Review: The Princess Bride by William Goldman

EBOOK; 416 P.
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN HARCOURT, 2007/1973
SOURCE: PURCHASED

The Princess Bride is a true fantasy classic. William Goldman describes it as a “good parts version” of “S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure.” Morgenstern’s original was filled with details of Florinese history, court etiquette, and Mrs. Morgenstern’s mostly complimentary views of the text. Much admired by academics, the “Classic Tale” nonetheless obscured what Mr. Goldman feels is a story that has everything: “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.”

Princess Bride is a cult classic that plays with all the fantasy and fairytale tropes. It was first published in 1973 and about a decade later a film adaptation was made (adapted by William Goldman himself). In my understanding, it was the film that really made the story so well-known and loved around the world. I had never heard of The Princess Bride before saw the film with my friends, and it was absolutely hilarious in its intentional clichéness. And once I discovered that the film was based on a book, I naturally wanted to read it as well.

The Princess Bride is set in the land of Florin where a young girl named Buttercup – the most beautiful girl in the entire kingdom – falls in love with the farm boy Westley. As Westley is poor, he goes to sea to gain a fortune for him and Buttercup, but after a few months the news arrive Westley’s ship fell into the hands of the Dread Pirate Roberts. Around the same time the King of Florin lying on his death bed and his heir, Prince Humperdink, has to find wife to continue the line. Humperdink isn’t keen on marriage, but when he meets Buttercup, he is determined to take her as his wife. Buttercup is grief-struck and has resigned for a life of sadness, so she doesn’t resist the princes proposal. However, on the eve of the wedding, Buttercup is kidnapped by three men who are assumed to be from the feuding kingdom of Guilder. Yet, things are not always as they seem and the mysterious man in black following the kidnappers might have a few ideas of his own.

Now, I am going to confess that my expectations going in to this book were rather high, but that I received a well-timed reality check by the time I began reading the THIRD long-winded introduction to the story. The copy that I had on my Kindle was the 30th anniversary edition which meant that aside from the original introduction by the author, there were also the 25th and 30th anniversary intros, which altogether counted as 17% of the book.  In these introductions, Goldman digresses about his life, his marital troubles, and how he came to write this story. What makes The Princess Bride special is the fact that it is a story within a story – there is no original script penned by S. Morgernstern, and most of the things about Goldman’s own life are also fictional. The main story of the book – that of the fencing, fighting, torture, etc. – is only the centre around which Goldman constructs this book. The story progression is often interrupted by author notes in which Golman points out certain things about the original book or about his writing process or about his wife and son. This serves brings sort of comic relief to the story and builds tension to the story by stalling the reader. However, I personally became quickly quite annoyed with the digressions and thought that in several parts Goldman was trying so much to be funny that the end result was painful.

I appreciated the unconventional structure and the parody of these well-known tropes, but I really didn’t find The Princess Bride to be funny. It has some genius one-liners, but as a whole the story fell flat for me. Perhaps if I hadn’t seen the film, I might be WOW’d by the slapstick, but having seen it, the book just didn’t work for me. I still love the film, but the book was a major disappointment for me. However, it is a cult classic and a dear favourite of many people – in fact, I generally hear more praise than criticism for this book – so if you’re still interested in checking it out, I suggest you do that. However, for those of you who are unfamiliar with The Princess Bride, I’d suggest you watch the film first.

3/5

There have been five great kisses since 1642 B.C…(before then couples hooked thumbs.) And the precise rating of kisses is a terribly difficult thing, often leading to great controversy…. Well, this one left them all behind.

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7 thoughts on “Review: The Princess Bride by William Goldman

  1. LOVE The Princess Bride – its one of my favourite films. I agree the book is not as good, although when I posted about this, one of the comments was from someone who really liked all the textual asides, so they enjoyed the book more. Inconceivable! (Sorry, couldn’t resist 🙂 )

    • The film is amazing, but I can also understand why some people prefer the book – I mean, it does give Indigo and Fezzik a bit more backstory. Each reader has their own preferences and that’s ok.
      (“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” <3)

    • Well, I think you might find the book as corny as the film – the basic storyline is the same and the changes made for the adaptation are tiny. So, if you didn’t enjoy the film, I’d give the book a pass.

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