GNBC: The Princess Bride

Mariner Books

Happy Friday everyone and welcome to the final GeekyNerdy Book Club “meeting” of the year! I know it’s a week late, but it took me a little longer than I expected to process my feelings on The Princess Bride, William Goldman’s most popular novel. In fact, I keep feeling like I need to rewatch the Rob Reiner film as a sort of palate cleanser. That’s not necessarily because I didn’t like the book, more, it just felt super uneven to me and I was left almost not knowing how to feel.

It started with the three introductions that weren’t really introductions. I was expecting something more traditional, a detailing of the book’s origins or reflections on the film’s longevity after its lackluster release. Instead, parts of them seemed true, like the stories about André the Giant, and parts of them seemed extremely tongue-in-cheek, like the ongoing “feud” with the Morgenstern estate. I was also totally thrown by Goldman’s reflections by the pool in Los Angeles – which seemed super inappropriate for what I’ve always thought of as a family-friendly fairy tale – as well as his comments about his “ex-wife” and “son.” According to Wikipedia, none of this is true (Goldman had a wife and two daughters), so it may simply be another example of how terrible I am at picking up on satire, but it definitely wasn’t how I expected to get into the story itself.

Now, as for that story, I (mostly) loved it!! I was absolutely delighted to see how much of the original story and dialogue was worked into the movie, which is definitely a result of Goldman penning the screenplay as well. I especially enjoyed the scenes between the man in black (Westley), the Spaniard (Inigo), the Turk (Fezzik), and the Sicilian (Vizzini). I also liked getting a bit more background on these beloved characters.

However, I did not love how self-doubting Fezzik was in the book. Though Wallace Shawn’s Vizzini definitely berates him in the film, we don’t see the same sort of constant questioning and tearing down as we do in the book. I was also not a fan of how naive (I’m still not sure that’s the right word) Buttercup was. There were moments when she showed a particular self-awareness, such as when she commands the Brute Squad to “rescue” Prince Humperdinck, but then there were times that she seemed completely oblivious, such as when she trusts Humperdinck to “find” Westley. And yes, I know she does that in the movie as well, but Robin Wright portrays Buttercup with a strength that I just didn’t get from the page. Lastly, I can’t ever picture Cary Elwes’s Westley saying, “Woman, you are the property of the Dread Pirate Roberts now,” which was another scene that raised my feminist hackles.

As for the endings, woof. I don’t think I’ve felt that let down since the Red Wedding! It’s a fairy tale!! They’re supposed to get away and live happily ever after! Not seemingly lose it all due to Fezzik’s incompetence. And Goldman’s view that they got away but didn’t necessarily live happily ever after because “they squabbled a lot, and Buttercup lost her looks eventually,” etc.? Utter rubbish. Yes, couples squabble and people age, but what an absolutely terrible way to end the story!

Despite enjoying the main portion of the book, between the introductions, the in-text asides, and the endings, I keep wishing for a “best parts” version of Westley and Buttercup’s story. Though those elements all add to Goldman’s premise of abridging another author’s story, they don’t really add anything to the actual plot, ultimately (in my view) distracting from it instead. As a result, I think The Princess Bride is one of those rare cases where the movie is better than the book.

4 thoughts on “GNBC: The Princess Bride

  1. I felt much the same: as much as I enjoyed reading the book, the movie distilled everything so nicely I think I prefer it. Though that could just be nostalgia 😉

    I’m so glad you looked up the author’s biography, because I did wonder whether that intro stuff was true. I guess that means the writing was effective. But I really found the intros a little bizarre, because while they were entertaining, the tone seemed so different from the story in places.

    1. Haha, nostalgia definitely does play a role, though I agree that the movie is the “best parts” version I was hoping for in the book. It’s just so good!!

      And I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought the intros were weird. I haven’t read any of Goldman’s other books, and haven’t seen “Butch Cassidy,” so I don’t know if that was just his style, but I really wasn’t a fan.

      PS – I keep waiting for updates on baby Jedi!! 😄

  2. Hi All,

    As I love the movie and I enjoyed reading Cary Elwes’ book about the making of the movie, I was curious to read the book that started it all. I have to say I am amazed that the movie ever was made!

    I think Goldman got in his own way interrupting the narrative with long tedious asides and explanations. Ignoring the multiple and overly long introductions (I did read them but didn’t feel they added anything of substance to the story) I loved how the dialogue in the movie so closely followed the book. I feel the movie is the result of a really good editor with a sharp pencil going through the book to distill it down to the critical parts that tell the story and move it along.

    Whatever happened between the writing of the book and the writing of the screenplay, I’m glad the movie The Princess Bride was finally made. I think it came together with the right actors at the right time even if it took a while for everyone to realize it is such a gem.

    It has been fun to revisit this favorite story and I have to laugh at how many lines I can quote as that is not normally the case for me!

    1. I know, right?! To all of it, but particularly the casting. Sundance was running an “Inconceivable Christmas Eve” marathon of “The Princess Bride” and as I watched the scene with Vizzini and the Man in Black, I just couldn’t get over the idea that Wallace Shawn thought everyone wanted Danny Devito for that part! To me, Shawn is Vizzini – I can’t imagine anyone else playing his or any of the other characters’ roles. They were just so perfect together.

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