The Princess Bride
by William Goldman, fantasy (2000, 1978 reissue)
Del Rey, $6.99, ISBN 0-345-34803-6
The movie The Princess Bride is fun and pure pop romantic fantasy, definitely one of my all-time fantasy movies. Even if the Fire Swamp effects and Rats Of Unusual Size (ROUS) are pretty dodgy and dated when I rewatch the video today. Incidentally, William Goldman wrote the screenplay based on his book, and he has changed an inside joke of a story into a romantic fantasy epic. In short, the movie and the book are two different entities altogether.
Sure, they tell the same story, but the book is a richer, funnier stuff, if a less romantic one. The Princess Bride book, here onwards in bold to distinguish it from the movie, is a satire of fantasy fairy tales as well as a chance for Goldman to vent and rant all in one. And reading it is one blooming fun experience.
The story is simple - Wesley the Farm Boy and Buttercup the Pretty Lass are once in love, until he goes off to seek his fortune and is rumored to be killed by Dread Pirate Roberts. In despair, Buttercup accepts the proposal of Prince Humperdinck since she will never love another. Alas, she gets kidnapped by a trio of ragtag criminals, gets rescued by a mysterious man-in-black who turns out to be Wesley, and lots of silly political intrigue ensues.
It's just what I saw in the movie, alright. But the movie never tells the hilarious-yet-tragic tale of Fezzik the Giant's childhood. Or Inigo "You killed my father, prepare to die" Montaya's surprisingly noble path to vengeance. The movie also eliminates William Goldman the Adorable Egomaniac who uses the fictitious "Morgenstern epic" (he wrote the whole thing, and there's no Morgenstern - trust me, countless frustrated hours surfing Amazon and two frustrated Borders information counter girls later, I found from a reliable source that Goldman made the whole thing up) to demonize his fictitious ex-wife Helen and fat son, his ex-publishers, the nubile young babes he can never have (he likes to pretend that they want him bad, yeah right) - all in witty, irreverent prose that just screams "Self-indulgent, narcissistic doofus!".
I find Goldman's irreverent annotations the best of the story. He will cut in "Morgenstern"'s story at the strangest of places to rant about how Morgenstern was a megalomaniac who put in lots of irrelevant details. It's as if Goldman is poking fun at the academia's pretentious sobriety (in this book, there's a fictitious Morgenstern scholar from Columbia University who kept emphasizing some far-out grandiose notions of Morgenstern's rambling prose, and whom Mr Goldman ridiculed bad) as well as at himself. Consider this, where Mr Goldman explains why he "abridged" Chapter 3:
Me again. Of all the cuts in this version, I feel most justified in making this one. Just as the chapters of whaling in Moby Dick can be omitted by all but the most punishment-loving readers, so the packing scenes that Morgenstern details here are really best left alone. That's what happens for the next fifty-six and a half pages of The Princess Bride: packing. (I include unpacking scenes in the same category.)
What happens is just this: Queen Bella packs most of her wardrobe (11 pages) and travels to Guilder (2 pages). In Guilder she unpacks (5 pages), then tenders the invitation to Princess Noreena (1 page). Princess Noreena accepts (1 page). Then Princess Noreena packs all her clothes and hats (23 pages) and, together, the Princess and the Queen travel back to Florin for the annual celebration of the founding of Florin City (1 page). They reach King Lotharon's castle, where Princess Noreena is shown her quarters (1/2 page) and unpacks all the same clothes and hats we've just seen her pack one and a half pages before (12 pages).
It's a baffling passage. I spoke to Professor Bongiorno, of Columbia University, the head of their Florinese Department, and he said this was the most deliciously satiric chapter of the entire book, Morgenstern's point, apparently, being simply to show that although Florin considered itself vastly more civilized than Guilder, Guilder was, in fact, the far more sophisticated country, as indicated by the superiority in number and quality of the ladies' clothes. I'm not about to argue with a full professor, but if you ever have a really unbreakable case of insomnia, do yourself a favor and start reading Chapter Three of the uncut version.
I must also warn that Mr Goldman is a cynic. Buttercup is er, rather dim-witted damsel-in-distress in this story. The main stars are definitely Fezzik and Inigo as well as the rascally Mr Goldman, the latter gleefully punching holes in fairy tales using Wesley's wit and cynicism. He even puts a tacked-on Nah, they will never last statement by the ending, before admitting, okay, he wants them to last forever in the epilogue.
All in all, The Princess Bride is a marvelous read. There's just nothing like it in my reading experience - it's an inside joke, a satire, a really hokey love story, and a brilliant masterpiece of a good story. It's campy and it's also a work of art. I just can't get tired of it.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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