HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure
Author: William Goldman
Publisher: Harcourt, republished in 2007
Language level: 5
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Older teens and adults
Rating: 2 stars (POOR)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Goldman, William. The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure (published in 1973 by Harcourt Brace Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Dr., Orlando, FL 32887). The “Princess” is Buttercup, a beautiful young girl who lives with her parents on a farm in the fictitious country of Florin, where old Lotharon and Bella are King and Queen. She falls in love with her family’s “Farm Boy” named Westley, who also adores her. He then leaves to seek his fortune in America so they can marry, but she later receives word that his ship is attacked at sea by the Dread Pirate Roberts and assumes that Westley is dead. After several years, Buttercup agrees to marry the evil Prince Humperdinck, the heir to the throne of Florin. But before the wedding, Buttercup is kidnapped by a trio of outlaws, the Sicilian criminal genius Vizzini, the Spanish fencing master Inigo Montoya, and the giant Turkish wrestler Fezzik. However, a masked “Man in Black” follows them up the Cliffs of Insanity. In the ensuing battles, Inigo and Fezzik are defeated and Vizzini is killed. But why was Buttercup kidnapped in the first place? Who is this mysterious “Man in Black” and what are his plans? And will the Prince ever find Buttercup to marry her?
This fantasy novel, combining elements of comedy, adventure, romance, satire, and fairy tale, is said to be a spoof of swashbuckler movies. Author William Goldman is primarily a Hollywood screenwriter who is best known for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President’s Men. Several years ago, some friends of ours brought us the 1987 film by Rob Reiner that is based on the book, and except for one little scene through which they fast forwarded, I think because of the language, we enjoyed the movie, and I have always wanted to read the book. The plot of the novel is sometimes a little confusing with all the flashbacks, sub-plots, and Goldman’s “commentary” asides. In this respect, the movie is perhaps a little easier to understand than the book because the former follows the action more directly. It would appear that Goldman is a much better screenwriter than he is a novelist. The Princess Bride is presented as Goldman’s abridgment of an older version by “S. Morgenstern”, which was originally supposed to be a satire of the excesses of European royalty but is in fact entirely Goldman’s work. Both Morgenstern and the “original version” are fictional and used as a literary device. Goldman’s personal life, as described in the introduction and commentary of the novel, is also fictional.
The basic theme of the book seems to be that “life isn’t fair,” and the narrative sometimes tends towards “absurdism,” a form of literature which has never really interested me. There is a great deal of bad language in the book, more than I remember in the film, with cursing (the “h” and “d” words appear occasionally), profanity (the terms God and Jesus are frequently used as interjections), and assorted crudities (such as calling someone an a**hole and a “son of a b****, as well as even using the “s” word once—by a kid, no less). I guess that it doesn’t surprise me that a modern Hollywood screenwriter would do this and somehow consider his work as “a traditional piece of children’s literature.” Uh, I’m sorry, but I cannot recommend the book for children. In addition to the language, there are scenes of heavy drinking and drunkenness, and at least a couple of threats of suicide. Children can read about how “life isn’t fair” without all that baggage. The latest edition also contains the purported abridgement of the first chapter of the sequel, Buttercup’s Baby. At the end are some “Questions and topics for discussion,” but honestly, even though there is an interesting story hidden in there somewhere, I really don’t see anything that is actually worth discussing.