I’m going to do you a solid. You want to read The Princess Bride, but you don’t want to be as confused as I was when I started reading. And you don’t want to have to do research in order to get your bearings. So, here.
The Princess Bride is, on one level, a standard love and adventure story snuggled underneath a film of satire. Castle. Princess. King. Monsters. Bad guys. Etc. Goldman wasn’t totally breaking any new ground with the story, but it’s solid enough–and tongue-in-cheek enough–to be enjoyable on its own. However, there is a second level to the story, which is similar to the standard grandpa-reading-to-grandson, but is just enough different. In this second level, William Goldman has styled himself as a fictional character. This fictional character is similar to the real William Goldman, but not identical. The fictional Goldman encountered the fictional Florin’s The Princess Bride when he was a fictional kid, when his fictional father read it to him. He is grown, and wants to share this story with his own son, but has a hard time finding it. Part of the ensuing novel is relating how he finds the book, and how he ends up “abridging it” and presenting it to us Americans, full of asides. Even the cover of the book is in on the play-acting.
Unfortunately, I have the twenty-fifth anniversary edition, which confuses things further than they need to be. For the anniversary, Goldman added yet another layer of introduction and conclusion, and another layer of story-within-a-story. All of a sudden, the fictional Goldman’s busy trying to translate another Florin book, Stephen King is hanging out, and lawsuits from the Morgenstern legacy hang over his head. It is moderately clever, and I would say you could read it, but you certainly don’t have to read it. It’s just extra.
I would, if I were you, start AFTER the Introduction to the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Edition, where the page simply says, “The Princess Bride.” Then stop when the story concludes, before the “Buttercup’s Baby” page. If you are then curious to explore the other layers, read the frontspiece and the (rather large) “Buttercup’s Baby” section. It does include some post-story story, after a whole lotta Woody-Allen-esque behind-the-scenes shenanigans. You’ll thank me for explaining just enough to keep you oriented.
Whew! Now for an actual review.
I loved this book. I have seen the movie a number of times, and I wish I had read the book first. The book would have been better without having seen the movie, but I still enjoyed it. While I have often wished that a movie would stick closer to a book, because this movie is so similar to the book it kinda made one or the other obsolete. They are literarily and spiritually twins.
The novel is an adventure tale, complete with everything one looks for in an adventure tale. But the added layer of the abridgement and the asides, etc., work well to add charm and interest to an otherwise straight-forward tale. It also creates space for Goldman to be especially playful, flirting with anachronisms and wrapping it up in something akin to magic realism. Plus, the voice he has created with the narrator is a perfect foil while also being a little lovable.
Speaking of lovable, there is one issue here: because the main characters are satirical, they are not lovable. I suppose there is a way to be both, but Goldman’s princess and “prince” are too flawed to be someone you can really pull for. You want them to succeed because the narrator wants them to succeed, but The Princess Bride could never actually be the greatest love or adventure story of all time, because the characters are sometimes mere caricatures.
My recommendation for this book: yes. Understand what they heck it is you are reading, and then sit back and enjoy the read, all the layers and sides to the story. It really is a conglomeration of so much: romance, love, adventure, comedy, satire, postmodernism, magic… all wrapped up in charm. Love it.
The Princess Bride is known these days more as a movie, than as a book. The movie was a classic in its time, and has managed to stay relevant to a new generation. We own the movie, and our family watches it maybe once a year. As I mentioned in the above review, I have never come across a book and movie that are more similar to each other. Not only is the story practically exact and even dialogue pulled from the text, but the book and movie feel very much the same. I suppose the spirit is the same largely because the author also did the screenplay, but it probably also has to do with the author being a screenplay author. Given good actors and a sizable budget, Goldman’s vision was able to translate straight from his imagination to the big screen.
Of course I recommend it, but expect it to be quite silly.