical arguments, and the author’s political beliefs. Thus, in an attempt to transform The Princess Bride into the story it ought to be (in his opinion, anyway), Goldman abridges the novel and retains only the exciting and interesting parts.
**Spoilers if you haven’t seen the movie…if you have, go right ahead!**
The main part of the book is the story of The Princess Bride, “the good parts version,” starring the beautiful Buttercup, her love interest and equally beautiful, Westley, the Spaniard Inigo Montoya (who is fueled by his hatred toward a six-fingered man who killed his father), the giant Fezzik, the supervillain Prince Humperdink, and the prince’s right-hand man, Count Rugen. The story is basically the same as the movie: Buttercup and Westley fall in love; Westley leaves to seek his fortune in America but allegedly gets killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts; and Buttercup becomes the most beautiful woman in the world, who is then discovered by Prince Humperdink. The prince asks for her hand, and in her despair over Westley’s death, Buttercup agrees to marry the prince. Fast forward 3 years later, Buttercup is made into a princess so she can legally marry a prince, is kidnapped by three fiends (Inigo, Fezzik, and their leader, the Sicilian Vizzini) on the day she is introduced to the public, and then rescued by a mysterious man in black, who is later revealed to be the Dread Pirate Roberts aka Westley. The lovers are reunited, travel through the Fire Swamp, where they are trapped in quicksand and attacked by R.O.U.S but survive, only to be separated once again by Prince Humperdink. Westley is captured (though the prince led Buttercup to believe that he was sent back safely on his ship, the Revenge) and tortured and eventually killed (oops….spoiler) by Count Rugen. One night before Buttercup’s and the prince’s wedding, Inigo and Fezzik, having a change of heart, seek out Westley, learn of his whereabout, rescue him, and try to resurrect him from the dead. Westley, now alive, at least most of the time, storms the castle with Fezzik and Inigo to find Buttercup. Meanwhile, Inigo looks for Count Rugen (it is revealed before the storming of the castle scene that Count Rugen is the six-fingered man that Inigo had been looking for all his life) and upon finding him repeatedly says one of the most famous lines in cinema history (I know you know what it is, so I won’t write it down here). Anyway, Inigo kills Count Rugen, Westley finds Buttercup, and the four ride off into the sunset on white horses.
And they all lived happily ever after.
Well, in the movie at least. In the book, that’s not actually what happened. As the group rides off into the sunset, it turns out that Prince Humperdink and his men were not far behind, hot on their trail. The fates of the lovers and their friends are left to the imagination of the readers, at least until the sequel, Buttercup’s Baby, the first few chapters of which are included in the back of the book. The first few chapters of Buttercup’s Baby, which Goldman also abridges, describe the events immediately after The Princess Bride, including how the group escaped Prince Humperdink, their subsequent lives, Westley and Buttercup’s daughter, Waverly, and Fezzik’s fate.
It may not look it from my hurried description, but The Princess Bride, both Morgenstern’s and Goldman’s version, is filled with witty banter, cheesy love scenes, and hilarious dialogues, not to mention Goldman’s comments and asides throughout Morgenstern’s novel, explaining his abridgement decisions. Highly entertaining and laugh-out-loud funny, the book makes good on its promise of being a tale of high adventure and true love, though, I believe that with Goldman’s cynicism, the last part is probably sarcastic.
And yes, they got away. And got their strength back and had lots of adventures and more than their fair share of laughs. But that doesn’t mean I think they had a happy ending either. Because, in my opinion anyway, they squabbled a lot…
In addition, through the carefully placed asides throughout Morgenstern’s novel, Goldman establishes a personal relationship with his readers, addressing them directly, which further heightens the entertainment value of the novel.
Throughout his life, Goldman maintained the illusion that The Princess Bride is a novel originally written by S. Morgenstern that he abridges to make it accessible to readers. He pulls this off by cleverly peppering the novel with real facts, such as details on the production of the movie as well as his career as a novelist and screenplay writer. However, information that Goldman passes of as facts in the book is actually merely part of his fictional counterpart. For instance, the real Goldman doesn’t have a son, as he describes in the novel, but two daughters. His father, which he describes in the novel as a barber who barely spoke English, was actually a successful businessman. Moreover, despite his description of going to Florin and visiting the Morgenstern Museum with his grandson Willie (also fictional), we all know that Florin (and Guilder) are not real countries. Before presenting the short excerpt of Buttercup’s Baby, Goldman explains that legal reasons (and Stephen King, who the Morgenstern estate had authorized to abridge the sequel, as his ancestors are from Florin) prevent him from abridging the complete long-awaited sequel. Back when the novel was originally published, before the Internet, these “facts” may have been difficult to dispute. However, in this era of Google, one can easily find out whether any of it is real.
As a parody of adventure and romance stories, The Princess Bride should not be taken too seriously – in fact, I don’t think it can be taken seriously. To be enjoyed thoroughly, readers should trust Goldman, not ask too many questions, and let themselves be carried away by the “Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure” that proves that love is really the best thing in the world…except for cough drops.
The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure. The “Good Parts” Version (1973) – Abridged by William Goldman
Harcourt; 30th Anniversary edition; 414 pages (tpb)
Personal rating: 5/5