Jonathan's Reviews > The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride by William Goldman
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's review
Feb 23, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: sci-fi-fantasy
Recommended for: everyone (even Dread Pirates)
Read in July, 2009 , read count: 1

“S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure” So runs the claim, printed on the cover of this, the 30th Anniversary edition of William Goldman’s abridgement of said Classic Tale, The Princess Bride. Like many of my generation, I first became familiar with the story through the movie (screenplay also by Goldman), with its immortal characters and infinitely quotable lines. So in coming to the book, I of course already had quite an indelible image of what it would be in my mind. In short, Morgenstern exceeds expectations, but that is not the only surprise.

The first thing the reader will notice (it’s quite impossible not to) is the liberal exposition provided by Goldman as he presents Morgenstern’s work to the reader. The book itself is preceded by a lengthy introduction, telling the tale of how his own father, a Florinese immigrant (Morgenstern’s own country), had read the book to Goldman as a boy, but, unbeknownst to him until much later, skipped the lengthy descriptive passages to return to the main action of the narrative. What Goldman has done is abridge the original into much the same “good parts version” that his father read. Beyond this introduction, there are frequent interjections in the book proper explaining what and why he has cut, sometimes summarizing, sometimes just skipping ahead. Additionally, the 30th Anniversary edition contains not only its own introduction, but that of the 25th Anniversary edition as well, along with the first chapter of Morgenstern’s sequel, Buttercup’s Baby, which Goldman has begun abridging, complete with, you guessed it, another intro! So all told there’s as much of Goldman here as there is Morgenstern.

How does this affect the story? Well, to be honest I didn’t care for Goldman’s style too much. I understand his desire to explain his own love for the book, and to defend his editorial decisions against the stout criticism he faced from Florinese literary scholars. But the constant references to his personal life are simply distracting, and smack of a writer who, having lost some of his own prowess and confronted with a superior product, tries desperately to thrust himself into the picture. It’s fairly clear who’s the better author here, and I’m not sure how much Morgenstern benefits from the abridgment. Goldman says the parts he’s cut are terribly dull; descriptions and rants meant to satirize some obscure aspect of Florinese society. And while these edits may be appreciated by fathers reading to their children, some of us, especially those who are students of European history, would have liked the opportunity to make of those passages what we would, and save ourselves some of Goldman’s posturing. To that end, I’m keeping an eye out for the unabridged version. And even if the changes were absolutely necessary, the whole thing could have been handled with a much more delicate touch.

It sounds like I’m complaining about the book. I’m not. The parts that Goldman has seen fit to leave in are, as far as we know, untouched, and Morgenstern’s genius certainly shines through. The storyline for the most part resembles what we know from the movie (understandable, given Goldman’s involvement in both). Some cuts were made (again, understandable), but most of these were character backgrounds: how Fezzik and Inigo came to fall in with Vizzini, for instance. And it’s in the characters that Morgenstern really excels. Yes, the narrative is gripping and compelling, but after all, he was simply embellishing recorded historical events. But Morgenstern’s genius is his ability to instantly characterize each of the main figures. We know, almost upon meeting them, how the haughty, self-absorbed evil of the Prince differs from the shrewd, sadistic evil of the Count. We know, without having to be told exactly how it came about, that Westley and Buttercup’s is indeed True Love. And it is the characters, towering out from the pages, that lift this classic tale above the standard fairy tale fare and carry it into our hearts.

So there it is: despite any unnecessary adornments, despite some perhaps unneeded edits, there remains the shining heart of a timeless story. If you loved the movie, read the book. If you haven’t seen it, read the book. If you have kids, read it to them. Consider the passion of Inigo, carried through the years and honed to a rapier point, consummated in that final bloody act of vengeance. Consider the cruelty of Humperdinck, inflicting ultimate suffering upon the one man he knows to be his better. Consider the single-minded determination of Westley, rising from the mostly-dead to claim his rightful bride. These are truly immortal heroes, and enshrined in Morgenstern’s wonderful book, they will continue to live on.

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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Abigail Hartman Actually, the book is entirely Goldman's work. "Morgenstern" was invented just as a literary device; it took me half the book to determine that...with the help of the all-knowing Wikipedia. So all those things that Goldman supposedly edits out weren't there at all, but he mentions them to add spice. Like you, I found his comments rather aggravating after the first or second one.

Jonathan Yeah, I was able to deduce that as well (Guilder and Florin being currencies, not countries, etc.), but thought I'd try using the same device in my review; apparently I did either a very good or very bad job of it. Other than the endlessness of Goldman's interjections, I thought the Morgenstern motif worked rather well (which is why I tried to ape it).

Abigail Hartman Jonathan wrote: "Yeah, I was able to deduce that as well (Guilder and Florin being currencies, not countries, etc.), but thought I'd try using the same device in my review; apparently I did either a very good or ve..."

Ah hah, makes sense. And yes, it was a clever ploy of his; I don't believe I've ever read a book quite like it. It was...interesting. All in all, however, I think it's the one book that I liked less than its accompanying movie.

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