My first copy of The Princess Bride was a VHS tape that my grandmother recorded from the TV. There was a blip on the tape during the rhyming game between Fezzik and Inigo Montoya. It cut to static for a few seconds, then picked up again once the ship is out to sea. Because of this, I spent a good ten years playing and replaying the tape, able to quote the movie from start to finish except for the rhyming game. Imagine how thrilled I was to get the movie on DVD years later and finally see that scene in full!
2017 marks the 30th anniversary for this beloved movie. A handful of theaters nationwide held screenings during the month of October, which I was unfortunately unable to attend. I did, however, make an effort to rewatch the movie and reread the book that inspired it.
William Goldman’s The Princess Bride was originally published in 1973. Goldman presents it as his pared down retelling of a lengthy classic novel by author S. Morgenstern, a condensed “good parts” version for younger generations to enjoy. Morgenstern does not actually exist, nor does the full-length version of the book. Goldman interjects his comments throughout story, skimming over the scenes he left out, or explaining details about the time period and setting, which creates a humorous distance between the story and the reader. We’re invited to laugh at the extravagant quaintness of the writing style, while still indulging in the parts of the story that feel genuine and moving.
This commentary is replaced in the film by the framing device with the grandfather and grandson, played by Peter Falk and Fred Savage. The grandson serves as an audience stand-in, skeptical at first about what he deems a “kissing book,” but ultimately charmed and engaged by it. He asks questions about what’s going to happen later in the book, tells his grandfather to skip chapters and get to the good parts, and expresses disbelief about the way some plot points unfold.
What still surprises me about this story, no matter the format, is the fact that it’s billed as a comedy. The book is satirical, drawing attention to the absurdity of things like inconsistencies in the timeline, the florid amount of descriptive detail, and the bizarre traditions in this fantasy setting. And yes, there are many moments in the movie that I recognize as tongue-in-cheek as an adult. However, the core story is still a love story, and a fairly traditional one at that. The two lovers, Westley and Buttercup, meet, fall in love, get separated by circumstances outside their control, then battle monsters, pirates, and evil princes to get back together.
As a child, you don’t question any of it. Many parts of it are funny, but the love story is what drives the plot. That’s what keeps me coming back to The Princess Bride: not the humor, but the romance. Whether you’re coming back to a beloved favorite, or discovering this story for the first time, you can find both the movie and the book at the Chesapeake Public Library. Go here to find the novel, and here to check out the movie.