BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Princess Bride’ a classic fairy tale with a darker tone than its movie version
One of my favorite childhood movies is a classic, well-loved fairy tale comedy, “The Princess Bride.” The book is very similar to the movie with off-the-wall wit and themes of true love and miracles, but there are many key differences as well.
Like the film, “The Princess Bride” follows Buttercup, a young girl who takes pleasure in ordering around her farm hand, Westley, whose reply is always “as you wish.” But Buttercup realizes she’s in love with him when she becomes jealous of a visiting Countess who she believes Westley is interested in. After much deliberating, Buttercup realizes she’s in love with Westley, and she’s thrilled to learn he returns his feelings and that “as you wish” meant “I love you.”
Unfortunately, like in the movie, Buttercup receives news that Westley’s ship has been taken by the Dread Pirate Roberts, who never leaves survivors. And although Buttercup resolves to never love again, she is soon forced into an engagement with Prince Humperdinck.
One day, she’s kidnapped by Vizzini (a self-proclaimed Sicilian mastermind), Inigo (a Spanish swordsman desperate to avenge his father’s murder by a six-fingered man) and Fezzik (a gentle giant and wrestler). And everything grows complicated when the mysterious Man in Black begins to pursue the kidnappers, and Humperdinck begins to pursue them all.
Because the book tends to accompany the comedy and romance with darker tone and material, it’s aimed at an older age group than the film. This is best shown through Humperdinck’s Zoo of Death. In the movie, it only has one floor which holds the Machine, a deadly torture device that literally sucks the life out of its victims. This is gruesome enough on its own, but the book expands the Zoo of Death much further.
Each of its first four levels holds creatures — real and fictional — that Humperdinck has hunted. The first two floors house familiar animals, such as cheetahs and hippos, but the next two hold the Arabian Garstini (the world’s fiercest snake), giant king bats and the green speckled recluse (the world’s deadliest spider). The fifth is a torture chamber that houses the Machine. But, also unlike the movie, the torture is more extensive. Pain experiments take place, and subjects are tested with tortures like hands burning in oil and poisonous Spinners.
The book gives each character more depth, and this is especially true for Inigo and Fezzik. Inigo’s search for revenge is given more context through a lengthy flashback. And many extra details about Fezzik’s life are also presented through a flashback, though the film provides little to nothing about his past. The book shows that his parents forced him to fight professionally when he was 9, even though he didn’t want to hurt people. He was later forced to join the circus, where he was heavily ridiculed. Vizzini finds Fezzik and Inigo at their lowest points and gives them a purpose.
“The Princess Bride” is written and presented as an abridged version of S. Morgenstern’s book, but this is in fact a literary device used by author, William Goldman, who keeps this charade up throughout the book.
There are frequent italicized commentaries where Goldman explains why he cut out a certain part of Morgenstern’s work. He also tells stories about his father reading him the book and him reading it to his own son, which inspired these characters in the film. And while convincing, all of these abridgments and stories are fictional.
This is definitely one of my favorite books, especially because of the ingenious and convincing “S. Morgenstern” element, but Goldman’s commentaries are almost too convincing. When I read the book when I was younger, I completely fell for it because the true author isn’t made clear, and I think it should be to avoid confusion for casual readers.
Considering the similarities and differences between the film and the book, I prefer the book. The book provides a similar humor to the hilarious and classic movie. But it also includes complicated characters, a more intense and dark tone, and S. Morgenstern, which are all very fascinating to me, and only add to the charm already present in the story.
“The Princess Bride” book and movie can both be found on amazon.com.
McGinniss is a senior at Red River High School. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.