Friday, July 10, 2015

Classic Fiction: The Princess Bride by William Goldman

The full title of William Goldman's classic is The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure. What many people don't know about The Princess Bride, especially those who have only seen the movie and not read the book, is that the story we now know containing Buttercup, Westley, Inigo, Fezzik, and all of the rest is originally an abridged retelling of another story by S. Morgenstern...or at least that is how the story goes. Goldman simply cut out the boring parts and gave his readers what he figured they wanted: love, adventure, sword fights, hand-to-hand combat, giant rodents, a Fire Swamp, white horses, and even a Zoo of Death.

The Situation: The story that Goldman is wishing to retell focuses on the love between Buttercup, the most beautiful woman in the world, and a farm boy, Westley. The two have fallen in love with each other, and Westley decides to seek his fortune in America so that he may come back and be able to have Buttercup's hand in marriage. But just after Westley sets sail, his ship is captured by the Dread Pirate Roberts, and he doesn't take prisoners. This news reaches Buttercup, and after believing that Westley has died, resigns herself to living without love. But since she is the most beautiful woman in the world, she has caught the attention of Count Rugen, who brings her to the attention of Prince Humperdinck. After hearing that The Prince isn't after love, only marriage, Buttercup agrees to be his future queen.

The Problem: The Prince actually isn't all that interested in marriage. It is something he has to do as the heir to the throne. Just as his father got married and produced a male heir, so he must do so as well. Even before he and Buttercup can be married, she is kidnapped by three men, who clearly intend to kill her. The leader is a humpbacked Sicilian, and following his orders are a sword fighting Spaniard and a giant. And if that wasn't bad enough, there also seems to be a mysterious Man in Black following all of them, whose intentions are unclear. Buttercup has already decided that she will live the rest of her life without love. If she survives her present ordeal, she'll be married to someone she doesn't care for and who doesn't care for her. But if her trio of kidnappers succeed, she won't even live to see her wedding day. And then of course, there is still the mysterious Man in Black.

Genre, Themes, History: The Princess Bride is a fantasy/adventure novel that satirizes the genre. It has plenty of adventure with sword fighting, giants, kidnapping, pirates, sand pits, large rodents, torture devices, and even a battle of wits over poisoned cups of wine. And while there are moments that are incredibly serious, and people do die, it all happens with an undercurrent of hilarity and ridiculousness. Even the trio of kidnappers, with their incredibly sinister plot, will cause the reader to laugh out loud as they interact with each other and attempt to outrun the Man in Black. Scenes involving incredible and painful torture seem to be written with the author winking at the reader, making the scenes almost comical despite the seriousness of what is happening. There is a reason the book was made into such an enjoyable and well-loved film that is now one of the most quoted movies ever. It is a family-friendly story that even adults can enjoy. And as it is supposed to be an abridged version of an S. Moregnstern story - who doesn't exist as author by the way, and neither does his book - there are a few interruptions by Goldman himself throughout the text presented in red letters. And of course, these interruptions are the author once again winking at his audience and acknowledging what is really going on.

My Verdict: Seeing as how Goldman wrote the screenplay for the movie, it wasn't surprising that the book and the movie are incredibly similar. So for many people who saw the movie first, there won't be many differences to point out between the two. Many of the little one-liners that we have come to love from the movie are also in the book. Really, the biggest difference between the two is that there is no sick grandson being read to by his grandfather. So it is easy to say that I enjoyed the book just as much as I have enjoyed watching the movie and think other people will feel the same way.

Favorite Moment: The epic final showdown between Inigo Montoya and Count Rugen.

Favorite Character: With the movie, Inigo is my favorite character, and that does not change with the book. I don't know if it is his intense commitment to avenging his father's death, or the scene with the Count in the castle, but I have always liked him the best. 

Recommended Reading: There could be a few options here. For the whole family-friendly adventure story with elements of fantasy, I recommend L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz. For the story within a story angle, I recommend Michael Ende's The Neverending Story. Also, I think readers would enjoy S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst.

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