Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Princess Bride

Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautiful ladies. Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles.

We've all seen the movie (and if you haven't, buy it and watch it right now). It was the hit of every 8-year-old girl's slumber party. It was love, adventure, and comedy, all wrapped into one terrific movie. How could we not love it? Even as quasi-adults, we watch it for good times, and even notice new layers. (Is Count Rugen more than just a friend to Prince Humperdinck?)

William Goldman (author) claims, in the introduction, that as a child, his father read the S. Morgenstern classic, The Princess Bride, to him, but left out the boring parts. So now as an adult, Goldman is publishing an abriged version-- just the good parts. And this is what I found in the Cross Campus Library last Thursday evening.

It was excellent, complete with
"My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

"I know something you don't know. I am not lefthanded."

"Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!"


and so forth.

As I read, I could hear and see the actors playing the parts. It came alive as books rarely do, probably because I had seen the movie so many times. There were a few differences that made the movie better:

1) Inigo and Fezzik's rhyme game. In the book, it's mostly single words, whereas in the movie it's whole sentences. It's more fun in the movie, but it serves a purpose in the book, and it's good to see where that comes from.

2) Miracle Max and Valerie. Billy Crystal may have taken some liberty with the part. His Miracle Max is so much funnier than the book's. While most scenes and dialogue are almost identical in the book, his is very different. "To blave" is still there, but "While you're at it, why don't you give me a paper cut and rub lemon juice in it," is absent. It made me a little bit sad to be denied that lemon juice.

3) The Pit of Despair. I haven't decided whether this is better in the book or the movie, but it's definitely different. In the book, it's not the Pit of Despair (and the albino can't say it with phlegm and a lisp), it's the Zoo of Death, which sounds exciting as well. I understand why they cut this. It's just too much: five levels of dangerous animals in cages, most of which never get used except as window dressing. The traps in the Zoo of Death provide some adventure for Inigo and Fezzik, but I'm sure the Hollywood people considered the bang for the buck and cut it. I don't mind.

The book also has added benefits, like

1) There's much more talk about the Prince's plot to start a war with Guilder, and how he's going to murder Buttercup in order to do it. This is only mentioned in the movie, but the whole ploy is discussed several times in the book, so the Prince is much more of a villain.

2) Inigo and Fezzik have backstories! They are fuller characters, and their backstories explain their motivations. (Obviously, Inigo was driven by revenge, but can you tell me anything about Fezzik besides that he's a giant? I didn't think so.)

3) Buttercup is comical. The narrator actually seems to be making fun of her and of true love throughout the book, but in a very sneaky way. Maybe I just read that into it, but that's what I got.

4) My favorite: placing the story in time. Many times the narrator inserts an aside, like this:
That night, alone in her room, she examined herself pore by pore in her mirror. (This was after mirrors.)

Or like this:
The land of Florin was set between where Sweden and Germany would eventually settle. (This was before Europe.)

And then later,
"I'm going to America. To seek my fortune." (This was just after America but long after fortunes.)

Yes, I know how impossible it is to take place before Europe but just after America.

So the book was great. I couldn't put it down. I think it helped to know what was coming, and to have images already in my head, because my imagination isn't that great. It also made it easier to read faster because I already knew the story. It was low-effort, high excitement. And funny in even more ways than the movie was. Excellent.


  1. Oh dear. Maybe we should just accept that we have opposite brains when it comes to books. I hated "The Princess Bride." (I enjoyed the movie, but the narrative voice in the book drove me nuts.)

    It's ok. Really. Jenn and I have opposite movie brains, and we still love each other.

  2. Y'know, that doesn't surprise me so much. I like the conversational narrator of The Princess Bride, you like Humbert Humbert. It's ok.

  3. It's funny you say that, because Humbert Humbert is a very conversational narrator -- and just about as convinced of the value of his own opinion as the narrator of The Princess Bride -- so maybe if The Princess Bride dude had also been unreformably perverse, I would have liked him more. ;-)

  4. I love the book AND the movie; Meera, you and I have a lot of opposite book tastes, too. I'm thinking about that Kindergarten book we read in YA...

    And I just checked Lolita out at the library! I think I'll like it!


    Just as a public service announcement, the whole thing Goldman says about being read Morgenstern as a child is a fabrication. I've heard multiple stories of frustrated booksellers recounting encounters with frustrated customers who want the "original" Princess Bride and refuse to accept the fact that it does not exist.