William Goldman’s 1973 novel “The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love & High Adventure” is a warm-hearted and funny book for readers of all ages. As conceived by the man who wrote “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and adapted Cornelius Ryan’s “A Bridge Too Far” and Stephen King’s “Misery” for the silver screen, “The Princess Bride” is supposedly an abridged – the “good parts” – version of a much longer book written by S. Morgenstern.
Goldman, who wrote “The Princess Bride” when his two daughters asked for stories about “princesses” and “brides,” cleverly mixes elements of adventure, comedy, fairy tales, fantasy, and romance in his tale about a beautiful maiden, Buttercup, and Westley, the handsome farm boy she loves.
As in director Rob Reiner’s beloved 1987 film (for which Goldman wrote the screenplay), Buttercup and Westley live in a farm in the (mythical) country of Florin during the Renaissance. She’s the farmers’ daughter; Westley is an orphan who works for the family and lives in a modest but clean hovel not far from the main house.
In Chapter One, Goldman introduces readers to “The Bride.” After a witty interval in which he describes how Buttercup rises in the most-beautiful-woman-in-the-world ranks, he describes the relationship between the maiden and Westley:
“Buttercup, of course, at fifteen, knew none of this. And if she had, would have found it totally unfathomable. How could someone care if she were the most beautiful woman in the world or not. What difference could it have made if you were only the third most beautiful. Or the sixth. (Buttercup at this time was nowhere near that high, being barely in the top twenty, and that primarily on potential, certainly not on any particular care she took of herself. She hated to wash her face, she loathed the area behind her ears, she was sick of combing her hair and did so as little as possible.) What she liked to do, preferred above all else really, was to ride her horse and taunt the farm boy.
“The horse’s name was ‘Horse’ (Buttercup was never long on imagination) and it came when she called it, went where she steered it, did what she told it. The farm boy did what she told him too. Actually, he was more a young man now, but he had been a farm boy when, orphaned, he had come to work for her father, and Buttercup referred to him that way still. ‘Farm Boy, fetch me this’; ‘Get me that, Farm Boy—quickly, lazy thing, trot now or I’ll tell Father.’
“ ’As you wish.’
“That was all he ever answered. ‘As you wish.’ Fetch that, Farm Boy. ‘As you wish.’ Dry this, Farm Boy. ‘As you wish.’”
When Buttercup turns 18, she realizes that when Westley says “As you wish,” he means “I love you.” That’s when she discovers that she loves him, too.
Westley wants to marry Buttercup, but he has no money. He decides to go to America and make a living in the New World. Once he has enough money, he tells his beloved Buttercup, he will send for her and they will live, as the tales often say, happily ever after.
Unfortunately, Westley’s ship is attacked by the Dread Pirate Roberts’ ship Revenge. Roberts is infamous for not taking prisoners – and he makes no exceptions. Believing Westley to be dead, Buttercup eventually agrees to marry Prince Humperdinck even though she does not love him.
Shortly before her wedding day, Buttercup is kidnapped by Vizzini, a Sicilian assassin, and two reluctant henchmen – Inigo Montoya, a down-on-his-luck Spanish swordsman with a drinking problem, and Fezzik, a gentle giant with a penchant for rhyming.
Why does this unlikely trio kidnap the beautiful but unhappy Buttercup? Is Prince Humperdinck a heroic figure or a villain? Who is the six-fingered man who killed Inigo’s father years ago? And who is the masked man in black who is chasing after Vizzini, Inigo, Fezzik, and Buttercup?
Viewers of Reiner’s “The Princess Bride” know the answers to these questions, but Goldman’s novel is a delightful and moving experience for all readers – including those who have seen the film many times. “The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love & High Adventure – The Good Parts Version” is a can’t-put-it-down novel full of exciting action sequences, a memorable set of characters, gentle satire, and even a (fictitious) backstory in which Goldman – who claims to be a first generation Florinese-American – searches for a copy of S. Morgenstern’s book to give to his young son as a birthday gift.
The book has been reissued several times since it was published in the 1970s; the 40th Anniversary Edition was put out by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2013 in a lavishly illustrated hardcover volume. In addition to “The Princess Bride,” this edition includes:
- Introduction to the 30th Anniversary Edition
- Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition
- Buttercup’s Baby: An Explanation (a funny, if fictitious, account of Goldman’s struggles to write a sequel to “The Princess Bride”)
- Buttercup’s Baby, Chapter One: Fezzik Dies (an excerpt from the not-yet-written sequel to “The Princess Bride”)
“The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love & High Adventure – The Good Parts Version” is incredibly well-written. Goldman has a good eye for fine detail, a fantastic ear for dialogue, and a terrific sense of tongue-in-cheek humor. Its style is a mashup of action-adventure films of the sort that made stars of Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn, classic fairy tales such as “Sleeping Beauty,” and film genre send-ups such as Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein.” (Granted, the slapstick humor is not as in your-face as that in a Brooks spoof, but it’s there nonetheless.) And yes, the book’s simple message that true love is the greatest force in the world still appeals to readers of all ages.
- Hardcover: 496 pages
- Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Illustrated edition (November 5, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0544173767
- ISBN-13: 978-0544173767