Monday, April 20, 2009

the Princess Bride book - a review

OK, so who hasn't seen the movie The Princess Bride? Seriously, it's one of the best movies ever.
And guess what? The book is even more awesome, if that were even possible.

I'm not sure why it took me so long to read the book - and I mean this in both "I waited until I was 27 years old to pick it up" and "once I picked it up I got easily distracted and put off finishing it for too long" kind of ways. The movie is one of the best film-to-book adaptations out there, mostly because William Goldman is a screenwriter before a novelist (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, anyone?). Of course some of the book didn't make it into the movie, but the parts that did are mostly unchanged. Like word for word unchanged. You can easily picture Cary Elwes as Westley, or Robin Wright as Buttercup, and of course Fezzik, Inigo, Vizzini, Count Rugen, etc. I normally like to make up my own character descriptions in my head while reading, but the casting director on that film did a spectacular job, so who am I to complain?

I'll not go into plot details here, but if you've seen the movie then they wouldn't be spoilers anyway.

The narrative structure is extremely interesting. In the movie, a grandpa is reading his sick grandson the story of Westley and Buttercup. In the book, William Goldman (the real author) has taken on the task of editing a book that was read to him as a sick child. The (fictional) book is The Princess Bride, by S. Morgenstern, a famous Florinese author. The book had to be "edited" because the Morgenstern edition includes far too much about the history and politics of Florin and Goldman - playing himself - is just interested in the storyline.

Though Real Goldman writes himself into the book, he does change some minor details about his life. Fictional Goldman does write screenplays, and even talks about casting the film of this book (it's the 25th anniversary, so those notes were added to this edition), but has a son instead of 2 daughters; things like that. Also, Fictional Goldman is of Florinese ancestry - his parents having emigrated to America before he was born. This is the part that got me. Even though I know there is no country called Florin, I had to double check because Real Goldman was very convincing in the intertwining of what is real and what he made up.

After The Princess Bride proper has ended, Fictional Goldman tells the story of how Morgenstern wrote a sequel: Buttercup's Baby and he wants to edit & republish that book just like he did the first one. But there are legal troubles with Morgenstern's estate, and Fictional Goldman's publisher wants Stephen King to do the book instead. Apparently, Fictional Stephen King is also of Florinese ancestry, but is much closer to his heritage than Fictional Goldman. Fictional King knows all the history of the country, and wants to include more of the things like that that Fictional Goldman took out of the first book.

(Incidentally, Real Goldman occasionally interrupts the narrative of the story to interject something as Fictional Goldman - things like what was taken out here and why, or just random commentary. Some of that was included in the movie as the Grandpa's lines o give you an idea.)

So Fictional Goldman goes to see Fictional King to discuss this. Real Goldman knows Real King because he wrote the screenplay for Misery, which King wrote the book of. (Confused yet?) Fictional King says that he loved the real movie of the PB, but hated Fictional Goldman's version of the book. But they decide that Fictional Goldman can take a whack at the 1st chapter of the sequel. So after more commentary from Fictional Goldman, we get to the first chapter of the fictional sequel to PB. Fictional Goldman points out that Morgenstern wrote the sequel many years after the original, so it wasn't as good in his opinion. For example, there is much playing with time - jumping from the end of PB to flashbacks of Inigo before he met Vizzini* to the "present" of the sequel, where the chapter is called "Fezzik Dies."

Now this isn't a spoiler - since it is only the first chapter of the fictional sequel, none of us actually know if Fezzik does die or not. You get to read the story describing what happens, but the chapter ends before the reader finds out where the story goes. Then real Goldman disguises himself as Fictional Goldman to give us his thoughts on this literary device. And it's true, if Buttercup's Baby was a real book, I don't know if I would read it based soley on Fictional Goldman's "interpretation" of it. Though I would like to see Real Stephen King do an adaptaion.

In summary, you should read The Princess Bride. It is enchanting and addicting, and simple enough that you can plow right through it. However, I will warn you that some of the chapters are upwards of 70 pages long, so if you're like me and like to take breaks at convenient places, you might have to wait a while.

*which were unnecessary in the Fictional Goldman's fictional publisher's eyes, but crucial to the character of Inigo according to both Goldmans [Goldmen?].


Amy Jo said...

Might have to pick this up for father's day or something, as it is one of the husband's faves!

mar said...

i specifically remember where i was sitting when i got my copy of the princess bride from the book club; it was my 4th grade classroom. i read the book before the movie. it is even better than the movie & that is saying a lot.
also, i just started reading "pride and prejudice and zombies" so good! (i know you hate jane austen, though.)

super des said...

I do hate Jane Austen. But zombies DO make things more interesting.

SUEB0B said...

It is my favorite book in the whole world.

LittlePea said...

Oh. Ok. I'll have to read it then. I didn't even know it was a book. When I saw the movie I wanted to change my name to Buttercup but my mom said no....oh well :O)

super des said...

You can still change your name, you know. :)

Anonymous said...

I love both Jane Austen AND The Princess Bride! I read The Princess Bride back in high school, and found it utterly enchanting. I still use catch phrases from it in my daily conversations ("As you wish" is one of my favorites).

But Jane Austen is great, too. Being a huge history enthusiast, I love most types of books and movies that are set in long-ago times....even more so if they were actually written in those long ago times!

super des said...

I've honestly never met anyone who didn't like this book.

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