Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

I read this for the Once Upon a Time Challenge.

I am completely sure only about one thing when it comes to this book, and it is this: I would not have been quite as charitable as I am now had it not been for my never-ending exams and lack of good books and sleep. So with that disclaimer out of the way: I LOVE IT. The Princess Bride by William Goldman needs to be added to that list of the most unique books I've ever read.

Summary (from Goodreads) What happens when the most beautiful girl in the world marries the handsomest prince of all time and he turns out to be...well...a lot less than the man of her dreams?

As a boy, William Goldman claims, he loved to hear his father read the S. Morgenstern classic, The Princess Bride. But as a grown-up he discovered that the boring parts were left out of good old Dad's recitation, and only the "good parts" reached his ears. Now Goldman does Dad one better. He's reconstructed the "Good Parts Version" to delight wise kids and wide-eyed grownups everywhere.

What's it about? Fencing. Fighting. True Love. Strong Hate. Harsh Revenge. A Few Giants. Lots of Bad Men. Lots of Good Men. Five or Six Beautiful Women. Beasties Monstrous and Gentle. Some Swell Escapes and Captures. Death, Lies, Truth, Miracles, and a Little Sex. In short, it's about everything.

My summary: And you'd think that's all you need to know about this book to not be utterly disappointed, and it is (because that, having been taken right out of the book, should give an idea about the kind of book it is) but let me just spell it out for you anyway (because some Goodreads reviews suggest that the reader hadn't quite figured it out from the blurb.) The Princess Bride is comic fantasy. So think Discworld, not Lord of the Rings.

Goldman's "good parts" abridgment starts with the beautiful Buttercup realizing she's in love with the stable boy Westley. He loves her back but wants to go to America to earn a fortune and has been preparing himself for just that. He does leave, with a promise to come back (but he doesn't) and she promises never to to fall in love again (and so she doesn't.) But then the Prince of Florin, where Buttercup lives, needs to get married before his father, the King, dies. And Prince Humperdinck (seriously) chooses Buttercup (more or less, they make a deal to get married, when he tells her the choice is that or death. He, of course, expects no love and she doesn't offer any.) For a long time Buttercup trains to be a princess, until, right before her wedding she is kidnapped by three men: a Spaniard, who is good with the sword, a short, bald, conniving Sicilian and a giant of a man who likes rhymes. The Kingdom of Florin assumes it was their neighbour Guilder trying to mess up the Prince's wedding (which is obviously wasn't, when have fairy tales ever been so simple? Humperdinck, who has a hunting fetish, has bad-guy written all over him.) But then someone, a mysterious man in all black with a black mask fights all three kidnappers and rescues Buttercup from them, and you know who he turns out to be, don't you?

My thoughts: It promised everything, and it did have a lot of everything - adventure, true love, to-the-death kind of hate, mind blowing characters with long back-stories and a lot of comedy. Then I reached a point, where I felt: um, sure, I mean, it's great, it's adventure, but it's not exactly fantasy. I mean, where's the magic? And BAM there was magic. And then I felt: whoa, this book is it. Of course, the book did have its very own non-fairy-tale message and it means a lot - I think that's the moral books should teach kids, instead of mollifying darker tales into sweet nothings. 

But what I really liked was the structure of the book. It took some getting used to. The book is written by a reader. As the reader and the writer of the book, Goldman tells us the story and then tells us what he thought of the story at the same time. There are a lot of asides in the book, many parentheses, which tell us why Goldman added this or why he cut this part out, and that makes it different from every other book you've read. It's an amazing technique, I have to say. Because essentially, this book is not about The Princess Bride at all. It's about stories and what makes them endlessly fascinating. A young sick boy listening to his Dad narrate a book to him is bound to associate the book with that event and the feelings of abandon and excitement it created in him for the rest of his life.

I have had so many people rudely dismiss me over the years for liking fiction with a snarky, "But it's so pointless" and I could come up with forty uses of fiction in retort. But the fact remains, you read fiction because it is fun. There would not have been quite so many legends, myths and folktales had story-telling not brought such pure pleasure. So, it boils down to what it means to write good fiction, doesn't it? It should be engaging. Good fiction will make you cast off your grown-up need to learn something out of everything and go ahead and have innocent childish fun, already! And that's what Goldman gives you with this book. Takes you back to the days when you'd throw aside all work, dive mind-first into a book and swim lazily in the pool of awesomeness that is a well told story.

