How The Princess Bride was framed

June 10th, 2011 § 0 comments

I love the movie and yes, Robin Wright may have something to do with it. Now wait for me to say “but the book was better”…

If you had asked me after I read the first chapter, or even after I’d read the complete original book, I may have shouted this phrase. But I have the 25th anniversary edition and there’s this bit tacked on the end… I’m not so sure now.

The story of Buttercup, Westley, Inigo and Fezzik is marvellous, and undoubtedly even more fun in the book than the movie. How many books make you laugh out loud?

The problem with the book is how William Goldman frames the story.

In the movie, this frame was limited to a few scenes of the grandfather reading the book to his sick grandson. In the book, the frame is heavy and gilded, detracting from the beauty of the picture within. Here the (somewhat fictionalised) author presents himself as the editor of a (wholly fictional) book. He purports to give us an abridged version of The Princess Bride by one S. Morgenstern, with frequent interruptions to explain his editing decisions and otherwise comment on the book.

The original version has 31 pages before the story of Buttercup and her Westley starts, lasting for the next 287 pages.

To make matters worse, the 25th anniversary edition has more bits of frame added onto the beginning and the end. We now have 16 more pages added to the front (making 47 in total) and nearly 80 at the end. The end isn’t completely devoted to framing, though, as it includes the supposed first chapter of Morgenstern’s sequel, Buttercup’s Baby.

This chapter adds only one thing of value to the original, namely a bit of back story on Inigo. The narrator acknowledges that he wishes this had been part of the original Princess Bride. On the downside, the chapter detracts from the ending of the original book. Who really wants to read about our heroine pregnant, going into labour and Fezzik being “invaded” by some power that makes him perform a much-needed Caesarian?

What makes Goldman’s decisions about framing his otherwise tremendously charming, exciting and funny story in such a heavy-handed way all the more perplexing is that, while doing the screenplay, he himself devised a much more elegant frame.

I’ll recommend to my children, who are clamouring to read the book, to ignore the 1998 frame completely and skim-read the original 1973 introduction. All you really need to know is that The Princess Bride is supposedly a book by someone else and there’s this guy who is presenting you with an edited version. Then, despite the absence of Robin Wright, the book is even better than the movie.

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