We’re getting down to the end of Once Upon a Time, but I fit in another reread of an old favorite: The Princess Bride, S. Morganstern’s Classic Tale by William Goldman. The first time I read this was in college, and it only took me a day. I didn’t have quite so much reading time this go-around–so it took two and a half days. It has a decent number of pages, but it’s a fast-paced, very quick, very delightful adventure story.
Plotwise, the story centers around Buttercup, the most beautiful woman in the world, who is engaged to Prince Humperdinck but in love with Westley. But it’s not really about the plot, which is largely just a farcical blend of kidnapping, conspiracy theories, and excuses for swordfights. It’s really about the other characters, the derring-do and the witty repartee, and the dangerous and sometimes absurd circumstances.
If you’ve seen the movie (my review here), then you’ll have a very good idea what to expect in the book. I’ve rarely seen a movie that was so true to the book, and I’m sure that has everything to do with the fact that Goldman also wrote the screenplay. They’re basically the same thing–the book is just a bit more. More history of the characters, more descriptions, more witty asides. But it’s the same in the essentials, and there were plenty of lines of dialogue I read in my head the way the actors said them.
The spoofing quality of the story may be one way the book is more. The movie is obviously playing on adventure story tropes, but it’s even clearer in the book how much it’s deliberately poking fun at the standards. You can see it in the main characters: the beautiful but dumb Buttercup, the impossibly heroic Westley, and the ruthless Humperdinck are all caricatures, but they’re knowingly caricatures, and they’re such entertaining ones besides. This entire book feels like one big, sly wink.
For me, I think it’s much more about the supporting cast. There’s Fezzik the giant who has the world’s strongest arms and biggest heart, who’s not very smart but loves rhymes, and is afraid of nothing so much as loneliness. And there’s Inigo, a Wizard with a sword who is driven only by his desire to seek revenge on his beloved father’s murderer. There’s also Vizzini, the brilliant and crafty Sicilian–but mostly it’s about Inigo and Fezzik.
We get more of Fezzik and Inigo and their friendship in the book. One of my favorite sections is when the two of them enter the Zoo of Death, looking for Westley. They both have to face fears and it’s clear that neither could make it through without the other one–and even though they squabble along the way, they seem to figure that out too.
The book has more or less the same frame story as the movie as well, though in the book it’s Goldman’s father reading him the book. Frame story spoiler in white text, highlight if you want to read it… The story goes that Goldman’s father read him only the good parts of the book, and now he’s abridging S. Morganstern’s classic tale…which just isn’t true. It’s a lovely idea, but if you actually read the book, it becomes pretty clear that it’s not true (and a quick search online will confirm it), just from the style of the book itself, the things that Goldman claims to have cut, and especially the things Goldman writes about his own life. I love the concept, though, and I love that the idea is floating out there and believed. I think that’s why I had to do this part in white text–I wanted to comment on the whole thing, but I hate to give it away for anyone! Like I said, the book really is one huge, sly wink.
All in all, The Princess Bride is not a deep story or a profound one, but it’s just so much fun. Watch the movie or read the book, both are light and delightful.
Buy it here: The Princess Bride