The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Princess Bride (2)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.

Other reviews:
Fresh-scraped Vellum
Shut Up! I’m Reading
Elle Literate
Hot Diggity Daffodil
Anyone else?

Buy it here: The Princess Bride

6 thoughts on “The Princess Bride by William Goldman

  1. It is high time I re-read The Princess Bride! I’m pretty sure I didn’t catch all the jokes the first time, and it’s been decades. BTW, William Goldman is an alumnus of my college, and was the commencement speaker at my graduation, which was a lot of fun.


    Hi Cheryl, I haven’t actually read this book but your review makes me want to do so! I like your blog, we seem to have a similar taste in books. Edgar Rice Burroughs is a favorite of mine as well.

  3. Thank you for linking back to my blog! I’m positively flattered and it lead me to your fabulous review! I agree with you in that the sly wink and elbow nudging (or just straight mocking) of fantasy/adventure tropes was one of the best parts in the entire novel. There were moments that I laughed out loud, the only thing it was missing was a unicorn coming to save Princess Buttercup. Deep? Maaaybe not, but what a damn fun ride.

  4. You’re review makes me want to reread the book. I reviewed the book a few years ago, and I’d read the book even more years ago than that and I recall a sense of bewilderment and lots and lots of history. I think it comes from knowing the movie by heart and perhaps being a little too young to appreciate the humour of the book. I think I still have it floating around somewhere, I might pick it up again!

  5. dianem57

    Sounds like a good satire of the genre, but in a positive way. The characters are often what makes a formulaic story more interesting.

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