I don’t know what it was that prompted me to pick up The Princess Bride. Having never seen the film or read the book before, I decided it was time to fill this gap in my knowledge, so got around to it post-haste. Knowing almost nothing about it other than the eminently quotable ‘you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means” and “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”, I was delighted to find out that they were actually encased in a wonderfully witty, snarky, meta story of true love, high adventure, the most beautiful girl in the world, and, well, everything.
What happens when the most beautiful girl in the world marries the handsomest prince of all time and he turns out to be…well…a lot less than the man of her dreams?
As a boy, William Goldman claims, he loved to hear his father read the S. Morgenstern classic, The Princess Bride. But as a grown-up he discovered that the boring parts were left out of good old Dad’s recitation, and only the “good parts” reached his ears.
Now Goldman does Dad one better. He’s reconstructed the “Good Parts Version” to delight wise kids and wide-eyed grownups everywhere.
What’s it about? Fencing. Fighting. True Love. Strong Hate. Harsh Revenge. A Few Giants. Lots of Bad Men. Lots of Good Men. Five or Six Beautiful Women. Beasties Monstrous and Gentle. Some Swell Escapes and Captures. Death, Lies, Truth, Miracles, and a Little Sex.
In short, it’s about everything.
The basic framing of The Princess Bride is that Goldman, as a young child, was read a book by his father, which not only became his favourite book, but also ignited his love of reading and writing, inspiring him to become a writer himself. When Goldman gave the book to his son, he realised that actually his dad had skipped over pages and pages of satirical history about the excesses of Florinese royalty, so Goldman decided to stitch those parts together to create the fairytale that he knew and loved.
However Morgenstern, Florin, the Princess Bride, and indeed Goldman’s son, are all inventions solely for the purpose of creating this multi-layered story which stitches together elements of truth with elements of fiction. I didn’t realise this, however, at the beginning of the book. Having picked up a 30th anniversary edition of TPB, I began by reading the special introduction for this edition, followed by the introduction for the 25th anniversary edition, followed by starting the actual book, meaning that it took me something in the region of two days to actually get to the beginning of the story. Over the course of those two days, I googled the book, and realised that many of the details in the introductions were fictional, so once I got my head around that, I settled in to enjoy the story, and accept the bizarre, yet entertaining, interjections from Goldman’s semi-fictionalised personage.
I think, in the end, those interjections were part of what made this book so enjoyable. Goldman, through the conceit of abridging a longer text, was able to point out difficulties in his book, summarise boring sequences, even criticise his own text with a meta humour that was difficult not to love.
Admittedly, I love fairy tales anyway, and this was peppered with such flawed and adorable characters that I would be highly surprised if I had ever not liked it. Full of charm, wit, adventure, and true love, this book was slightly cheesy but acknowledged it, and embraced that cheesiness whole-heartedly.
The next thing on my to-do list is to immediately watch the film, to see if it has the same kind of humour and loveliness as the book. Given that Goldman wrote the screenplay, I sincerely hope it does, because I did really very much love this book.