Thursday, February 12, 2009
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
If you haven't read this book, then all I can tell you is to go out, get it, and read it. Now. Don't bother with the rest of this review, you'll thank me later. It has:
Beasts of all natures and descriptions.
For a start.
It's one of the greatest love/action/revenge stories ever abridged by a modern author. Well, it seems that Mr. Goldman felt that the original story, as written by the immortal S. Morganstern, was a little too dry for public consumption, as well as damaging to treasured childhood memories, so he went through it and put together this "good parts" version, and the world is a better place for it. 
Of course, the big gag is that there never was an original version of the book. There never was an S. Morganstern, the greatest of the Florinese writers. Goldman's father may have read books to him as a child, but he never read this book to him. The entire thing is a fiction, beginning to end, but Goldman sells it really well. He tells the tale of how he blossomed as a boy - going from being a sports-obsessed disappointment to a ravenous bookworm, all thanks to this book. He talks about trying to give the same gift to his son, who manages to make it through one chapter before giving up in exhaustion. He talks about the great shock of discovering that his father had done something utterly brilliant - he had skipped the dull bits and left the exciting parts intact.
Knowing that all of this is false certainly doesn't detract from the story. It's a story about a story, and the effect that a story can have on a young mind. Or any mind, for that matter. It's about how stories can teach us lessons that only later we understand - such as how life is not fair - and how stories can change us in ways that we never expected. It's about our relationship with fiction, and with the world around us. In his fictional childhood, Goldman learned more about the world from the process of watching the story unfold than he did from the story itself. And so this book is a story about stories. The actual story is just bonus.
Which brings me, of course, to the film. Let me say that this is one of the very, very few instances where I will put the movie up on par with the book. 99.9999 repeating percent of the time, the book is better than the movie. This is one instance where they are equal in nearly every measure. I'm sure a lot of this has to do with the fact that Goldman wrote the screenplay for the film, so not only is the story intact, but a great deal of the dialogue is almost verbatim from the book. It was gold in print and gold on the screen. The hardest part about reading the book is trying not to hear Andre the Giant, Christopher Guest, Robin Wright and all the other fine actors and actresses in your head as you read.
So, whether you read the book or see the movie, you're in for a treat. And as you read, just remember the books that molded you into who you are today. Think about the stories that taught you life's lessons before life got around to doing it. Think about them and appreciate them, and remember that every book is a lesson, one way or another....
"I'm so stupid. Inigo has not lost to the man in black, he has defeated him. And to prove it he has put on all the man in black's clothes and masks and hoods and boots and gained eighty pounds."
- Fezzik, The Princess Bride
 This is a fun type of meta-fiction, writers writing autobiographically about writing about books that never existed. I find it interesting that The Princess Bride can sit comfortably shoulder-to-shoulder with House of Leaves.
The Princess Bride at Wikipedia
William Goldman at Wikipedia
The Princess Bride at Wikiquote
The Princess Bride at Amazon.com