‘The Princess Bride’ by William Goldman [Book Review]

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I have many fond memories of sitting down on an old blanket spread out on our living room floor and eating popcorn while watching a VHS (because that was a thing when I was a kid) of The Princess Bride film.

It is a film that I think few people of my generation have seen–or remember seeing right away–but also one of those films that you can’t help but start quoting once you’ve seen it a few times.

In fact, I was so wrapped up in this being one of my favourite films of all time that I failed to fully understand that it was originally a book. Until I just sat down one day and thought “I could just read it.” I suppose I was somewhat worried that it wouldn’t be like the film, or enough like the film, and would somehow ruin the story I had in my head. Which is ridiculous because no matter what I will always have the film to go back to–because I own at least two copies of it.

Now that I have finally read this book, what do I have to say about it?

I have a mixture of feelings. And I also acknowledge that I’ll never be able to fully separate the film from my experience of reading the book. I’ll picture the actors I remember and hear their voices through those characters.

It is what it is.

Genre: Fantasy/Humor

Length: 456 pages

Published July 15th 2003 by Ballantine Books (first published September 1st 1973)

Image from AllPosters.com

Goodreads Summary

What happens when the most beautiful girl in the world marries the handsomest prince of all time and he turns out to be…well…a lot less than the man of her dreams?

As a boy, William Goldman claims, he loved to hear his father read the S. Morgenstern classic, The Princess Bride. But as a grown-up he discovered that the boring parts were left out of good old Dad’s recitation, and only the “good parts” reached his ears.

Now Goldman does Dad one better. He’s reconstructed the “Good Parts Version” to delight wise kids and wide-eyed grownups everywhere.

What’s it about? Fencing. Fighting. True Love. Strong Hate. Harsh Revenge. A Few Giants. Lots of Bad Men. Lots of Good Men. Five or Six Beautiful Women. Beasties Monstrous and Gentle. Some Swell Escapes and Captures. Death, Lies, Truth, Miracles, and a Little Sex.

For the Cynical and Blunt

Image from Muggle Net

First and foremost, what I have always enjoyed about this story was the humor.

There’s just something about finding a film/book that fits with your sense of humor that can brighten your day and make it so much easier to immerse yourself in the story. I tend to have a fairly cynical and blunt sense of humor and this story has always been just ridiculous enough to get me laughing no matter how many times I’ve heard the some lines.

Now I know that I’m kind of selling it like the only people who can enjoy the humor of the story are people who have a similar sense of humor to me but I think what’s really good about this story is it’s satirizing storytelling in general. Anyone who has any knowledge of how stories work will find some humor in the way that this story twists those tropes and expectations.

Satirical Tangent

Image from Muggle Net

I will say that I’m not a huge fan of the revising-the-story framework for the narrative.

I’m not sure if this is because the story is legitimately being revised and there’s another version of the story even older that has a bunch of satirical history stuff in it but either way I find it very disruptive in the story.

I know that the movie had some of it with referencing back to the grandson being read a story by his grandfather but it was a lot briefer in the movie than in the book itself. Not only did it take forever for the story to actually start because there was a lot of setup but there were also pages and pages of Goldman telling his history and his own experience with the story and I would have to leave the story every time one of these reprieves happened and find my way back into the movement of the story.

I almost feel like Goldman is being a satirical narrator character instead of a writer character in the narrative would have worked out better for hitting those comedy beats and having a little fourth-wall-breaking moment without breaking the pace of the story.

Characters

Image from AZ Quotes

I want to talk real quick about what I think is the most important trait of this book and that is the characters.

The plot itself isn’t all that complicated: an evil King is forcing a beautiful woman to marry him and a diamond-in-the-rough suitor of hers passes a series of trials and obstacles in order to rescue her and have true love prevail. I think this works really well in that it’s more of a parody of a lot of fantasy stories rather than trying to be a very serious story. Multiple times during the book the satirical nature of the text is brought to the forefront. So the plot isn’t as important as the characters.

I don’t know if that’s always true with every story because sometimes a story can have really interesting characters that just don’t do anything interesting for 500 pages.

But I think making the characters so bombastic and so individual even when they’re just passing characters–like Miracle Max–is what makes this story have a lasting effect. It’s not just that it’s a funny book because there’s lots of funny books that are easily forgettable–or we wish were easily forgettable–whereas I always want to come back to this story because it feels like I know these characters. And I know them better now that I’ve read the book which is even more exciting for me.

A bunch of the characters get backstories and get fleshed out and even though it feels a little bit weird pacing-wise because it does take you out of the main story-line for pages upon pages at a time, it also feels necessary for the nature of the story.

I want to know why Indigo can fight with a sword as well as he can. I want to know why the Prince’s hunting dungeon is built the way that it is. And because these characters are so individualized and so fleshed out it makes it easier to forgive a simple but tried-and-trusted story plot.

Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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