The Princess Bride by William Goldman

I just noticed I tend to read a lot of books that were movies first or movies now. I suppose it’s my mixed obsession with cinema and literature–the two go together forever and forever and shall not be divided now.

Princess Bride is one of those unexpected books. William Goldman is, among writey-things; a screenwriter, playwright, and a fantastic novel scribbler. From the  beginning, where he tells you how his father read him The Princess Bride when he was ten and how he thinks that the book is a lesson about the unfairness of life, to the end, where he lets the whole thing close on a down note with Westley and Buttercup quarreling and the Prince pursuing them for the rest of their lives – Goldman delivers a really wonderful fairy tale of humor and irony.

Everyone has seen the movie. Everyone over the age of 25 anyway. We all know Miracle Max and Inigo’s famous catchphrase (which I will not even repeat here since its been worn to death) but the book has the happy extras that the movie doesn’t. It tells you about Inigo’s childhood, and his father’s unfair death at the hands of the six fingered man, and how he trains to become the best swordsman in the world…which then makes him depressed when he can’t find the six-fingered man to kill him…and then makes him bored being the best swordsman in the world, so he becomes a drunk.

Philosophical thought; Perhaps all drunks are just really the best something or other in their worlds, seeking revenge for old hurts and worn out by it

The book gives you the history and the motivations of each character; Fezzik’s strength, Vizzini’s brains, Miracle Max’s disgrace, Buttercup’s parents who constantly quarrel, and the King’s mumbling. There are scenes in the book, like the Zoo of Death and a lot of stuff concerning the Dread Pirate Roberts, which are fan-nnn-tastic, but not in the movie. That alone makes it worth reading.

It reminds me a lot of The Last Unicorn. Unicorn is written with tongue -in-cheek and so is Bride; a satirical fairy-tale. There are references to modern-day things, even though the whole thing is set in Renaissance-era. Goldman’s introduction is fictional. His creation of the fictional author S. Morgenstern is a literary device to add a layer to the novel. He uses the name again to write a second novel called The Silent Gondoliers (which I haven’t read yet, but looks interesting) None of the autobiographical stuff in the book is strictly true, although there is that overlay of truth mixed into it.

So basically the book begins with a list of the most beautiful women in the world. One by one, they all drop off and Buttercup, who starts out as barely in the running, grows and improves daily, until she falls in love with the farm boy, Westley, and it skyrockets her into the top five. When he goes to seek his fortune, he is captured by pirates and Buttercup (and I love this) speculates about how he may have been killed, then goes into her room and shuts the door. A month later she comes out and, because of sorrow, is now the most beautiful woman in the world. But she doesn’t give a damn.

The prince Humperdink tells her she will marry him and she asks him to kill her instead, but he doesn’t. Instead he explains that he needs a gorgeous wife to improve his social status and popularity and she will do nicely. He doesn’t care whether she loves him or not. So she agrees.

The prince cleverly plots to make the people love Buttercup, and then have her kidnapped and murdered, inciting war with the neighboring country- because the Prince is fond of two things; war and hunting.

Enter the trio of the giant, Spaniard and the dwarf, who kidnap Buttercup. Enter Westley, disguised as the Man in Black, and pretending to be the Dread Pirate Roberts. The rest of the book follows pretty much as the movie suggests. There’s a great more detail about Miracle Max, and why he got fired, and how pissed he is about it. There is a lot of interjections by William Goldman and ‘S. Morgernstern’ to explain things or comment on a particular passage.

At one point, there is even the suggestion that the reader write the publishers a letter and ask for the ‘love scene’ between Buttercup and Westley when they reunite. William Goldman explains that ‘S. Morgernstern’ declined to write a love scene because he thought people – even characters in a book – deserve their privacy. So Goldman wrote one, but his publishers argued that he couldn’t go around sticking his own words into a book written by someone else. I did a little research to see if I could find some info on the website and, sure enough, here is what you get when you put in your email address:

Dear Reader,

Thank you for sending in and no, this is not the reunion scene, because of a certain roadblock named Kermit Shog.

As soon as bound books were ready, I got a call from my lawyer, Charley–(you may not remember, but Charley’s the one I called from California to go down in the blizzard and buy The Princess Bride from the used-book dealer). Anyway, he usually begins with Talmudic humor, wisdom jokes, only this time he just says “Bill, I think you better get down here,” and before I’m even allowed to say a ‘why?’ he adds, “Right away if you can.”

Panicked, I zoom down, wondering who could have died, did I flunk my tax audit, what? His secretary lets me into his office and Charley says, “This is Mr. Shog, Bill.”

And there he is, sitting in the corner, hands on his briefcase, looking exactly like an oily version of Peter Lorre. I really expected him to say, “Give me the Falcon, you must, or I’ll be forced to keeel you.”

“Mr. Shog is a lawyer,” Charley goes on. And this next was said underlined: “He represents the Morgenstern estate.”

Who knew? Who could have dreamed such a thing existed, an estate of a man dead at least a million years that no one ever heard of over here anyway?

“Perhaps you will give me the Falcon now,” Mr. Shog said. That’s not true.

