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The Princess Bride: book versus movie

I love everything about William Goldman’s The Princess Bride. I love the book, first published in 1973 by Harcourt Brace, with its romance, humor, and snark. It manages to be self-aware and meta — that guy never broke character — while still being entirely earnest and somehow avoiding the sap (how is that possible?). The characters are richly drawn, with full backstories and true-seeming emotions, and the story-within-a-story works perfectly with the fairy-tale elements.

In 1987, Goldman (already a prominent screenwriter) adapted his book for a movie version directed by Rob Reiner. The Princess Bride movie turns 25 this year — complete with cast reunion *sigh* and *swoon.* As much as I love that book, this is the rare case in which I think the movie version slightly surpasses the printed one. The love story, the LOL humor (so many quotable lines!), the warmth (especially between cute little Fred Savage and his “Columbo-who?” grandpa)…not to mention Cary Elwes’s twinkly eyes, Robin Wright’s flowing locks (and, as Westley notes, her “perfect breasts”), Mandy Patinkin’s fiery, heartbreaking rage, Christopher Guest’s menacing sneers, Chris Sarandon’s foppishness, Wallace Shawn’s nebbishiness, Andre the Giant’s gigantic heart, etc., etc., etc. “Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…” — The Princess Bride movie has it all. (I must admit I had to look that quote up; in my prime, I could have recited it.)

What think you, Princess Bride fans? Book or movie? Making the choice is almost inconceivable!

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College and a BA from Oberlin College.



  1. I love the movie, but it’s a measure of how great the source material is that I FAR prefer the book. The level of self-aware humor Goldman puts in the book is beyond belief, and as I tend to think is true with just about any book that’s been made into a movie, the book contains so much more detail and nuance. Inigo’s backstory is so much more heartbreaking in the book; the Prince’s discovery of the disheveled, ungroomed, and devastatingly beautiful young Buttercup is priceless; the parallel story of the hunt for the original edition of S. Morganstern’s fictional classic would be a worthwhile book in itself; oh, i could go on and on.

  2. I saw the movie years before I knew it was a book. And when I read the book, I totally bought that S. Morganstern’s version was somewhere out there, and I just needed to find it to complete my fandom. Still waiting for that “uncut version” but for now I love the book and the movie pretty equally. I never get tired of watching the movie, and I’ve reread the book several times now. The book tends to be more nuanced, while the movie has such charm. I need them both!

  3. wow! i was just telling a colleague about how the princess bride is my favorite book and one of my top 3 favorite movies. i LOVE them both. i found the book serendipitously when i was a teenage in the coliseum bookstore on 59th street in new york and immediately fell in love with it. the movie confirmed what i already knew then and now: a good story will make you fall in love with it. i LOVE them both!

  4. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Is this a generational thing? I am ignorant of both book and movie. So which should I experience first?

  5. Elissa Gershowitz Elissa Gershowitz says:

    (People, he has also not seen Dirty Dancing.)

  6. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    The only thing I remember from the 80s is The Eurythmics.

  7. Cynthia K. Ritter Cynthia K. Ritter says:

    OMG is right, Elissa, although he may be correct that it’s a generation thing.
    I think this calls for an office movie day – we’ll educate Roger on PB, Dirty Dancing, and if there’s time we should also watch Goonies. 🙂
    And my vote is for the movie. I agree with everything you said about it, but particularly the casting and quotable lines – Billy Crystal as Miracle Max…priceless…

  8. Elissa Gershowitz Elissa Gershowitz says:

    I’ll bet Annie Lennox has seen The Princess Bride. Which makes me think of David Bowie in Labyrinth. Cindy, add it to the list.

  9. Please live-tweet the Horn Book Movie Day experience.

  10. Cynthia K. Ritter Cynthia K. Ritter says:

    Ooo good call, Elissa – I had an old 45 of David Bowie singing two songs from that movie and another record of music from The NeverEnding Story both of which I used to dance around my living room listening to when I was young. Labyrinth is officially added to movie day! And now that I think about it, I guess that means we should add Neverending Story, too, since that one was a book first as well. Oy vey this list is growing fast…

  11. I didn’t love the movie until I read the book. Now, even though the book still wins, I do like the movie a lot.

  12. Elissa Gershowitz Elissa Gershowitz says:

    …though we know how the boss feels about anything Muppet-like:

  13. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Although the Muppets did teach BGHB honoree Yuyi Morales how to speak English:

  14. Hi,

    Not sure if I’m understanding right, but is there actually going to be a public showing of The Princess Bride at the Horn Book Awards? I’m a Simmons student in the GSLIS program and am doing a project on The Princess Bride, so it might be useful for my project.

  15. Hi Marisa — If only! Sadly, no, but keep us posted on your project; it sounds interesting.

    For everyone else: here’s the lineup for this Saturday’s Horn Book at Simmons One-Day Colloquium. Even if you can’t spend your weekend with the Dread Pirate Roberts, you *can* spend Saturday with Jon Klassen, Erin E. Stead, and Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, among others. It’s not too late to register!

  16. I think I saw the movie first, and enjoyed it but didn’t totally get the hype (it was a favorite of theater kids in high school). Then I read the book, and it all clicked. I don’t think I’ve read the book more than once or twice, but I’ve enjoyed the movie MUCH more ever since. I think it’s time to re-experience both!

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