Oh, how I love this book. Love, love, LOVE it.
My apologies, that wasn’t very British of me.
I’ve seen The Princess Bride pop up on “top 100 books” compilations for years but I’ve always been frightened that it would be a sugary Disney fairytale – and I am not a Disney fan – so I basically avoided it. Then, as part of a reading challenge I had to find a book that was about books and up it popped. How weird, I thought to myself. What can a story about princesses getting married have to do with books?
As it turns out, not a lot – but there’s a whole story within a story that elevates the novel to a whole new level. It’s slightly confusing, but I’ll try to explain.
The Princess Bride is, basically, a big lie. The title is essentially rubbish as there are no princesses and no-one gets married. In the book, Buttercup is a beautiful farm girl who is spotted by the evil Count Rugen and is subsequently betrothed to the dastardly Prince Humperdink. However, Buttercup is in love with Westley (the farm hand) and ends up getting kidnapped before her wedding day – but despite this she’s often referred to as “Princess”. Even though she isn’t.
With me so far? Because it gets more complicated.
If we look back at the original title, we can see that there’s more to it than just a misleading inflation of Buttercup’s status. The novel is actually called:
“The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure; The ‘Good Parts’ Version, Abridged by William Goldman.”
This is also a lie.
There is no S. Morgenstern. There is no unabridged version of the book.
I know, it shocked me too.
Through a diary-like series of “interruptions” throughout the text, the reader is led to believe that William Goldman (who is real, and who has actually done all of the things that he says he has) gives a copy of his favourite childhood novel to his son, but to his dismay he finds that his son hates it. Upon re-reading the book, Goldman discovers that his father must have skipped some parts of the book as he read it out loud because there’s suddenly an awful lot of boring bits in the text that he didn’t know about. So, as a reader, you’re told that you’re reading the abridged Goldman version of the story, with frequent interruptions from Goldman himself explaining situations like how he’s deleted the next 30 pages for being too dull but they basically explain that everyone walked from point a to point b but nothing eventful happened.
Initially, I found this whole idea bizzare. I’d steeled myself for a saccharine love story but instead found myself reading about a middle aged man failing to connect with his wife and child. Then, when I was told I was reading an abridged novel, I immediately thought I’d bought the wrong copy of the book. Then I found out it was all a big cunning plot device and I didn’t know what to think. But then the story of Westley and Buttercup properly started, and I just fell in love with the whole thing.
I was worried that I’d find the “interruptions” from Goldman a bit offputting, but actually they were a brilliant way of speeding up the action and adding bits to the storyline that you might not otherwise have picked up on. I’m hopeless at finding hidden meanings or allegorical references in books so, for me, I really enjoyed this direct method of author/reader interaction. I also loved the way that Goldman frequently referred to bits of the story that were further on in the text, which made me pay more attention and acted a bit like a trailer for the next episode. Oooh!
I’ve heard people criticise the character of Buttercup (not a princess) by saying that she has no agency and just goes along with whatever people ask her to do. I beg to differ. When we first meet Buttercup, she’s filthy, smelly, and only interested in riding horses. She escapes dangerous situations (at least, she tries to). She’s also responsible for one of the best lines in a book ever;
“Enough about my beauty,” Buttercup said. “Everybody always talks about how beautiful I am. I’ve got a mind, Westley. Talk about that.”
Buttercup is basically my feminist hero.
Apart from Buttercup, all the other characters are so brilliantly written that you either completely love them or utterly despise them. I could go on for hours about how adorable Fezzick is, or how I loved how he worked with Inigo and Vizzini to create some of the best parts of the book. The Cliffs of Insanity! The Zoo of Death! Not just brilliantly named, but brilliantly written scenes with great characters and dialogue.
The ending (although it does go on a bit) is just amazing and ties everything up in a neat bow. I love books that do that.
If I had one criticism of The Princess Bride, it would be that occasionally, the mixture of fantasy and reality becomes a bit incongruous. There’s a very odd cameo by Stephen King and in parts it’s quite hard to tell what’s real and what isn’t. However, when it works, it really does work and turns what would be a lovely story into a truly fantastic novel.
Part magical fairy tale, part grown up book – an utterly unique mixture of fantasy and reality.
If you’re in the UK, selected cinemas are currently showing The Princess Bride for it’s thirty year(!) anniversary. I’ve never seen it, but if it’s half as good as the book then I think you’ll enjoy yourself.
Please note that I read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #3 Read a book about books.