Geek Lit: The Princess Bride


William Goldman’s The Princess Bride is a classic story famous for the movie scripted by Goldman as based on his own novel.

How good is the book?  Review and mild SPOILERS for a 30+ year old book after the cut.

If you’ve seen the movie version of The Princess Bride, you know the basic plot of the novel…mostly.  Goldman writes what he calls an “abridged” version of the “classic” story by one S. Morgenstern, the greatest writer of the tiny European nation of Florin, where the story takes place.  Goldman even in his 30th anniversary edition writes of a trip he took to Florin with his grandson to see, among other things, the Morgenstern museum, where he suggested Morgenstern’s story was based on real events.

Obviously, the whole thing is fictional.  There’s no Florin, and all of the characters are fictional.  I just want to get that out of the way, because the Morgenstern commentary, and Goldman inserts a good deal of it, gets a bit old rather fast.

See, the fake Morgenstern material is actually rather fun and charming.  Had Goldman written that and nothing else, the book would have been fine.  Even if he only added the small sections where he talks about how his father read him the book when he was sick (the basis for all the Fred Savage/Peter Falk scenes from the movie), that would have probably been fine.

Instead, the reader is hit repeatedly with asides where Goldman praises Morgenstern, discusses the state of his own (fictional) marriage, makes comments about the material he supposedly cut from the original manuscript that the “eggheads from Columbia” find so invaluable, and so forth.  The more Goldman discusses Morgenstern’s genius, the more I got frustrated.

The big problem was there was nothing authentically old about the Morgenstern material.  It was obviously written in English, a language unlikely to be spoken in a tiny country between Germany and Sweden.  Furthermore, it contains a good deal of modern American slang.  Had Goldman just written that and been done with it, I probably wouldn’t have minded.  The more he went on and on about the great Morgenstern while talking about what he claims is his own life, the less invested I was in the book.  Basically, I could have done without the fake autobiographical stuff.  It was never really convincing.

That’s actually a shame.  Goldman actually gave his story the theme that life isn’t fair.  The famous happy ending from the movie isn’t so happy at the end of the main narrative.  Goldman-the-narrator adds some stuff to speculate things turned out better, but the main idea was that fairy tale endings don’t really happen, not even in fairy tales.

For that, I give the book six and a half out of ten Rodents Of Unusual Size.

Here, a favorite scene from the movie.


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