by William Goldman
It might be tough to imagine that the cinematic version of The Princess Bride was an adaptation at all, given how perfectly it worked on the screen. Actually, the book came first, but there’s no way anyone could’ve read this without thinking, “Oh man, they should totally make this into a movie.” As far as I can tell, William Goldman wrote it with the intention of making it into a movie, given his Hollywood career. I mean, the whole thing is just a series of adventures, nominally built around the romance between Westley and Buttercup.
You probably know the story, but here it is: Buttercup and her farm boy Westley fall in love, but he’s killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts. Buttercup, vowing to never fall in love again, reluctantly agrees to marry Prince Humperdinck, though she’s kidnapped prior to the wedding by Vizzini, Inigo and Fezzik. They’re pursued by the man in black (and you’ll never guess who he turns out to be). The rest of the book is action and torture and miracles and Rodents of Unusual Size.
In addition to that plot, the book itself contains two other meta-characters, William Goldman and S. Morgenstern. The former claims the entire book to be an abridgment of the latter’s work, and titled the book in full The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure. Goldman includes introductory material, an explanation and preview of the upcoming sequel, Buttercup’s Baby, and several asides explaining his various excisions and abridgments. Throughout, he maintains the fiction that S. Morgenstern was a real Florinese author, and that his own father had read him the classic as a young boy.
I think it’s a pretty great concept, actually. According to Goldman, the original text was in large part a satire of Florinese culture, and the ‘good parts’ of the book would often be separated by lengthy descriptions of fashion and politics. Goldman nixes these, claiming that they’re irrelevant to modern audiences, especially Americans. Essentially, he gets away with skipping from action scene to action scene, without getting deeper into setting or exposition than strictly necessary. He marks these ‘excisions’ with explanations for why he made the change, always making the removed passages sound incredibly boring. He also includes a tally of the number of pages he took out, just to remind readers to be grateful for the abridgment.
This means that The Princess Bride is literally all ‘good parts,’ just like Goldman promises. He gets to make up his own countries and his own story, adding anything he wants. He could’ve just written it as a fantasy, taken at face value, but his commentary adds humor and an important dash of self-awareness. For Goldman, I’m guessing that the abridgment premise allowed him to fully embrace the story’s silliness, without worrying about what people might think of the story.
In addition to making all that stuff up, Goldman takes some liberties with his own life as well, rendering the various introductions completely irrelevant and totally hilarious. Rather than providing any insight about the book they precede, these introductions are pretty much complete fabrications, detailing the phony processes that he went through to get the rights to the book. After finishing with the narrative, Goldman then relates the story of his long struggle with the Morgenstern estate, which reluctantly decided on Stephen King for the sequel’s abridgment. (Goldman was, in a word, devastated.)
The Princess Bride is not to be taken seriously. What with the stripped-down adventure novel and the two made-up authors, the book vacillates between action and comedy, generally succeeding with both.