Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Princess Bride

Once, when I was about 9 or 10 years old, I slept over at the house of a friend from school.  I still remember his name: Robert Durr.  We weren’t really close friends, so I’m not sure how the sleepover got set up, but it did.  There were two main things we did that night.  One was go to the house of some people in the neighborhood whose kids essentially ran a business out of their house selling candy.  We each bought a couple dollars’ worth of candy.  We’d devoured most of it by the time we got back to Robert’s house.  The second was to watch the Princess Bride.  That was the first time I’d ever seen that movie.  I wasn’t sure what to think about it at first, but it turned out to be pretty cool, I thought.  There were sword fights, giants, swamps, and castles.  It was great stuff for a young boy.

Book cover.The Princess Bride by William Goldman (ISBN: 978-0-15-101544-3), now in a 30th anniversary edition, is the book form of the famous movie.  I wasn’t even aware that there was a book until a few years ago.  As I tend to be a books-are-better-than-movies person, it immediately went on my list when I heard about it.  If one has seen the movie, one has read the book.  There are very few differences.  I think the only difference is that in the movie the grandpa interrupts the story sometimes, but in the book, it’s the author doing that.  In fact, Goldman has concocted an entire alternate persona for himself that is part of the introduction, the main story, and even some end matter.  The story, of course, follows the hero after his return to the kingdom where the farm girl he once served is about to be wed to the evil prince, who has devised a plan to have her killed.  The story follows the death-defying adventures of Westley as he pursues Buttercup (the names are somewhat ridiculous, but there’s a definite element of humor to the book) and dispatches a few villains on the way.  Ultimately, he reaches his prize and defeats the evil, yet ultimately cowardly, prince in an anti-climactic scene where he successfully bluffs that he could get up and fight the prince in a duel, but, in reality, is mostly dead (to quote another famous movie), having recently been brought back to life.

While a fun and easy read, it really wasn’t as good as I had hoped.  As I indicated above, the movie followed the book quite faithfully, so there wasn’t much new material or deeper character development or any of the things you typically get from books.  Where there was, such as with Inigo Montoya, I’m not convinced it actually added that much.  The 30th anniversary edition that I read had some extra front and end matter that I didn’t find too interesting at all, and it honestly took me a good twenty pages of reading to figure out how it worked with Goldman’s interesting literary device of having the narrator be his fictional self.  Once I got that down, though, it was a fun read with a few humorous moments worked in there with the adventures, fighting, and an acceptable level of romance.  Although I’m not perfect in this regard, I found the swearing (really only present in the narrator’s portions) a little much.  Finally, it’s worth noting that my enjoyment of the book may have been just a little higher than it might otherwise have been because it reminded me of not just the sleepover with Robert Durr, but of other childhood viewings of the classic movie.  Fans of the movie will probably enjoy the book, but I’m honestly not sure if this was one’s introduction to the story.

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