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.