The Princess Bride

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Princess Bride: S. Morgensterns Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure, by William Goldman

I grew up watching the movie so I thought I knew everything there was to know about the Princess Bride. But two things about the book surprised me: (1) its author and (2) its audience.

The real author is William Goldman, a successful screenwriter who wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President's Men, and many others. He uses a literary convention of discussing a fictional book to tell a story about a fictionalized version of himself. As such, it's really a book for adults, not kids. There are a few things that kids won't appreciate (like the humor) and a few things that they hopefully won't get (like some mild racial slurs and the author briefly considering an affair in the preface) but mostly its a story about a grown man in a cold marriage and a grinding job, who still longs for the ideals of a childrens' story: true love and high adventure. But fictional book and the real one both reveal that however wonderful romance and adventure are, life isn't fair.

The author tells the story of being a lonely boy obsessed with sports who has no interest in books until his father reads to him the Princess Bride by "S. Morgenstern". The young boy is so enthralled with the story that he becomes a writer as an adult.

Years later when his own son could care less, the author reads it for himself only to discover his father skipped the boring and sad parts so his son would enjoy it more. To hopefully make his own son love it as much as he did, the author decides to abridge it and get his editor to publish it. We the readers end up with a story with running commentary on the story. The gimmick works: the Princess Bride by S. Morgenstern could stand on its own, but the Princess Bride by William Goldman will stay with me.

Here's some dialogue, which might be familiar to you if you saw the movie.

'She does not get eaten by the sharks at this time,' my father said.
I looked up at him. 'What?'
'You looked like you were getting too involved and bothered so I thought I would let you relax.'
'Oh for Pete's sake,' I said, 'you'd think I was a baby or something. What kind of stuff was that?' I really sounded put out, but I'll tell you the truth: I was getting a little too involved and I was glad he told me. I mean, when you're a kid, you don't think , Well, since the book's called The Princess Bride and since we're barely into it, obviously, the authors not going to make shark kibble of his leading lady. You get hooked on these things when you're a youngster; so to any youngsters reading, I'll simply repeat my father's works since they worked to soothe me: 'She does not get eaten by the sharks at this time.'


Corrie said...

Yay! Isn't that a good book? I wrote a report on it in middle school, but I think my teacher just thought I watched the movie and read the author notes or something. :-) As a middle schooler I didn't understand the device, and I thought there actually was an S. Morgenstern, and that all the preface stuff about William Goldman's life was true. I kept wondering whether his wife would read the book and get really angry! I decided they must have already divorced by the time the book was published and so he didn't care what she read. I was really impressed when I realized later the 'story within a story' going on. Glad you enjoyed it too.

Nathan Garrett said...

I had to look it up on wikipedia to be sure if it was an author's device or actually the 'real' story. Very fun read...