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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

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

Despite the author’s name in the title, The Princess Bride is not the work of the long-forgotten Florinese writer S. Morgenstern but rather the brain-child of famed screenwriter William Goldman, who presents this story as though he were editing, and dramatically abridging, a musty old classic for a younger audience.

Goldman has a deft sense of humor, and his abridgements, always accompanied by his own rationalizing, are a big part of the gag. Goldman’s aim in writing The Princess Bride is to take the classic adventure stories he fell in love with and cut out all the boring parts. Anyone who has read Ivanhoe or other works of its kind knows that in between the thrilling swordplay and acts of derring-do is a lot of unnecessary junk about life in the castle, political intrigue, and endless feasts and speeches.

Of course, the film version of this novel is far more well-known than the book itself, creating an odd echo chamber effect. Goldman’s “update” supposedly took all the boring parts out of the book, but the film, which I’d seen many times before opening the book, cuts out some of Goldman’s excess too, making scenes which are in the book but not the movie feel quite superfluous.

Lovers of the film, which may well include everyone who has seen it, will marvel at how fully-formed the movie lives within the text of Goldman’s novel. Almost all of the film’s best lines are in the original source verbatim.

The Princess Bride is not the type of book you read in suspense. Indeed, Goldman himself considers the ending fairly inconsequential. The true joy is in Goldman’s wry, winking sense of humor.

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