Friday, June 1, 2012

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

My Rating: 4.0 / 5.0

William Goldman presents an abridged version of the classic novel by S. Morgenstern, that great Florinese writer. Having loved the book as a child, when his Florinese father read it to him, Mr Goldman was appalled to discover as an adult that it was full of really boring bits. In an effort to make the book more interesting for his son, he has pulled together all the ‘good parts’ and produced a much slimmer volume.

The book follows the adventures of the most beautiful woman in the world, Buttercup and Westley, her True Love. She declares her love for him and he runs away to America to make his fortune, but is lost at sea, killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts. After being given the choice of death or marriage, she agrees to marry Prince Humperdinck, who loves hunting so much that he has a ‘Zoo of Death’ filled with an assortment of deadly creatures. As the wedding approaches, she is kidnapped by Vizzini, the cunning Sicilian, Inigo Montoya, the Spanish fencing Wizard, and Fezzik, the monumental Turkish wrestler. However, their plan is interrupted by the Man in Black, who pursues them towards the Cliffs of Insanity.

What follows involves fighting, cunning, strength, determination, death, rodents, poison, deception, friendship, love, hate, revenge, a miracle and an albino with a wheelbarrow.

The film version of this book has a special place in my young adulthood, so I have to get a few things off my chest before I start:
As you wish . . . Inconceivable! . . . Rodents of Unusual Size . . . Mawidge is a dweam wiffin a dweam . . . Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.
Right, back to the review . . .

As I began to read the beginning of the book I was completely confused. I had assumed that the film’s use of a story within a story, with the Grandfather reading the book to his ill grandson, was a clever invention by the film makers, but that is how the book is written. However, the film’s version of it is slightly more successful, mainly because it is more concise and is a conversation between two people, rather than one man’s recollections. We are presented with a short biography for Mr Goldman outlining the books role in his youth, but it goes on rather too much and is not as funny as it should be. The asides that litter the book are sometimes funny, but often rather dull as they criticize the supposed original book for its long lists of details. I am not sure how I would have reacted to these as a person who had not seen the film, but I would not have missed them if they had been deleted.

One problem I always had with the film is that Buttercup is almost totally unsympathetic. At the beginning she is just horrible to poor Westley, then she is forced to agree to the marriage and is just a baggage of uselessness that gets handed around and provides a reason for all the action. As a character she is rather uninteresting and stereotypical, which is always disappointing for me, as I prefer female characters to have some agency. She is supposed to be pretty stupid, which I fail to find endearing, and the book does not really add anything else to her character. Indeed, many of the characters are pretty dull and show no progression. The Prince and the Count are mostly one-note cardboard cutouts of ‘EVIL!’ with nothing particularly interesting about them to provide a reason for their behavior. Westley fairs little better, although he does get some good lines, but he is basically the stereotypical hero, with no character arc that I could discern. Indeed, the only characters that actually have a journey through the story are Inigo and Fezzik, who have interesting back-stories and are profoundly changed by their experiences. This makes them seem like the only ‘real’ people in this fairy tale and they remain my favorites, especially Inigo.

The story is entertaining enough, making unexpected turns and presenting ‘inconceivable’ (sorry: I just had to!) solutions to the problems that our heroes encounter. They neatly escape from seemingly impossible danger in ways that seem casually obvious, which is both thrilling and funny. The twist of taking two of the ‘villains’ and making them heroes is excellent, especially as they are presented as such sympathetic characters from the beginning. However, the final effect is a little too light and fluffy for my liking. The book was originally published in 1973 and YA novels have evolved a great deal since then. When compared to the works of J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman and Suzanne Collins this book is sadly lacking in depth and darkness, but it will still make you laugh out loud and have you shouting “Inconceivable!” at every opportunity.

This is the Fairy Tale that I chose for the Once Upon A Time VI Challenge.


  1.  Inconceivably, it has been some years since I last read this book. Even tho it is not the best written fairy tale, it still holds a warm little spot in my heart. I think this is mainly due to the Rodents of Unusual Size. Totally agree with you about Buttercup and the Evil Cardboard Units.

  2. It was a very surreal experience reading the book because the dialogue from the film was nearly all there word for word: inconceivably freaky! :D

  3. I remember greatly enjoying my trip through this book--the humor and the wry comments on fairy tale themes.  Inigo has always been my favorite character anyway...  It's been a long time since I read it, though, must read it again soon as it's gone blurry!

  4. I don't think it will ever go all that bleary, if my experience is anything to go by: it's a nice trip down memory lane though! :)

  5. I must say that I read this recently for the first time, having seen and loved the film years ago (and having rewatched it quite a number of times since) and I really enjoyed it.  I think for me the whole point was to be a bit stereotype and I think that, for me, was one of the plusses.  But, I think I was also in one of those moods where you're predisposed to like something and so all the bits of dialogue (which I loved in the film) just had me laughing out loud and picturing the scenes.
    Good point about the start of the film being more successful than the start of the book (the whole story within a story.  The film definitely worked better.
    Lynn :D

  6. I think that was what really threw me. I am so used to books being better than film versions that I was disappointed because this wasn't. :)


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