I mean, Morgenstern (who is really nobody, but supposedly the guy who wrote this huge book that Goldman abridged) called his original version of The Princess Bride, S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure and literary scholars later told Goldman that is was about politics and satire and social commentary - but only pompous literary scholars would claim that that is what makes good books good. Because for me, how amazingly interesting (note how interesting doesn't have to mean 'happy') a book is decides how much I love it. If it gets trite and boring, if fiction conveys a message before it tells a story, it's magic is lost on me.

What about you? Why do you read fiction? Have you read this? And the movie: should I go to great lengths to acquire it? I've heard it's better than the book...

22 comments:

Midnight scribbles said...

No haven't read this book but it sure looks promising! :D fiction has this pull you know? Why are we so drawn into it?

Priya said...

Sabeeha - Exactly! We can pretend it's the morals and the messages, but we all know it's really beyond that! This is a good short book, if you happen to pick it up sometime. :)

nishitak said...

I've heard a lot about the book but never thought to try it...I mean The Princess Bride? that sounds so fairy-tale corny but your review makes it sound a lot more than that.

Priya said...

Nishita - I know it sounds cheesy and makes you think of frilly gowns and fairy godmothers - but it's actually hilarious, kind of a parody with a lot more adventure than the title makes you think! I was very surprised by it. :)

Fence said...

I love this book. And the film is just as good, you should see if you can find it, it really is great fun.

Priya said...

Oh good, I'll look for it, then. Thanks!

Lynn said...

I've read the book and watched the film and love both. The film certainly enjoys something of a cult status and it's easy to see why because it is really good fun! The book, I think once you get used to the style of the story within a story it's amazing - and the film is really true to the book (other than a couple of small segments). I can't imagine anyone not liking this - inconceivable!!!
Lynn :D

Priya said...

Lynn - I do wish I'd read the book sooner, I kind of dismissed it off as YA for the longest while, just by the title... It's not every day someone tells you the movie is as good as and true to the book, I'll definitely check it out! So, thanks. :)

Divers and Sundry said...

i haven't read the book, but i _love_ that movie! i do read fiction; in fact, it's non-fiction i tend to ignore.

Priya said...

Divers and Sundry - Okay, now I have to see that movie! It's the same with me. I get bored halfway through non-fiction, so now I hardly read any...

Viktoria Berg said...

You got me really interested in this book, I put it on my wishlist. I have seen the movie a few times, it´s a fun thing, and I have a soft spot for Cary Elwes, who plays Wesley.

Delia D said...

I've seen the movie but it was a log time ago and all I remember from it was a giant sitting at a table playing riddles with.... I forgot (maybe the princess?). I haven't read the book though, and by your description it sounds wonderful.

As for your question, why I read fiction - I love a good story. That's it.

Priya said...

Viktoria - Isn't he the guy from this Robin Hood parody movie? I don't remember the name, but when I looked up The Princess Bride I thought I recognized him! It's weird but I've never seen this movie played here on TV before, or I would have seen it - seeing as everyone commenting here seems to love it. You should read the book too!

Delia - I know the giant but I don't seem to remember this scene. Maybe it's just in the movie? The book really is wonderful. And also, that's enough of a reason. :)

marveloustales.com said...

YES. This book is IT. It's one of the most nearly perfect books (and movies!) I know. The "nearly" is only because Buttercup is so pathetic, although in Goldman's defense, I imagine that was deliberate parodying of the genre. And it's still just so fantastically FUN!!

Priya said...

marveloustales.com - I did think Buttercup's naivety and moodiness was a parody, seeing as it was so overdone!! :D

aliasgarmukhtiar mukhtiar said...

Have to read it asap.

Priya said...

Yes you do! Or at least, watch the movie if you haven't. :)

honeyimreading said...

I love the book and the movie! And yes, Cary Elwes was in Men In Tights. I think The Princess Bride is a very sweet and funny story, and deserves to be considered a classic. I love when I hear other people have discovered it.

DMS said...

I love this movie- but am ashamed to say I haven't read the book! I have to read it. Awesome review. :)
~Jess

Priya said...

honeyimreading - Men in Tights!! That's the one. I have been recommending the book to everyone these past couple of days and I'm so glad I discovered it too. :)

Jess - You should - it's a good read. Thanks!

Deb Atwood said...

I chime in with those who love the movie. Although I liked the book (and the whole metafiction thing going on with the authorial asides), the ending of the movie is magical.

Priya said...

Deb - I just got the movie, finally! I can't wait to see it. Thanks for stopping by! :)

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