Friday, March 1, 2013

Book Review: The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Harcourt, Inc., 2007 (originally published 1973); 414 pages

(Sorry this is so long. The book made me mad.)

I've long held to the belief that the book is always better than the movie. Always. Well, thanks to William Goldman, I'm going to change to the book is generally better than the movie in most cases. Essentially, I like the film The Princess Bride so much that I've saved the book for a while now, because I knew, due to the aforementioned rule, that the book had to be brilliant. The basic plot was quite good, but the writing style really ruined the book.

Goldman starts the book an introduction (which may be only in the 30th anniversary edition; I'm not sure)about how his almost illiterate father read this story to him when he was a kid, and then when he was an adult and in the hospital and dying, his wife read him this book and it saved his life, and then when he gave the book to his son, his son hated it, and that's when Goldman realized that his father had edited the book, because Morgenstern had actually written a political satire, but Goldman's father skipped all the lengthy, boring, historio-political parts. And so Goldman edited the original book into its current form so that everybody could read it and love it as much as he does. When I finished the introduction, I thought, "Aw, that was a nice story about his father and stuff." And then I think, "Wait, but Goldman really wrote this, I mean he made up the story and pretended it's an abridgment. So what's all this stuff about his father?" So essentially, that whole long story about his father, his wife, and his son is all made up. Goldman doesn't even have a son. That kind of lost me right there, because who writes a fake introduction with that much detail (and believe me, it's very detailed)? On the other hand, Goldman writes very convincingly. I knew that really he's the author of the story, and I still believed the story about his father.

So onward to the actual story, which is more or less just like the movie, with a bit more background on all the characters, the sort of background that it's not convenient to give in movies without being boring. So I'm not going to give a plot summary, because if you've seen the movie, you know all about it, and if you haven't seen the movie, you should. In the book, however, Goldman inserts many, many, many fake editorial comments--not footnotes, but actual bracketed comments in the text. At the worst points, he's got at least one comment per page. It totally interrupts the narrative flow and makes the book difficult to read. It's not at all like the dialogue between the boy and the grandfather in the movie, which is just cute. (Another reason the movie is better--it has Peter Falk.)

Finally, as a note, this isn't exactly a children's book--there are several violent/disturbing scenes, some swearing, and some totally unnecessary racial epithets.

And so, that's my review. Now go watch the movie.


  1. Completely with you on this. One of the first lines of my review: "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that the book is always better than the movie." And then The Princess Bride comes along. My theory is that the charm of the movie was in the performances of the actors and not so much in the source material. I actually had to convince myself to keep reading the book.

  2. Looking over your review, I think we came to similar conclusions. You didn't miss anything by skipping "Buttercup's Baby;" it's one of the most obnoxious pieces of twaddle I've ever read. And it didn't even make sense. Also, Fezzik may have died, but the story ended before we found out. Anyone who kills Fezzik has my immediate and utter disapproval.

    In the version of this review that I posted to my LibraryThing thread, I mentioned that I rated the book as a 4/5 for plot and a 1/5 (I don't give zeroes, so one is as low as it goes) for writing. I think those two numbers pretty muchly summarize how I feel about the book.

    1. Yeah, obviously the plot had something to work with, but it just worked so much better as a film.

  3. I love this book (and the movie, of course), but I do see what you mean about the framing device. But there are so many great parts of the book that are either glossed over or never mentioned in the movie! Inigo's backstory is so much meatier and more exciting in the book. And the Zoo of Death! How is that not awesome?!

    I hope that didn't come off as too belligerent. :) Your points are well taken...I just think there's a lot to love in the book as well as the movie!

    1. Not belligerent at all! :) Actually, I though the Zoo of Death was kind of pointless. Inigo and Fezzik got through it too easily and otherwise it existed only so Humperdinck could have some animals to torture and as a place to imprison Westley. Although, the part where Fezzik breaks down the door and Inigo just casually steps on the vicious, deadly spider is kind of awesome in its understatedness.