The Princess Bride – William Goldman
I’ve certainly been reading plenty this year, and this blog has been particularly good at keeping me doing so. However, most of those books were either downloaded on the Kindle or borrowed from the library (and the library I use doesn’t have a massive selection). Unlike some people, I really don’t mind reading from the Kindle in and of itself – some days, I even prefer it to turning pages – but it does take some of the joy out of browsing. When I add a new book to my Kindle wish list, I didn’t just happen to come across it on the Kindle; I’ll have heard about it somewhere else and specifically sought it out to make sure I didn’t forget it. But I didn’t actually realise this until I happened to go into Waterstone’s a few weeks ago.
A pre-NaNoWriMo writing event was coming up, and I needed to find a prize for the raffle, so Waterstone’s seemed the logical place to find something. I had been in Waterstone’s before this year, but on those occasions I was in the mood for an audiobook and was focussing on them. This time, however, I was more open-eyed, and I found myself getting distracted. I found my eyes being drawn to the displays. I was re-awakened to the feeling of going into a bookshop and not knowing what I was going to buy; of letting the displays tell me what was out there to read, a few dozen books at a time. It was a fantastic feeling.
I was there to get a raffle prize, but I felt obligated to get one book for myself as well. And the book I decided upon was this one, The Princess Bride. I’ve already seen the movie, and enjoyed it, but I was interested to see how the book compared. The answer is, pretty favourably.
If you’ve seen the movie, you already know what the story is. Farm boy Westley and farmer’s daughter Buttercup fall in love, only for Westley to be killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts when he leaves to seek his fortune. Some years later, Buttercup is sought out as a bride by Prince Humperdinck, though the Prince has other motives besides marriage. Buttercup is kidnapped, a mysterious Man in Black makes his presence known, and fantastical adventures ensue. (Not much was changed for the movie, by the way, aside from a couple of scenes and some backstory being cut.)
There is, however, a bit more to the book than this story. It’s actually presented as a story within a story, written by an S. Morgenstern and abridged by a fictionalised version of William Goldman – throughout the story, Goldman keeps referring to how his father read the story to him as a child (akin to the movie’s framing device) and the parts Morgenstern wrote that he has cut down on. It’s explained that these tend to be things that Morgenstern did in order to satirise European royalty, such as describing in detail the quantity of clothes taken on a journey; these parts of the book could well be called a satire of a satire. As it is, this framing device does add an additional element to the story that makes it a little more fresh and interesting than it already is.
The story itself works really well as a fairy tale designed to appeal to more modern readers: while there is a simple romance at its heart, it has more meat than a traditional fairy tale without losing any of the charm. There’s quite a bit of satire of fairy tales in general – like, when calling Buttercup the most beautiful woman in the world, the need to explain a bit about other candidates – and yet you don’t have to read it tongue-in-cheek to appreciate it. For example, the scene early on when Westley and Buttercup confess their love for each other is intentionally over-the-top, yet it feels genuinely heartwarming as well.
As the blurb makes clear, there’s so much in this story that it has something to appeal to just about everyone. The adventure, comedy, romance, drama, and fantastical elements all blend together and are balanced perfectly. There’s an excellent range of characters – who are given more background than in the movie – to play off of each other. There’s a lot of good humour; I particularly liked the breakdown of Prince Humperdinck’s meeting with the Princess of Guilder. And the action, like the swordfight between Inigo and the Man in Black, is exciting and well-paced.
So I don’t regret picking up this book in Waterstone’s the least bit. The Princess Bride has got it all, and I came very close to giving it a perfect score. The only reason it doesn’t get one is that I would have liked a tiny bit more depth to the main characters, particularly Buttercup. But it’s still a fantastic story. Rating: 4.5/5.