30 August, 2012

Review - The Princess Bride by William Goldman

This is a tough book to review, it's a classic in so many ways and all but inseparable from the movie of the same name. I watched the movie before I even knew they made movies from books and it remains one of my all-time favorites.

Maybe I'll just start with one of my favorite quotes:
"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
“My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die!”
Or even (although not in the book. I know, I was waiting for it),
“No more rhymes now I mean it!”

“Anybody want a peanut?”


The Structure

I guess the real place to start with this book is with its structure. You may have noticed that the actual title is - The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure: The "Good Parts" Version Abridged by William Goldman.

Whew. That's a mouthful.

But that's also the genius of this book. You see, S. Morgenstern's "Classic" doesn't actually exist, only this abridged, "Good Parts" version, created wholly by William Goldman. This may not be the first time I expound upon the genius of this narrative.

The Princess Bride [US] [UK] begins much like the movie. William Goldman gets sick and his father comes in to read him this story. Only in the book, we don't jump right into the story, we go to the future of Goldman's life where he talks about things that actually happened in his life, but also some thing's he's made up.

For instance, Goldman talks about writing for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which he did do. But he also talks about his fictional psychotherapist wife (that took some research).

Finally, about 40 or so pages in, we get to the actual story. And it's almost exactly like the movie, or at least I should say that nothing is left out of the book that's in the movie (except the performances, but I'll get there). And that's how it should be, Goldman did write the screenplay.

During this time, Goldman explains that the book is actually extremely boring in parts and while he was young, his father only read the "good parts." Instead he skipped the pages and pages of explanations of Florintine (the actual story taking place in the fictional Florin) ancestry, which is also explained as Morgenstern being satiric.

The story begins and just like in the movie, there are multiple interruptions, but in the book they're made as editorial notes. Again, this is where the genius of this setup comes in. He's able to comment on his own story, add things that the story alone cannot do, even point out things he finds odd...in his own story.

An example of Goldman pointing out what he finds odd is that throughout the story (not the editorial notes), there are always interruptions in the form of parentheticals. For instance:
"...she examined herself pore by pore in her mirror. (This was after mirrors.)" 
"'I'll leave the lad an acre in my will,' Buttercup's father was fond of saying. (They had acres then.)" 
"Then, rather than continue the argument (they had arguments then too), they would both turn on their daughter."

These were found throughout the book and always made me laugh, but Goldman has an editorial note explaining that if the parentheticals bother you, you should skip them.

The "Good Parts" and The Movie

If you're like me, you've seen the movie so many times that you can quote just about everything, and I'm terrible at quoting movies.

The movie itself follows the book excellently and even exceeds the book in many ways. It's so very rare, but the already excellent characters such as Fezzik and the Man in Black are almost across the board improved upon in the movie.

I mean, how do you get any better than Andre the Giant and Billy Crystal's performance of Miracle Max. I was reading the exact same words that Crystal says, but it was almost flat in the book, whereas in the film, Crystal makes them come alive.

But the benefit of the book is, as usual, the fact that you get inside the character's heads and backstory. Before each of the famous "fight" scenes between The Man in Black and Buttercup's three kidnappers, we are let in on the backstory of each. These are great.

We see what actually happened with Inigo and why he seeks revenge and becomes the greatest swordsman in the world...well, almost. We find out that Fezzik is even big for a Turk (who average 15 pound babies) and how he was a competitive fighter who had to learn how to lose to make the crowd like him. And best of all, it goes into his obsession with RHYMING! Then there's Vizzini , the self-proclaimed genius and orchestrator of this most unstoppable team of the world's best.

This is another thing I loved about this book. Goldman's obsessed with numbers. Buttercup starts out as not even in the top 20 of the most beautiful women in the world, but quickly jumps to the top. Prince Humperdink is the best hunter in the world. Buttercup and Westley's kiss is better than the top 5 kisses ever had.

This just adds to the epic and fairytale feeling of the story, it can't get more noble than the best of the best, but at the same time, the whole numbering thing is just another comical aspect of Goldman's writing. The fact that people would even have a list or the ability to measure such things. I love it.

Do I need more examples of the genius of this work? I'm sure I've gone one long enough. The wit, the charm, the characters that are larger than life, this is easily one of my favorite books of all time.

5 out of 5 Stars (Not even a debate)

Buttercup's Baby (short story)

This is a short story and addition to the 30th anniversary edition of the book. I'm never a fan of these sorts of things. To be honest, it just messes with the purity that is the original and can leave you with a sour taste in your mouth. The Matrix (the movie) should have been left alone along with things like Ender's Game and Dune. It really is okay to leave people with a sense of wonder and imagination at what could have happened instead of milking things for all they're worth.

With that said, this wasn't a terrible addition, it was just unnecessary. It deals with the time after the ending of The Princess Bride when everyone lives "happily ever after." The first chapter is "Fezzik Dies," so already you're world is shattered.

Buttercup's baby is stolen and Fezzik is chasing the culprit, but then it never really goes back to this, it goes to a couple chapters that only slightly fit together (even admitted by Goldman), but which explains how they get to someone running away with Buttercup's baby.

Before this story is an explanation of how this story came about (in the fictional way, not an actual explanation) and it involves how Stephen King was actually going to do the abridgement, but left it up to Goldman. I guess I just don't get these parts.

I'm sure this is better for people who have read the story ages ago and come back to something new, but reading them all together just messed with the original too much.


redhead said...

I've been meaning to read this book for ages and ages, becauase like everyone in the universe, I'm a huge fan of the movie and know it by heart.

Although I'd probably completely skip the extra story at the end. I don't want to hear about the demise of my favorite giant.

Melissa (My World...in words and pages) said...

This is one movie I watched and was always very curious about the book. I do want to get it to at least have. And that is interesting to see they added a short story. Hmm, sounds like it takes away from the ending you imagine with the story. Thanks for the thoughts!

Archaznable said...

your review is really amazing I didn't have any second thoughts on getting this book .. gonna head down to the bookstore and grab a copy of this book that you review ...
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