What he said was, “Perhaps you will like a few words with your client alone now,” and Charley nodded and out he went and once he was gone I said, “Charley, my God, I never figured–” and he said, “Did Harcourt?” and I said, “Not that they ever mentioned” and he said, “Ooch,” the grunting sound lawyers make when they know they’ve backed a loser.

“What does he want?” I said.

“A meeting with Mr. Jovanovich,” Charley answered.

Now, William Jovanovich is a pretty busy fella, but it’s amazing when you’re confronted with a potential multibillion-dollar lawsuit how fast you can wedge in a meeting. We trooped over.

All the Harcourt Brass was there, I’m there, Charley; Mr. Shog, who would sweat in an igloo he’s so swarthy, is streaming.

Harcourt’s lawyer started things: “We’re terribly terribly sorry, Mr. Shog. It’s an unforgivable oversight, and please accept our sincerest apologies.”

Mr. Shog said, “That’s a beginning, since all you did was defame and ridicule the greatest modern master of Florinese prose who also happened to be for many years a friend of my family.”

Then the business head of Harcourt said, “All right, how much do you want?”

Biiiig mistake.

“Money?” Mr. Shog cried. “You think this is petty blackmail that brings us together? Resurrection is the issue, sir. Morgenstern must be undefiled. You will publish the original version.” And now a look at me. “In the unabridged form.”

I said, “I’m done with it, I swear. True, there’s just the reunion scene business we printed up, but there’s not liable to be a rush on that, so it’s all past as far as I’m concerned.”

But Mr. Shog wasn’t done with me: “You, who dared to defame a master’s characters are now going to put your words in their mouths? Nossir. No, I say.”

“It’s just a little thing,” I tried; “a couple pages only.”

Then Mr. Jovanovich started talking softly. “Bill, I think we might skip sending out the reunion scene just now, don’t you think?” I made a nod.

Then he turned to Mr. Shog. “We’ll print the unabridged. You’re a man who is interested in immortality for his client, and there aren’t as many of you around in publishing as there used to be. You’re a gentleman, sir.”

“Thank you,” from Mr. Shog; “I like to think I am, at least on occasion.”

For the first time, he smiled. We all smiled. Very buddy-buddy now.

Then, an addendum from Mr. Shog: “Oh, yes. Your first printing of the unabridged will be 100,000 copies.”

* * * *

So far, there are thirteen lawsuits, only eleven involving me directly. Charley promises nothing will come to court and that eventually Harcourt will publish the unabridged. But legal maneuvering takes time. The copyright on Morgenstern runs out in early ’78, and all of you who wrote in are having your names put alphabetically on computer, so whichever happens first, the settlement or the year, you’ll get your copy.

The last I was told, Kermit Shog was willing to come down on his first printing provided Harcourt agreed to publish the sequel to The Princess Bride, which hasn’t been translated into English yet, much less published here. The title of the sequel is: Buttercup’s Baby: S. Morgenstern’s Glorious Examination of Courage Matched Against the Death of the Heart.

I’d never heard of it, naturally, but there’s a Ph.D. candidate in Florinese Lit up at Columbia who’s going through it now. I’m kind of interested in what he has to say.

–William Goldman


I’m really sorry about this, but you know the story that ends, “disregard previous wire, letter follows?” Well, you’ve got to disregard the business about the Morgenstern copyright running out in ’78. That was a definite boo-boo but Mr. Shog, being Florinese, has trouble, naturally, with our numbering system. The copyright runs out in ’87, not ’78.

Worse, he died. Mr. Shog I mean. (Don’t ask how could you tell. It was easy. One morning he just stopped sweating, so there it was.) What makes it worse is that the whole affair is now in the hands of his kid, named–wait for it–Mandrake Shog. Mandrake moves with all the verve and speed of a lizard flaked out on a riverbank.

The only good thing that’s happened in this whole mess is I finally got a shot at reading Buttercup’s Baby. Up at Columbia they feel it’s definitely superior to The Princess Bride in satirical content. Personally, I don’t have the emotional attachment to it, but it’s a helluva story, no question.

Give it a look-see when you have a chance.

–August, 1978


This is getting humiliating. Have you been reading in the papers about the trade problems America is having with Japan? Well, maddening as this may be, since it reflects on the reunion scene, we’re also having trade problems with Florin, which, it turns out, is our leading supplier of Cadminium, which, it also turns out, NASA is panting for.

So all Florinese-American litigation, which includes the thirteen law suits, has officially been put on hold.

What this means is that the reunion scene, for now, is caught between our need for Cadminium and diplomatic relations between the two countries.

But at least the movie got made. Mandrake Shog was shown it, and word reached me he even smiled once or twice. Hope springs eternal.

–May, 1987

* * * *

Use of this excerpt from _The Princess Bride_ by William Goldman may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing or additions whatsoever and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: Copyright © 1973, 1998, 2003 by William Goldman. All Rights Reserved.

So there you have it. A sample of his writing and saucy imagination. Now go read the book.


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Filed under Children, Fantasy, Literature

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