You know those scarves that are all the rage, the ones covered in portions of text from a book? For once in my life, I feel fashionable, as a dear friend gave me one as a gift. I recognized the text pretty quickly as coming from a book I’ve loved since I was ten: William Goldman’s The Princess Bride. But not from the famously quotable lines spoken by Westley (“As you wish”), Inigo (“Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya; you killed my father; prepare to die”), or the Archdean (“Mawidge…”). No, the scarf is covered not in references to the Fire Swamp or the Zoo of Death, but rather mentions of such (real-)worldly things as Los Angeles, Fourth Avenue bookshops, and “the publicity people at Knopf.” What I recognized first, before I spotted any character names, was the opening line: “This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.”
The majority of the text on the scarf is not from the main story, but rather from the author’s introduction to the original 1973 edition and his brief note at the end. If you disregard any of the extra stuff that was added in later editions (more introductions; a chapter of a sequel), my new accessory begins at the very beginning and ends at the very end. And though there’s a lot missing — duels! miracles! rodents of unusual size! — it includes what I love most about The Princess Bride.
Yes, like many others, I love The Princess Bride for its hilarious, hyperbolic fantasy. But I love it even more for the way it presents itself. The book claims in its original intro to be an abridgement of an older, more long-winded text by the fictional S. Morgenstern, from the book’s equally fictional setting of Florin. Young Billy Goldman was, he claims, a reluctant reader whose Florinese father got him into books by reading Morgenstern’s text aloud. Years later, Goldman supposedly tracked down a copy of the book and found that his father had only read the “good parts,” leaving out long passages of Florinese history. So he abridged it, creating a version with just the story of Buttercup et al., complete with asides about his memories of reading with his dad. The 1987 movie simplifies this concept, framing the story as a read-aloud between grandfather Peter Falk and an adorably young Fred Savage.
To me, that’s really what The Princess Bride is about. It’s about the roles books play in our lives, how one book can deepen a relationship or change a career trajectory. It’s about how we find our own “good parts” in stories — some people love The Princess Bride for the humor, some for the true love. Little Billy asks, “Has it got any sports it in it?”, and his dad, who would make a good bookseller, launches into a long list: “Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True love. Fate. Revenge…”
The intro is around thirty pages, depending on edition. That seemed pretty long when I first skimmed it in preparation for a mother-daughter read-aloud of the rest. But it turns out it’s one of the good parts, and I’ll wear it proudly.
More Princess Bride goodness:
- The Princess Bride: book versus movie
- Five questions for Cary Elwes upon the release of As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride
- Anybody want a peanut? A review of Andre the Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown
For those in the Boston area: the Wilbur Theater will be hosting a screening of TPB with actor Cary Elwes in May!