Book: The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Reviewer: Jeriann and Bethany
Age/Genre: Satiric Fantasy Romance
Preferred Reading Environment: On a rainy day in bed when the covers have accepted you as one of their own and you just can’t get up…
Reading Accoutrements: Your favorite movie refreshments — Bethany always goes for popcorn, red vines, and a Dr. Pepper. Jeriann’s go-tos are brownies and a glass of wine!
Content Notes: racial stereotypes and slurs. fat-phobia. Also, general stereotypes regarding who’s allowed to have a brain (Scarecrows need not apply) (or women or giants, apparently).
It’s the end of February, and chances are you’ve had to watch at least one “romantic” movie that made you want to gag and roll your eyes. Don’t you wish that a movie could have romance without being super sappy? Maybe have a sword fight or two in there? Perhaps a harrowing battle with Rodents Of Unusual Size?
Of course that’s what you want. And that’s what you’ll get with the 1987 film, The Princess Bride. Last month, we would have assumed that you’d seen this classic icon, but in talking with people about re-reading the book for the review, it turns out that tons of people haven’t seen the movie and didn’t realize the book existed. So whether you’re a long-time fan or have no idea what we’re talking about, here’s our review of The Princess Bride by William Goldman.
The full title is actually The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure, but that takes up too much space. You might be wondering who S. Morgenstern is –
Bethany: Short answer: Nobody. He doesn’t exist. S. Morgenstern is a fictional character. A plot device used by William Goldman to…well, to…I actually have no idea why S. Morgenstern is part of this book…
The first major difference between the movie and the book is the frame. In the movie, Peter Falk (Inspector Colombo himself) reads a tale of adventure and romance to his sick grandson, played by Fred Savage (the kid from The Wonder Years). In the book, a characterized version of William Goldman has abridged and annotated the classic tale that his father, an immigrant from Florin, read him when he was sick with Pneumonia as a kid. He’s abridged it because he wanted his son to read it, but his son got stuck on the “boring” parts – mostly lots of lineages and details about Florin traditions. So this is the “good parts” version, with occasional comments thrown in by Goldman about what he “removed.”
Jeriann: This book is framed as if it’s a real abridgement of a previously existing book, but obviously, Florin is not a real country, and S. Morgenstern is Goldman’s creation. Likewise, the Goldman narrating the book is not Goldman the author, but a fictionalized version of himself. And I hate to say it, but the fictionalized version is a dick. He constantly goes on about how his son is fat and spoiled and how he has no love for his wife. I don’t know much about the real William Goldman, but I am pretty skeptical about the reasons for the frame in the first place. In a lot of places, it seems like it’s just a short cut to avoid realistic explanations for the plot and characters. Certain events are “skipped over” in a way that the cynical writer in me thinks the author just didn’t feel like going into all the details. I also think that the frame gives Goldman an opportunity to butt in with comments that make it clear where things are satirical and not to be taken seriously, but if the story can’t do that by itself, is it really effective satire?
Yes, The Princess Bride is presented as a satirical work. The chapters are all named in pretty generic terms that describe the typical romantic plot: “The Bride,” “The Groom,” “The Festivities.” I did think it was funny that “The Festivities” was almost completely annotations, since Goldman figured the details of party planning wasn’t really important to readers. That did make me laugh, because lots of books go into tons of extraneous boring details no one cares about and this was a fun way to call that out (*cough cough* George R.R. Martin).
The actual plot of the book is very similar to that of the movie (The book was first, but the movie seems more well-known, so that’s what we’re using as the baseline here). Buttercup, the beautiful daughter of a farmer, fell in love with a boy named Westley who appeared to have some sort of selective mutism in his younger years – only capable of speaking the words “As you wish” to his would-be girlfriend. Westley ran off to seek his fortune on a merchant ship, promising to return for her. But soon, Buttercup receives word that The Dread Pirate Roberts killed everyone on board Westley’s ship, so when a prince – okay, The Prince of Florin – comes calling, she agrees to marry him. Before the wedding, she is kidnapped (*eye roll*) by a Sicilian mastermind, a Spanish swordsman, and a Turkish giant and taken aboard their ship.
