Tuesday, January 15, 2008

THE PRINCESS BRIDE by William Goldman

The Princess Bride is William Goldman's adventure novel, even though the subtitle is "S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure." Goldman is better known for writing the screenplays for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President's Men. He also wrote the novel Marathon Man, which did for dentists what Psycho did for showers.

Goldman frames the novel as though he discovered and abridged the fictional Morgenstern's work to make it accessible to a modern audience. This is well and good, except that Goldman's periodic interjections typically drag the novel to a halt. And his fictional, thirty page introduction to how he came across the story is downright stifling. If the reader is aware that the context for the novel is entirely fabricated, Goldman comes across as self-aggrandizing (although he addresses this in a roundabout way by accusing Morgenstern of being self-aggrandizing).

Like Goldman says, nowadays, if you're reading the book, odds are you saw the movie first. Many of the clever lines from the film were lifted word for word from the book. The modern day frame of the story works much better in the film.

For the record, this is not, particularly, a book for small children – it has torture, drunkenness, suicide attempts, occasional profanity, and Goldman's fictional discussion of the collapse of his fictional marriage, among other things.

Some versions have the first chapter of the purported sequel, Buttercup's Baby, which comes with a tiresome 20+ page introduction of its own. The chapter itself isn't particularly good either.

The Princess Bride
is a very clever, very entertaining book, but Goldman, with his framing, ultimately gets in his own way. The movie is better.