FROM JASON’S FIRE HAZARD OF A HOME LIBRARY — Even the cover looks gay. I mean, let’s be honest. My love of The Princess Bride doesn’t stem from its vast, not-so-manly marketing. On the outside (of both the movie and the book), this looks like sissy business.
That’s been the biggest problem in trying to get non-believers to watch and enjoy this movie. I’ve had a few friends — and a wife — who think it’s too fairy tale pink to be good. When they object, I just grin and think about young, pudgy-faced Fred Savage judging his grandfather’s (Peter Faulk! Columbo! I suddenly sound old!) book by its cover in the same way.
So I’ve been hovering over my keyboard for about an hour, jotting notes and trying to find a way to seriously talk about the literary style of the novel without talking about the greatness that is the movie at the same time. I can’t do it, so you’ll have to bear with me while I use both as foils for each other.
The film was released in 1987 and I saw it maybe two years later on VHS (those are big, old, clunky tapes, children) and I remember revolting against the wishy-washy love story and pastel-painted backdrops in the first 10 minutes, too. I didn’t necessarily want to watch this girly movie with clouds on the jacket and two slavering lovebirds staring vacantly into each others’ eyes.
Back then, it was the shrieking eels and sword fighting and poison that drew me in. Today, it’s the craftsmanship of William Goldman’s script (which came from his book) that has me reeling.
If you love movies, you know Goldman’s name. In the foreword to The Princess Bride novel, which was authored back in the ’70s, he talks about writing the screenplay for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He guesses — pretty damned wrongly — that it will be the most popular piece of art with which he’ll ever be associated.
In the intervening two-plus decades, he’s been the mastermind behind scripts for the original version of The Stepford Wives, All the President’s Men, Heat, Misery, Chaplin, Maverick, The General’s Daughter, and Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher. Right now, he’s been named to write the 2009 Captain Marvel movie, Shazam!.
Those are some mighty fine credentials. Eat your heart out, Kevin Smith.
If I convince you of nothing else, just wander into your local public library and read Goldman’s introduction to The Princess Bride. It’s not what you’re going to expect from a high-fantasy, high-romance, ostensibly happily-ending romp, but it will show you exactly how human and flawed the author is. He talks about how he nearly had an affair with a Hollywood starlet — one that was avoided only incidentally — and how he admittedly doesn’t feel romantic love for his wife. It’s soul-crushing.
From there, he launches into a tale all about true love.
But it’s also a parody. Goldman contends with a straight face that the book was actually written by the immortal S. Morgenstern, an author from the land of Florin. Of course, history tells us that Florin and its enemy, Guilder, are fictional countries (they’re actually Anglicized names for two old Dutch currencies). Morgenstern never existed, but Goldman credits him for the book and pretends only to be its abridger.
Goldman also pretends that Morgenstern’s original was a highly artful satire about Florinese politics, and constantly interjects editor’s notes into the text about how he’s cut 80-some pages of Morgenstern’s dialog about hats and shoes and the imagined royalty of Florin’s habits that were apparently quite boorish. It’s a tremendously inventive deception that makes the book very smart.
The novel also goes far, far more in depth about the orgins of Fezzik and Inigo (but sadly not about the dread Sicilian mastermind, Vizzini — that I would really love to have read).
We see Inigo’s early life and how the six-fingered man killed his father. By the way, the six-fingered man is played by Christopher Guest of This Is Spinal Tap fame, and I can’t watch the movie anymore without wondering if he’s going to crank his machine up to 11. We learn all about Fezzik’s youth as a circus freak. Did you know that Goldman’s second choice behind Andre the Giant was the Terminator himself, Arnold Schwartzenegger? I re-read the book recently and tried to imagine Arnold in the role instead. It was unnatural; he isn’t lovable enough.
The book even has a very adventurous trip through the Zoo of Death to the prince’s underground torture chamber where Westley is killed. That part never made it to the screen.
But perhaps the best part of Goldman’s book is the ending. Where Hollywood left a nice, sappy happily-ever-after at the end of the film as Westley, Buttercup, Fezzik, and Inigo ride into the sunset on white horses, Goldman is a realist. He comes back to his jaded vision of love set forth in his foreword and calls happy endings to task. It’s bitter. It’s sweet.
So that’s it. If you’ve read this far — and it’s been a long stinking blag entry today — then I think I can be pretty sure I can twist your arm to read The Princess Bride. Just do it. Just shut up, stop arguing with me, and go do it.