A long time ago, in a land far, far away, I was bored. Bored enough to try reading a new book (but not bored enough to read Twilight, because even though this was a long time ago, it was after Twilight came out). A friend of mine recommended a book by S. Morgenstern called The Princess Bride. He said Morgenstern provides a refreshingly accurate depiction of Florinese history, as well as a critical examination of Florinese fantasy tales. Although I aced the “Map of the Modern World” exam at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, I knew relatively little about the kingdom of Florin and decided to try the book.
I searched Amazon for hours trying to find The Princess Bride, but unfortunately was only able to find William Goldman’s abridgment for the Kindle. As you can probably tell from my previous posts, I think abridgments are just for lazy readers. Years ago, I read all 1,500 pages of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and loved every single page (especially the chapter about the French sewer system – it really set up the scene when Valjean escapes with Marius through the sewers). Even worse, Goldman actually brags in the introduction about having excised many of the sections about Florinese history.
As you can probably guess by now, William Goldman has a reputation for being something of a hack writer; his only awards are for movie screenplays, not for his fantasy novels (he hasn’t even won a Hugo Award). In the prologue, Goldman constantly complains about his wife, his son, his job, and just about everything else in life. He also keeps interrupting Morgenstern’s narrative with a bunch of irrelevant and pedantic commentaries in italics.
Editors Note: Goldman’s commentaries are especially annoying when they distract you from the story. I’d say this is the third worst way for authors to insert digressive comments into texts. It’s not as bad as parenthetical citations, but much more distracting than footnotes. Footnotes at least keep comments at the bottom of the page, so it’s easier for readers to skip over if they’re not interested.
The basic premise of The Princess Bride is deceptively simple. A young girl Buttercup – who is of course the most beautiful woman in all the lands – falls in love with a stableboy, Westley – who is the hottest beefcake in all the lands. They fall in love instantly. Westley leaves to go on a series of adventures, but Buttercup believes he’s been killed. Buttercup agrees marries to marry Prince Humperdinck, who is depicted as a ruthless leader only interested in war (but in fact was probably only doing what was necessary in order to protect his people from hostile neighbors). Westley then rescues Buttercup from Humperdinck and they all live happily ever after.
On its face, The Princess Bride seems to hit upon every single fairy tale trope. However, Morgenstern subtly spoofs these tropes by reveling in their absurdity. Too many fantasy authors have juvenile attitudes about love and adventure, thinking that it’s all fun and games. In reality, over 60% of marriages in America end in divorce (marriage is in more trouble today than at any point since the ancient Romans invented adultery). Instead, Morgenstern seems to recognize that Buttercup and Westley’s romance is solely physical (Buttercup is on record as the third dumbest blonde in Europe at the time, with Westley close behind. The smartest blonde in Europe was, of course, Cersei Lannister). Morgenstern even dares to depict the loveless marriage of Buttercup’s parents.
Morgenstern then exposes the ridiculousness of conventional fairy tale heroes by turning Westley into an overpowered superhero. Buttercup is kidnapped by Vizzini (who represents intellect), Inigo (who represents agility), and Fezzik (who represents brute strength). Now, we all know that in real life any given person can only have one or two of those attributes at a time. (Just look at Einstein, the fourth smartest man in history – did he ever win any fistfights? How many football players do you know who have Ph.D.s?) With just a bit of training, Westley manages to best each of these kidnappers in their own area strength, yet does so in a way that’s so ridiculous that it’s clear that Morgenstern is poking fun at the myth of the well-rounded superhero, the idea that the hero of the story must also be the best at everything.
Editor’s Note: This version of The Princess Bride was originally published in 1973, but I think today’s superhero movies could learn a lesson or two from Morgenstern. I mean, does anybody believe that somebody as smart as Bruce Wayne would really be such good fighter and so physically strong – much less rich and handsome? If Bruce Wayne were so rich and smart, why wouldn’t he just hire somebody else to do the fighting for him?
Although I didn’t laugh or cry or shout for joy while reading The Princess Bride, I wasn’t bored, and that’s something at least. I wouldn’t really recommend this book for readers interested in Florinese politics or history because Goldman’s abridgments removed the detailed explanation of Florinese marriage traditions. (Fortunately, readers can still get a glimpse of these practices in reading about the preparations for Humperdinck and Buttercup’s wedding. Unfortunately, I’ll have to buy yet another book if I really want to study Florinese customs) Enough of Morgenstern’s original satire survived Goldman’s butchering to make the book worth reading, but it’s a shame the original is lost to us forever.
Editors Note: For those of you who haven’t already read The Princess Bride, or haven’t caught on, I wrote this review in the mock-serious style that William Goldman uses for the book (by the way, Goldman is the true author and Morgenstern is just a fictional construct). I actually enjoyed the book quite a bit.