Review of The Princess Bride by William Goldman (1973)

Bottom line: A movie that is 100% fun, and the book that inspired it.

Rating: Strongly Recommended for the movie, Recommended for the book

Blurb:

William Goldman’s modern fantasy classic is a simple, exceptional story about quests—for riches, revenge, power, and, of course, true love—that’s thrilling and timeless.

Anyone who lived through the 1980s may find it impossible—inconceivable, even—to equate The Princess Bride with anything other than the sweet, celluloid romance of Westley and Buttercup, but the film is only a fraction of the ingenious storytelling you’ll find in these pages. Rich in character and satire, the novel is set in 1941 and framed cleverly as an “abridged” retelling of a centuries-old tale set in the fabled country of Florin that’s home to “Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passions.”

Review:

The Princess Bride movie version gets about 10 out of 5 stars from me. It’s sweet, funny, memorable, and might just be one of my favorite movies of all time. I actually had no idea it was based on a book until very recently, and I had a recommendation for it, so I thought I’d give it a try – not without some trepidation, as in my experience either the book is good or the movie is good, but generally not both, and I was afraid of ruining one of my beloved childhood classics if I hated the book.

The book is quite odd in some respects. It’s framed as an abridgement of (the fictional) S. Morgenstern’s “classic” story of the true history of the nations of Florin and Guilder.  It’s a fairy tale fantasy wrapped in layer upon layer of fiction. I’m a very literal person, and I like there to be a pretty distinct line between fiction and non-fiction. I’m ok with books being framed as “truth” when it’s pretty clear that we’re reading fiction (as in the Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy). But Goldman is telling you the story of his childhood, and about his life with his wife and son, presented as fact. Frankly, he’s kind of a jerk about both of them, and I was relieved to learn that that part was also made up. To me it felt like the difference between a practical joke at someone’s expense, and just a joke – Goldman’s fake narrative of his life feels mean spirited at times. He’s at his best when he’s actually telling the story of the Princess Bride, although I kind of hated that in the book, Buttercup is really, really stupid.

I feel like the movie (which Goldman wrote the screenplay for) kept all the great parts of the book, and smoothed out some of the rougher edges, so that the result is just an incredibly fun, swashbuckling fairytale movie that can make fun of itself. I think the book is worth reading if you were a huge fan of the movie and want to see where it all started, but I don’t know that I’d recommend it in and of itself. I’m still trying to sort through whether I liked it or not – when I finished instead of thinking to myself “Wow, I loved it!” or “That was terrible!” or any of the usual things I think when I’ve finished a book, I thought, “Well, that was different.”

Have you read the book? How much did you love the movie?

Get it – book: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Get it – movie: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

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