Thursday, March 21, 2013

Book Review: The Princess Bride

I recently re-read William Goldman’s The Princess Bride for the first time in probably sixteen years. I also saw the film adaptation when it was released in 1987, and since then have probably watched the movie ten or twelve times, so I found it near impossible to separate my feelings about the book from Rob Reiner’s masterpiece.

Watch out for the R.O.U.S.s!
I will start with a confession: The Princess Bride is one of my favorite movies, and I enjoyed it more than the book, though this is not a knock on Goldman’s novel. The film has become iconic and its actors were brilliant. And with few exceptions, nearly every scene and many of the most famous quotes from the movie came straight out of the book. Here are just a few examples:
“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.’”
“I’m not a witch, I’m your wife – “
“Mawidge – ” the Archdean began.
“Hello . . . my name is Inigo Montoya; you killed my father . . . prepare to die. . . .”
The novel’s plot is straightforward. After Buttercup’s true love, Wesley, is lost at sea, she becomes engaged to Prince Humperdinck of Floirn, who wants to use his bride-to-be to start a war with the kingdom of Guilder. The prince hires a Sicilian named Vizzini and his two henchmen – a Spanish swordsman named Inigo and giant Turk named Fezzik – to kidnap and murder the princess and frame Guilder for the crime. But as the trio is spiriting Buttercup away to the Cliffs of Insanity, they are pursued (“inconceivably” I might add) by a mysterious man in black who is determined to save the princess bride.

You probably know the rest of this comedic adventure from the film, but the book contains a ton of extra material. This makes the book bigger and richer than the film, but not necessarily better. Included in the pages of material omitted from the movie are a long interlude on how Count Rugen discovers Buttercup on her farm and picks her to wed Prince Humperdinck; extended flashbacks that tell the backstory of Inigo and Fezzik; and a protracted action sequence in the Zoo of Death (the name for Rugen’s torture chamber in the book) where Inigo and Fezzik come to grips with a number of the zoo’s deadly inhabitants. Most of this extra material, however, significantly slows the pace of the story, and this is my biggest criticism of the book. To be fair, however, had I never seen the film, I might have never noticed these distractions. And more importantly, without the novel there would have never been the movie, and for that I cannot thank Mr. Goldman enough.

If you’re a fan of the movie, you’ll like this post from Tor.com about the 25th anniversary of The Princess Bride. Also, I’m curious to know what you think: which do you prefer, the movie or the novel?

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