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The Truth About "The Princess Bride"

Updated on June 22, 2010

The Movie

As many of us have already experienced, The Princess Bride is a great movie about romance, pirates, scoundrels, heroes, villains, and all around fun.  Young boys are embarrassed that they secretly love it, grown men stubbornly admit that it is a quality film, and women of all ages swoon over it.  Yet it may be shocking to some to learn the differences between the less known book and the well known movie.

The Book

As is true with most movies, great or horrible, there is usually a book behind the story line.  How closely the movie follows the book often varies, but one would expect to see the same characters and much of the same plot.  I am not sure what I expected when I picked up The Princess Bride by William Goldman.  I think I expected it to be like the "book" that the Grandfather was reading to the young Fred Savage who was sick in bed.  I thought that was just a cute way they were using to introduce the book and just tell the story with a bit of an intro.  The book itself started in some of the same way and I came to believe that I was reading a recent author's note to a reprint of an older book, which was all turned into a movie (including the author's note).  The foreword spoke of a young boy of 10 falling ill with pneumonia and his father reading to him a book called the Princess Bride by S. Morgenstern.  That reading supposedly changed the 10 year old boy's life, turning him from a poor student with no future into a knowledge hungry little scholar who thirsted after books of any kind, and eventually into a successful author as an adult.  

The Classic Tale Rewritten

So William Goldman claims in his intro that his father read him this "Classic Tale" when he was sick in bed with pneumonia. He then tells us that, even though the book changed his life, he never again read it since he always considered it a sacred book belonging only to his father. Thus, when he got it for his son to read many years later when his boy turned 10, he was surprised to find it not as he remembered. His son hated it and so Goldman went away to his study depressed and started to read the book himself for the first time to see what the problem was. We are then told the shocking discovery that the original book by S. Morgenstern is actually a horribly boring, tedious book full of genealogies, politics, history, and more gunk. He realized at this point that his father had read him "just the good parts," which is what he fell in love with as a boy. At this point, Goldman makes it his immediate life's work to write an abridged version of this "Classic Tale" in the way he remembers it, taking only the good parts.

The Boring Stuff

As we read the abridged novel, Goldman repeatedly "interrupts" to tell us about the parts he is cutting out. I read a lot, but rarely pay attention to the differences between abridged versions and unabridged versions. I used to think unabridged meant I'd get more of the details--the less refined product, but for someone who always wants more and doesn't want the story to end too soon, unabridged is appealing. Yet as I read this, I began second guessing what an abridged version is supposed to be. Goldman kept interrupting the book to discuss the abridgement. While this struck me as odd, I was distracted by the contents of his commentary so thought little of it. He was telling me about all the boring stuff he cut out. Pages of genealogies of who begot whom. Then he told me how he spared me from reading 23 pages about Princess Noreena (a character we do not see in the movie) packing all her clothes and hats, and then once again sparing me from reading another 12 pages of the Princess unpacking all her clothes.  He speaks about discussing with a professor on Florine history for the reasons for these long chapters and gives reasons concerning politics and culture.  The important point, is Goldman has liberated from all this and trimmed down Morgenstern's Classic Tale to something exciting and interesting.

The Truth

At this point, I am shocked and eager to gossip about this. I am ready to go drop the bombshell on my sisters, all of whom loved the movie, that the original book is a boring political satire. Of course that wont change one iota of greatness of the actual movie, but it is always interesting to learn new information about an old friend. And that is what this movie is to many--an old friend.

Despite this ambition, I missed my chance at Mothers' Day and instead discussed it with a friend in the gym. I later looked it up online out of curiosity, and received yet another shock.

Since you did not read the book, I wont bore you and tell you how a lot of the negative things he said about his son and wife were probably fictitious (that was a relief to me at least).  The important thing is that S. Morgenstern and his "Classic Tale" are all made up!  In William Goldman's book, he created a story within a story, sort of like the movie itself did, yet different.  First of all, the book really makes you believe that he abridged an old boring book and made it much more interesting.  He speaks of Florin and Guilder as real, even detailing interactions with a Professor in Florin History.  All the details about his life as a child and embarrassing adulterous temptations as an adult lend a great deal of credibility to his story.  Yet in the end, they are all just literary devices and unique writing styles.  Apparently Goldman does not have a son--he has two daughters for whom the book was actually written!

It may seem as though I am bitter, yet I truly admire Goldman.  I cannot say one way or another if I am upset with him or applaud him for his little deception, but I felt the truth must be shared with others who are fan to either book or movie.  When picking up a fantasy novel, one is willing accepting themselves to be deceived, yet the deception that we take for truth is usually "fantastical" so there is a clear distinction.  The subtle layers that Goldman managed to pull into his fantasy, and to pull his reader into, are to be commended.

I hope you find this as interesting facts that help you to better appreciate the story, not to drive you away from the literature.  Perhaps now is a good time to pick up the book and read it for the first time, or rent the movie and watch it for the 100th time.

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      M Annette 2 years ago

      I read the book a few years ago and was so excited when he details how it is acrually a true story that I immediately told my mother. I didn't find out until about 6 months later that it was actually all fictional. I am very impressed by his storytelling skills, he completely had me. But even thoughI applaud him, I just can't help but feel betrayed. The intro of the story is not PART of the story ordinarily and I can't help but resent the deception no matter how clever and interesting a deception it may be. It is such a wonderful story though, it's on of those stories that SHOULD be true, no matter what the reality is.

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      Molly 3 years ago

      I've read the book and when I learned that S. Morgenstern and everything was fiction several months after reading it I felt oddly betrayed. He got me good.

    • Travis W Wood profile image

      Travis Wood 3 years ago from Woodstock, Georgia

      That's exactly what happened to me! I was creating my own Hub about the adaptation of book to movie and my wife calmly told me one day I was mistaken about the 'abridging of the original work.' Fantastic in deception.

    • profile image

      Jackie 3 years ago

      Thank you for confirming what I had begun to suspect. I was beginning to be irritated about the intro to the intro and then the abridgments. Knowing the "truth" will allow me to enjoy the rest of the book without wasting time second-guessing everything throughout.

    • Paul Bokulich profile image

      Paul Bokulich 4 years ago from California

      Remarkable. I was completely taken in by Goldman's "abridgment". I think I like the book even better knowing what a masterful piece of deception and literary art Goldman has produced.

    • profile image

      Annie 5 years ago

      Thank you, I've been looking for the unabridged book to read and am upset I don't get to read all about Buttercups royal training and the forests of Florin, but at least I can stop looking

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