Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure

I'm exhausted, been up since six in the morning.  I promised a post, I'm giving a post.  It wasn't easy to find time, but I did.  You're welcome.

If you haven't seen "The Princess Bride" yet, I really don't know what to say about you as a person.  You're incomplete, that's for sure.  But living this long without seeing one of the great pillars of modern comedy film points to me as a more extreme failing, a sign of deep personality disorders.  Perhaps extreme psychopathy.  Whatever it is, if you haven't seen "Princess Bride", you need to go see it now, then cut off a pinky in penitence.

But like most movies, it was not an original creation.  It was actually based on a William Goldman novel, which was in turn based upon a work by the famous Florin author, S. Morgenstern.  He's the most famous Florin author because he's actually the only Florin author.  William Goldman completely made Morgenstern up for the purpose of a bizarre frame story and various jokes.  Some people hold the mistaken belief that there actually is a real S. Morgenstern original, they are extremely wrong.  The idea is that the book I read is some kind of abbreviation of an older book, though even a cursory read would show you that nobody could have made a book as weird as Goldman describes.  However, as for the book, William Goldman made a classic masterpiece of his own.

If you thought the movie was good, "Princess Bride: the Book" was at least ten times better.  Yeah, I did the math, I laughed exactly ten time more reading this thing than I did watching the movie.  And since the book is barely 250 pages, you can basically read it in the exact amount of time it would take to watch the movie.  You can finish this thing during any trip to the beach, airline ride, or night in jail.

The story of "Princess Bride" in print form is more or less exactly the same as "Princess Bride" in 35 mm.  Wesley and Buttercup fall ludicrously in love, fate gets in the way a half dozen times, they meet up with a bizarre set of characters, kick some evil ass, and live happily ever after.  Whole scenes are completely repeated, and really the movie plays the same way.  William Goldman wrote both the book and the screenplay for the movie, so you really shouldn't be surprised.  But the book is able to force in even more bizarreness and great scenes that definitely should have been in the movie.

First of all, there's a totally different frame story for the book.  In the movie, we had Fred Savage from "The Wonder Years" sick in bed while his grandfather read him the Morgenstern book as a bed time story.  Honestly these asides are okay if you're a huge Fred Savage fan, but I find they just distract from the story.  In the book, William Goldman writes a fake preface in which he describes his lifelong infatuation with the bogus original.  This includes such great details as Goldman's complete failure to start an illicit affair with some pool hottie looking for a movie role.  He also apparently has a shrew of a wife and a fat lazy piece of crap of a son.  I particularly liked how Goldman describes his joy at showing his first novel to his second grade teacher, and then she didn't remember him.

Of course, the book has things the movie lacks, like a Zoo of Death.  Its honestly a minor loss, since its only an extra adventure that the movie didn't need.  But what really was a major loss to the story was the removal of the beginning.  At the start, Wesley is only the Farm Boy, working for Buttercup's parents as an anonymous page.  Buttercup doesn't particularly notice Wesley, and only really falls in love with him when a middle-aged noblewoman tries to put the moves on the Farm Boy.  If anything, this first scene might be the best written part of the book, because it actually explains why Wesley and Buttercup are in love more than "because its such perfect love".  Its clever, vaguely satirical, and actually makes for a compelling love dynamic.  Also, Buttercup's second nightmare where her dream baby talked to her was a hugely awesome scene, how did that not make it in?  There's also a great recurring joke when they mention that this book takes place way before inventions of random things, like France.  By the way, did you know that before the kiss was invented, lovers just locked thumbs?  There's lots to learn here.

By the way, not to bad mouth "Princess Bride" as a movie, because I know lots of people really love that film, its not a very pretty movie.  Its not a very pretty movie.  And Buttercup comes off a lot more beautiful on the page than she does in the film.  No homo, but Wesley is prettier one, robin Wright is not even in the 1000 of most beautiful women in the world. 

Okay, maybe I did bad mouth the movie a bit there, but in the intro I mentioned how much I loved that movie.  So don't kill me, okay?  Here, I'll reference "INCONCEIVABLE" just to make you all feel better.

Anyway, this was probably one of the best books I ever read.  Unfortunately, the ending sucks.  Goldman complains about this too in his many asides, pointing how lame it is to end a book on a complete cliffhanger*.  In the movie, everybody just lives happily ever after, in the book, a whole ton of stuff goes wrong, and then... nothing.  There was a sequel mentioned, but I guess William Goldman ran out of ideas, so nothing ever came of it.  Oh well.

Now to be a bit off-topic:  how come a "Princess Bride" video game was never made?  I can understand why the Nintendo didn't get a "Princess Bride" game, it does have an extremely girly title.  But years later, I'm still confused.  You can easily make an RPG out of this story.  Every character, from Wesley to Inigo Montoya have their own roles to play, there's your party.  And just add more adventures, a larger world to explore, and boom, great game.  Is it up to me to do it, as usual?

And now I go to bed.

* I guess George R. R. Martin never read this book.


  1. You know, it IS possible to make a Princess Bride RPG. You just have to download RPG Maker VX. Use a shitload of tutorials first, though. It's reeeaaaaaaallly complicated.

  2. I never watched the movie. And I doubt I can read a book in less than two hours.

  3. In "Darths and Droids", the characters play a campaign based on The Princess Bride. Unfortunately, it's never shown.

    I think the bits I loved most were Inigo's backstory moments. More than just a "Spanish Revenge Machine" indeed. Have you got the version with part of "Buttercup's Baby" and the kerfuffle with Stephen King?

  4. Nope, the version I read had the words "Now a major motion picture" on the cover.