Monday, February 16, 2009

The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

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

The movie The Princess Bride came out when I was in high school and quickly came to rival The Blues Brothers for the top spot in my repertoire of quotable lines. “Inconceivable!” “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” “I know something you don’t know. I am not left handed.” “I spent the last few years building up an immunity to iocane powder.” “Rodents Of Unusual Size? I don’t think they exist.” “Have fun stormin’ the castle!” “As you wish.” “Anybody want a peanut?” “Mawwage.” “Boo, boo! Your true love lives, but you marry another!” And of course, “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Truly a classic. When I came across the original novel on a sale table, I snatched it.

Much like the movie, the book tells two stories in one. The film and the book both tell the tale of Buttercup and Wesley, but where the film has a sick boy being read a story by his grandfather, the novel has the story of the author trying to edit the (fictional) lost text of S. Morgenstern into a manageable form and convince his son to read it. Enough about the movie, though; why was the book so good? In short, it has all the wit and charm with which we are familiar from the silver screen, plus a heavy dose of flippancy and sarcasm.

One of my favorite running gags was when a character would make an anachronistic comment, and the author in an aside would try and explain it away. “‘All aboard,’ the Sicilian said. (This was before trains, but the expression originally comes from carpenters loading lumber, and this was well after carpenters.)” Goldman at one point ends up in an extended aside where he recaps the battle he had with his editor over these. “The copy editor at Harcourt kept filling the margins of the galley proofs with questions: ‘How can it be before Europe but after Paris?’ And ‘How is it possible this happens before glamour when glamour is an ancient concept?’ ... All I can suggest to you is, if the parentheses bug you, don’t read them.” Smart humor like this added a whole other layer to a story I already loved. As I’ve said before I like witty books, and this one certainly qualifies.

First Sentence:
This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.

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