Posted by: Mish | April 1, 2009

the Princess Bride

No matter what the storybooks say, no one can be genuinely happy because “life is pain. Anyone who says differently is selling something,” or so it’s said in the Princess Bride. William Goldman’s “good parts version” of S. Morgenstern’s classic tale of of true love and high adventure omits pages filled with Florinese history, court etiquette, and commentary. As Goldman’s father described to him, the tale has:

“Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest ladies. Snakes. Spiders. Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles.” (p. 9)

In this homage to old fashioned swashbuckling stories, a farm boy sails to seek his fortune after pledging his undying love. Unable to love another (Westley was killed by pirates), the beautiful Buttercup agrees to wed Prince Humperdinck. She gets kidnapped by a master swordsman, a giant who loves rhymes, and a scheming Sicilian, but a mysterious man in black is hot on their trail, which is “inconceivable”.

Goldman’s version of the fairy tale is framed within an autobiographical story. He tells of how his Florinese father read the Princess Bride to him and the great lengths he went to in finding a copy so his son could love it as much as he did. (By then the book was out of print.) After realizing why his son had no interest in S. Morgenstern’s book, Goldman wants to shorten it as his father did for him, with only “the action stuff, the good parts” so it’s more enjoyable for the masses. (The classic tale turned out to be “satiric history of his country and the decline of the monarchy in Western civilization” and what kid wants that?) He then decides to postpone work on a screenplay and in 1973 the abridged version gets published. Goldman even provides some descriptions and commentary about what he omitted from the long, boring version.

The narration jumps a bit, from the autobiographical bits to the story to the commentary to the story and so forth. If Goldman truly wanted to abridge the Princess Bride it would have worked better omitting the extras, some of which take up a few pages. The writing is good, not great, but good. The slapstick story and wondering what happens next really helps the pace. (If the reader has seen the movie then there’s not really any mystery and it’s more about getting deeper into the story and its characters. Besides, it’s a known fact that films usually differ from their books and the Princess Bride is no exception. Even the ending is slightly different.)

I must say that although I’m glad that I can finally cross the Princess Bride off my Dread Pile o’Reads, I like the movie better. Friends’ kids loved it so much that given the chance they would have watched it a third time within 24 hours. They were amazed to hear it’s been one of my favorites since it came out in 1987. If trying to compete against that, one might as well climb the Cliffs of Insanity and it’s a known fact that succeeding at such a feat is, as the Sicilian always says, “inconceivable”. The stellar cast includes Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, André the Giant, Wallace Shawn, Robin Wright, Chris Sarandon, and a slew of others. Even Billy Crystal and Peter Cook get to cause a handful of laughs under the direction of Rob Reiner. Aside from a few changes the script keeps pretty close to the book, including the clergyman’s comical lines like “mawidge is a dweam wiffin a dweam”. The film, for which Goldman did the screenplay, is an even more abridged version because it omits a lot of the aforementioned “extras”. It’s one of those rare gems where the laughter, adventure, and magic never cease…no matter the viewer’s age.

Fan Trailer:

The book is pretty clever in that S. Morgenstern is a fictitious author that Goldman used as part of the spoof and political satire that is the Princess Bride. The parenthesis and italics used in this review are merely examples of the book. Regardless of its faults, it’s an enjoyable read about love and life, fantastical and not. It’s fun, humorous, and as mentioned above, has something for everyone.

Movie quote:

Westley: I told you I would always come for you. Why didn’t you wait for me?
Buttercup: Well… you were dead.
Westley: Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.

And by the way…
“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

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