Book Review: “The Princess Bride” by William Goldman (1973)

If you’ve never heard of The Princess Bride, then you’re probably either a four-year-old non-English-speaker or a member of the Taliban. In either case, I’m surprised you’re reading this book review! “Classic” cannot begin to describe William Goldman’s fantasy tale about adventure, fencing, fighting, giants, pirates, monsters, and true love (among other things). While most fans know the movie of the same name and not the book, I wouldn’t say they are missing much, for film director Rob Reiner so successfully executed Goldman’s vision and screenplay based off this novel that they’re virtually identical.

Because Goldman takes the unique approach of retelling only “the good parts” of an original and massive fairy tale supposedly written by S. Morgenstern long ago (Kindle Loc. 391), Goldman’s book does include a great deal more background information than the movie can depict. Much of this, however, is given merely as editorial comments rather than plot points, so The Princess Bride story isn’t affected all that much. The familiar banter between Peter Falk and Fred Savage in the film are careful renditions of Goldman’s wry humor interjected throughout the book. For example, here’s a taste of Goldman’s own opinion on how life isn’t fair:

That’s what I think this book’s about. All those Columbia experts can spiel all they want about the delicious satire; they’re crazy. This book says ‘life isn’t fair’ and I’m telling you, one and all, you better believe it. I got a fat spoiled son…And he’s always gonna be fat, even if he gets skinny he’ll still be fat and he’ll still be spoiled and life will never be enough to make him happy, and that’s my fault maybe—make it all my fault, if you want—the point is, we’re not created equal, for the rich they sing, life isn’t fair. I got a cold wife; she’s brilliant, she’s stimulating, she’s terrific; there’s no love; that’s okay too, just so long as we don’t keep expecting everything to somehow even out for us before we die. Look. (Grownups skip this paragraph.) I’m not about to tell you this book has a tragic ending, I already said in the very first line how it was my favorite in all the world. But there’s a lot of bad stuff coming up, torture you’ve already been prepared for, but there’s worse. There’s death coming up, and you better understand this: some of the wrong people die. Be ready for it. This isn’t Curious George Uses the Potty. Nobody warned me and it was my own fault (you’ll see what I mean in a little) and that was my mistake, so I’m not letting it happen to you. The wrong people die. (153)

One major addition to the story that didn’t make the final cut in the film are the five levels of the Zoo of Death where Wesley goes to be tortured to death. Terrifically housing darkness, bats, and other nightmares, the Zoo of Death makes Inigo and Fezzik’s search for Wesley’s body far more intense than we see in the film. Otherwise, there is so much in the book that’s familiar, it’s a fun rehearsal to read and remember, though really, you might as well just watch the movie and use your time for more productive things.

In close, I need to share a memory. My dad hates almost every movie (including The Princess Bride), but there were two parts to this film that he’d join us for whenever it was on. One of those parts was Miracle Man, and the other—and I suppose this comes from his being a pastor—was The Impressive Clergyman. So for my dad, I add the clergyman’s entire “message” as recorded by Goldman:

“Mawidge…Mawidge is a dweam wiffin a dweam….The dweam of wuv wapped wiffin the gweater dweam of everwasting west. Eternity is our fwiend, wemember that, and wuv wiw fowwow you fowever.” (221)

©2016 E.T.

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