Book Review: The Princess Bride by William Goldman

The Princess BrideThe Princess Bride by William Goldman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Unlike just about everybody else in the world, it seems, I stumbled on this great book by accident, well before the movie came out. I’d like to share the story because it’s one of those wonderful stories of discovery that only true bibliophiles tell.

I was babysitting at a new house. I think I must have been about 11 or 12 (the rules were different then.) The kids were watching cartoons and I was bored. As I am wont to do, I snooped through the bookshelf. Most of it was full of legal thrillers (BOR-ring!) but naturally, as an already-confirmed SFF fan, this title caught my eye.

Then I saw it was by William Goldman. I recognized the name. I used to snoop through my mother’s books, too (which is how I discovered Stephen King) and one of the books I had discovered in that manner was called Brothers, one of the first thrillers I remember enjoying; which was the sequel to his much-better known Marathon Man. “He’s a good author,” I thought to myself. “Let’s check this out.”

I’m afraid for the next two days, I was not a very good babysitter, because the book absorbed me completely.

As a child, I skimmed all the metafiction in between what I saw as the main storyline. I wanted a tale of true love and high adventure – although the humour wasn’t lost on me. Later on, when the movie came out on video, I exclaimed excitedly, “This is based on a book! And I read it!” (No one seemed to believe me back then. Nobody ever believed me about stuff like that back then, and it was before the Age of Google, so I had no way to prove it, either. Google has made my life a lot easier.)

I picked up a copy of the 30th Anniversary edition when I saw it at the bookstore I was working at, because it was a good opportunity, since I got an employee discount. And it promptly went back on my shelf, because I had a huge TBR pile and was doing a bunch of reading challenges.

The other day, my partner was watching an episode of “Lost in Adaptation” on YouTube, where a book that was made into a movie is compared and contrasted between the two versions. And they featured “The Princess Bride.” And I thought, “I’m still sick. Now seems like a good time to re-read that book.”

Of course, this book is even better to an adult that it was to a child. First of all, the main story is deeper. Second, the metafiction is both wise and hilarious, and it contains just enough truth in it (including anecdotes from the making of the movie, which were included in the 25th Anniversary edition, along with some new material for the 30th Anniversary edition) that you find yourself wondering how much of what he’s writing is true, and how much is fiction? Including a convincing tale of a missing “reunion scene” that Goldman says he wrote for his “abridgement” of the “S. Morgenstern” classic that doesn’t exist and never did. In this version, he even includes a website where you can supposedly find it (hint: the website goes to an error page.) Goldman’s metafiction is satirical of Hollywood, academia, history, and human nature at equal turns.

Not to mention the main story, which has become such a pop culture classic that its quotes are common parlance and require no explanation. This may be the premiere “fractured fairy tale,” paving the way for Shrek!, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, Ella Enchanted, Uprooted and many others. Goldman masterfully satirizes the tropes of fairy tales, fantasy, and adventure fiction with tongue-in-cheek humour, even as he preserves the spirit of all the things that make all those genres great.

Above all, the message of this story is a great one: life isn’t fair. But often, we can all have a “happily ever after” anyway – at least, until the next story.

This edition is also beautifully illustrated, but keep in mind that it’s heavy because the paper quality is excellent. I like the artist’s alternative versions of Buttercup and Fezzik very much, although these actors will always be their characters for me, especially Andre the Giant.

A book everyone should read at least twice: once as a child, and once as an adult. Maybe at least once more when the sunset of life approaches, too.

View all my reviews

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