Princess Bride, The by Goldman, William, 1973

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William Goldman's The Princess Bride is probably one of the cleverest books I have ever read. And I mean that just the way it sounds. Its very snappy and the dialogue is fresh and funny no matter how many times you have read it before or seen the movie. Goldman just really hits the mark here with this book. In case you have missed this cult masterpiece film, this story is a sword and spells fantasy take on the meaning and power of true love. Any day of the week this one gets an easy five out of five stars from me.

By now I will assume that most of you know the story. Westley, a farm boy, falls in love with his employer's daughter, Buttercup, who is the 20th prettiest girl in the world. As she grows to maturity Buttercup eventually eclipses the beauty of other women and becomes the most beautiful woman in the world. She also falls for the patient love of our hero, Westley. The two pledge themselves to each other and Westley leaves the land of Florin (somewhere in between Germany and Sweden) and heads for America to make his fortune. But tragedy strikes and the Dread Pirate Roberts captures Westley's vessel and kills everyone aboard. Buttercup is crushed and vows never to love again. She eventually falls in with Prince Humperdink who offers to make her his wife. She accepts, but tells him there will never be love. The people of Florin come under the spell of the beauty of their soon-to-be Princess and plan a wedding to end all weddings. Unfortunately Humperdink has other plans. He has devised a scheme to kill Buttercup and make it look like enemies in the neighboring state of Guilder are responsible. He knows that the people, who cherish Buttercup, will demand a war that will allow him to loot their neighbor, and possibly add their territory to his kingdom. Humperdink hires Vizzini, the smartest and wisest master felon in the world, and his two henchmen, Fezzik, an absolute giant of a Turk, who has a heart that is actually bigger than the chest it is supposed to be confined to, and Inigo Montoya, a Spaniard swordsman on a quest to kill the six-fingered murderer of his father. The three kidnap the Princess and flee to Guilder where they plan to murder the Princess and frame Guilder. But they are pursued by The Man in Black (who turns out to be the Dread Pirate Roberts, among other things) who systematically defeats the swordsman, the giant, then the genius and kidnaps the Princess for himself. He is chased by Humperdink through the Fire Swamp and the lairs of the R.O.U.S. (Rodents of Unusual Size), but is captured and eventually killed by Humperdink. Fezzik and Inigo regroup and, having great respect for the man who bested them both, take his cooling body to Miracle Max, the King's ex-miracle man, who brings him back to life so they can mount an attack on Humperdink and his man-at-arms, a six fingered sociopath. Honestly, the chase seen and the combat scenes in this book are maybe the best ever written. The book isn't resolved at this point, so maybe you'd better get a copy for yourself.

But I thought rather than blather on about the plot, like I usually do, I'd discuss the framework in which Goldman presents us with this story. Goldman has created a separate reality here, where Guilder and Florin (Dutch currency, anyone?) are real countries, and an historian named Samuel Morgenstern has written a masterpiece of European literature called The Princess Bride. Goldman casts himself as a philandering husband who tracks down the only copy of the book at a Manhattan used book shop just in time to get it to his son for his 13th birthday. Goldman has very fond memories of this book, which his father read to him time and time again as a boy. He gets the books to his son, who reads chapter one, then puts it aside out of boredom. Goldman is heartbroken, until he picks up the book and realizes the he has never read it before himself. He just listened to his father read it to him over and over. And when he opens it, he realizes that Morganstern is not telling a quaint love/adventure story, but is trying to describe Florinesse culture, royalty and ceremonies in meticulous detail. His father edited it heavily in the telling, and quite frankly, the complete version is boring as Hell. Well, Goldman-the-character is essentially the same as Real-Goldman, in that he is an award winning author and script writer. Goldman-the-character decides that he is going to edit this book to something readable, and even ditches his script writing duties for Real-Goldman's movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This is a work of passion and he cant give it up. Thus the subtitle of this book: The Good Parts Edition. Anyway, all through out the book Goldman-the-character keeps butting into the narrative to give his two cents on what is going on. So not only is the book itself an absolute joy, but there is also this hysterically funny moron of an author who keeps butting in and cutting up at the most opportune times. The story within a novel concept really works very very well here, and adds quite a bit to the main story itself. So we've got two fourth walls in this book, and Goldman only breaks the inner one.

I usually love putting quotes into these reviews. I am having trouble today, because I dont know where the heck to start. I think the funniest lines in the entire book belong to Vizzini. Like in the movie he keep uttering the word "inconceivable!" and gets called on it by Inigo who doesn't think he knows what that word means. But the best line comes when The Man in Black and Vizzini meet for their combat. Its a match of wits. The Man in Black has taken two goblets of wine and has poisoned one. Vizzini must figure out which one and drink, leaving the poisoned one for The Man in Black. He goes through his "logical" analysis of what he knows about his nemesis so as to decide which to drink. During this, Vizzini thinks he has fooled him and says:

"Fool!" cried the hunchback. "You fell victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous is 'Never get involved in a land war in Asia,' but only slightly less well known is this: 'Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!"

Vizzini then drinks the goblet, and dies. The Man in Black reveals to Buttercup, who is sitting right next to them, that he has build up a tolerance to iocane poison, and poisoned them both.

I'm actually getting dizzy sitting here trying to think of what other lines to put in. There are just too many. Anyone who likes great writing, a compelling story and high adventure should give this one a try. I personally pull it out whenever I'm overworked and need a nice refreshing break. There is a small novella in the back that tells the story of Buttercup's first baby, but Ive never read it. I'm saving it for reading to my kids for the first time. Also, if you have not seen the film, shame on you! Go out and get it now! Its every bit as clever as the book. Plus, the casting agents should have won academy awards for this one, because everyone in it is perfect in their roles.

Copyright 2007, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 4.5 star(s)


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