William Goldman – The Princess Bride

Aaaah, here it is. Another of those books I’ve been meaning to re-read the moment I put it down but haven’t gotten to yet. As one of the few people who was not completely in love with the movie (which I saw before), I was surprised at how much I liked the novel. Goldman does a wonderful job of mixing reality with fiction and transporting me into the world of Buttercup and Westley.

by William Goldman

published: Harcour Brave Jovanovich, 1973
pages: 456
copy: paperback

my rating: 8,5/10

first sentence: This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.

Beautiful, flaxen-haired Buttercup has fallen for Westley, the farm boy, and when he departs to make his fortune, she vows never to love another. So, when she hears that his ship has been captured by the Dread Pirate Roberts (no survivors) her heart is broken. But her charms draw the attention of the relentless Prince Humperdinck who wants a wife and will go to any lengths to have Buttercup. So starts a fairy tale like no other, of fencing, poison, true love, hate, revenge, giants, bad men, good men, snakes, spiders, chases, escapes, lies, truths, passion and miracles, and a damn fine story.

There is a uniquely originaly frame story to The Princess Bride. Goldman supposedly tackled S. Morgenstern’s classic but took out all the boring bits – this “abridged” version is what we, the readers, get to enjoy in this book. Of course, there is no S. Morgenstern or an “original” Princess Bride, but the idea is so enchantig that it lends more credibility to Goldman’s book and also makes it a hilarious read. Whenever he cut parts of the “original”, he informs his readers (in parentheses) of why he abridge the story. These explanations not only manage to inform you about the parts you would be missing but are also usually very, very funny. Many readers have been fooled and known to frantically google S. Morgenstern. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Goldman does a pretty good job in making his frame story sound convincing.

Now to the actual tale told in The Princess Bride. Buttercup falls in love with Westley, the farmboy, who goes out to make his fortune. When she hears of his death, she swears never to love again. But, being the prettiest girl around, prince Humperdinck soon wants her for his wife and Buttercup, consumed by grief, constents because her life without Westley is meaningless anyways. Of course, things don’t run smoothly and she is abducted by a trio of hilarious kidnappers – Inigo Montoya, a Spaniard with a wish for vengeance, a rhyming Giant called Fezzik, and the Sizilian criminal mastermind  Vizzini. The story follows her adventures and the mythology of the wonderful world she lives in, Florin.

Overdrawn as the characters may be, they are instantly likable (or hateable) and surprisingly vivid. This is a story that’s got everything. Goldman must have wanted to put every conceivable fairy tale trope into his story and give it a twist to make it funny and interesting. And he succeeds. There is torture, poison, scary wild animals, quicksand, fencing, riddles, revenge, true love, pirates, drama, and even more than that.

At first, I liked Goldman’s asides the best, that explain to the reader that a given scene happens “before Europe”, only to mention one chapter later that a character imports hats from Paris. This may put off some readers but these inconsistencies are on purpose and, for me at least, a huge part of why the story is so much fun. At a certain point, the main plot takes precedence over this little remarks and I was kept at the edge of my seat to find out what happens to Buttercup and if she can find happiness after all. I deeply cared for Inigo, Fezzik and our princess heroine. After a cute but slow start, I devoured this book, making frequent reference to the map (you can unfold it, even in the paperback) to trace Buttercup’s journey across Florin. The geography as at least as original as the story itself, and just as exaggerated.

I don’t want to give away any more about the plot because discovering how seemingly unimportant things come together to create a nice story arc is part of the fun. If you haven’t read the book (or only seen the movie), I highly recommend you check it out. It is so much more than I would have expected what with the cute covers and the girly title. This is one of my personal favorites – a book that plays with clichés and clearly uses tropes of the genre(s) but makes it fun and surprisingly, full of suspense. You never quite know what’s going to happen.

I will always hate William Goldman a little for showing us a sneak peek of “the sequel” Buttercup’s Baby at the very end of the book, which ends in one of the meanest cliffhangers to date. While I find myself wishing for an actual sequel every time I lay eyes on this book, I think it stands well on its own and is as perfect as it can be.

THE GOOD: Hilarious book that’s got something for everyone. Seriously, have you read the blurb?
THE BAD: There are people who think there’s too much of everything. If you don’t warm to the style and characters, it’s pretty much a lost cause.
THE VERDICT: Recommended to anyone who likes fairy tales, fantasy, and fun. Especially recommended to fans of the movie.

RATING: 8,5/10  Truly excellent

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