As if Buttercup doesn’t have enough to worry about, it then becomes apparent that they are being followed by the Dread Pirate Roberts himself! Hijinks ensue. A lot of hijinks. Like, seriously, Westley comes back to life. Twice.
For the most part, the movie was a pretty faithful adaptation of the book. A couple of the jokes were delivered by different characters, mostly for streamlining purposes. The main plot difference is that the book includes the Zoo of Death.
Bethany: I was so disappointed this wasn’t in the movie.
Jeriann: Yeah, I guess it makes sense from a budget perspective, but a five-level underground menagerie full of deadly animals would have been an awesome visual.
In the book, Prince Humperdink (of Florin) is a skilled hunter. He’d much rather be gallivanting the world killing things than dealing with the politics of running a country. But since his father is slowly dying, Humperdink has accepted his duties and had the zoo built so that he can still end a life every day.
Bethany: In retrospect, this is probably the real reason it’s left out of the movie…it’s pretty dark in tone compared to the rest. AND the movie was kind of geared toward pre-teens, so this much morbidity would probably have been frowned upon…by the parents…
As you might have guessed from this description of Humperdink, most of the characters are caricatures. They have one or two main personality traits and it is hammered into us throughout the book. Buttercup is beautiful and vapid. Westley is honorable, as any romantic hero is required to be (AND TOTALLY DESERVES BETTER…but that’s just our opinion). Humperdink is vain and spoiled. Count Rugin (Prince Humperdink’s second-in-command, and the six-fingered man) loves to inflict pain. Inigo Montoya, the Spanish swordsman, is hellbent on revenge for the death of his father. Fezzik, our amicable giant, is extremely strong, and not particularly smart (though is not as dumb as people tell him he is). The one notedness of the characters drives home the satire in a lot of places, though in some places it seems to reinforce stereotypes rather than subverting them.
Jeriann: As I was re-reading, I felt like the characters were pretty similar to how they were in the movie, but all their traits were enhanced. The characters we don’t see a lot in the film had a lot more backstory and personality in the book. The main characters in the movie (mainly Buttercup and Westley) were less likable in the book because you saw more of their annoying traits.
Bethany: The movie was made in 1987, so expect cheesy graphics akin to those of The NeverEnding Story, Labyrinth, and Total Recall. Honestly, the corniness of the setting kind of enhances the flat characters and makes the satire that much more entertaining. The fire swamp was my favorite part and the ROUSs steal the show.
Jeriann: My favorite characters are Inigo and Fezzik. In the movie, Mandy Patinkin and Andre the Giant have great chemistry. These two could have just been comedic relief, but they’re lovable characters who demonstrate true, healthy friendship. Inigo encourages Fezzik when everyone else just uses his strength and makes him feel stupid. Plus, they rhyme. Automatic faves.
Whether you’ve seen the movie or not, you’ve probably had the line “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my Father. Prepare to Die,” drilled into your head from nametag jokes, Hot Topic T-shirts, and memes galore. In the book, this line is still prominent, but Inigo also has another recurring line “I am Inigo Montoya and I do not accept defeat.”
Jeriann: This will be my mantra forever now. Writer’s Block? I do not accept defeat.
Bethany: There are so many quotable lines in this book/movie!!!
“Never gamble with a Sicilian when death is on the line!”
“I do not think that word means what you think it means.”
“Mawidge is what bwings us toogevuhhh toodayyyy.”
“AAAAAS YOOUUUUUUU WIIIIIIIISSSSHHHHH!”
“I’m not a witch, I’m your wife!”
“We are men of action. Lies do not become us.”
Almost all of the iconic lines from the movie are from the book, though some were slightly altered for film. Overall, if you love the movie, you’ll probably find the book pretty enjoyable, even if the frame is a bit obnoxious. Though we both agree that reading the book and writing this review just made us want to watch the film.
What’s your favorite line from The Princess Bride? Tell us in the comments or send it to us in a totally out-of-context tweet! #outofcontextprincessbride