The Princess Bride by William Goldman (1973)
Updated: Jul 10
Ah, The Princess Bride – how hard-hearted would a person have to be not to fall utterly in love with Westley and Buttercup’s tale of True Love and High Adventure?
When I had a litter of puppies a few years back (or rather my dog did) I told myself I would not name the pups, so I didn’t get too attached to the ones who were going to new homes, yet I ended up naming them after characters from The Princess Bride. I still can’t understand why Buttercup’s new owner didn’t want to keep such an adorable name, something about sounding silly when out with his shooting pals… Anyhow, I digress from the story, but then again, so does William Goldman in his unusual novel structure of The Princess Bride, except that Goldman’s embedded anecdotes are part of the fiction, whereas I really did have an utterly gorgeous puppy called Westley.
So in the fairytale land of Florin, a farmer’s daughter named Buttercup is growing up into the most beautiful woman in the world. The farm’s lowly slave, known as Farm Boy, happens to be growing up into a supremely handsome, brave, clever young man who is also hopelessly in love with Buttercup. When Buttercup finally awakens to his charms, she gives him her heart, stops calling him Farm Boy and starts calling him Westley, and thus he leaves to make his fortune that he might return for her hand.
Unfortunately for the lovers a few problems get thrown into their path of true love, namely an evil prince who decides that Buttercup is the only girl for him, a sadistic count who wants to torture Westley to death, pirates, ruthless assassins, a giant, a wizard swordsman, vicious creatures galore, and pretty much everything else that can thwart our protagonists. There is also a lot of comedy, and the characters are unforgettable and endearing (except for the evil prince and sadistic count - they are unforgettable, but definitely not endearing).
Goldman doesn’t tell the story in a linear fashion, he constructs a literary conceit of the story being an abridgment of a tale by the late Morgenstern: a Florinese writer who drowned the original story in an excess of waffle and subversive political diatribes. The narrator, posing as Goldman, claims to have cut out these unnecessary sections of the original book to leave only the ‘good parts’ version of the story. This conceit is further elaborated by stories of Goldman’s personal life, including a tussle with Stephen King over who gets to abridge the sequel. These ‘authorial’ interruptions are very funny, and have the effect of drawing out the suspense of the ‘real’ story. It’s a very clever construction, not that The Princess Bride needs anything extra beyond the story itself, and if the extra parts don’t interest the reader, they can skim over them and abridge Goldman’s abridgement of Morgenstern.