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The Princess Bride

William Goldman




The year that Buttercup was born, the most beautiful woman in the world was a French scullery maid named Annette.

This is the first sentence of The Princess Bride, and it begins the story with a tone that stays consistent throughout the rest. It acknowledges that it is a fairy tale by simply stating that there ever was a world's most beautiful woman and yet it mocks the phenomenon by allowing this woman to be anyone other than our heroine, Buttercup. The entire story follows this trend. The narrator creates scenarios of adventure and romance, yet it continually refuses to be conventional in any of them. All of this story's most glorious heroes are also, in a way, anti-heroes; Fezzik, the world's strongest man, is terrified of bats and loves rhymes. Inigo, the wizard of steel, drinks too much brandy. This story affectionately celebrates imperfections within its genre, yet without compromising the simple greatness of its characters.

As to Inigo's personal life, he was always just a trifle hungry, he had no brothers or sisters, and his mother had died in childbirth. He was fantastically happy. Because of his father. Domingo Montoya was funny-looking and crotchety and impatient and absent-minded and never smiled. Inigo loved him. Totally. Don't ask why. There really wasn't any one reason you could put your finger on. Oh, probably Domingo loved him back, but love is many things, none of them logical.

This quote parodies some of the same fairy-tale values as the above quote, but here another element is thrown into the mockery barrel: arbitrariness. So many of the sequences occurring in this story, as well as the mode of story-telling itself, are completely arbitrary. This quote precedes the description of Yeste, Spain's greatest sword-maker, who takes his back-orders to Domingo, who is killed by one of the customers, who in turn plunges Inigo into his study of sword-fighting for his revenge-role in this story. The story stresses how disorderly crucial events often are, and how events and emotions happen often for no purpose at all, a simple parody of human relations. After all, Buttercup has no interest in Westley until the Countess does, and Inigo loves his father deeply for apparently no reason at all. This is just how people work, and one can imagine William Goldman saying gleefully, "Isn't it glorious?" Furthermore, the version of the story that we read is also based on how William Goldman heard it as a child. He implies that through any other telling, we would find different parts to be significant, but when his father read it to him, the adventure—Buttercup's story—was the crux, as it is to us in his retelling. The very style of this writing—short, restless, perhaps irrational statements—is an amusing and effective way of setting us up for a certain kind of tale, then disproving our expectations.

Buttercup's ears were now caked with Snow Sand all the way in, and her nose was filled with Snow Sand, both nostrils, and she knew if she opened her eyes a million tiny fine bits of Snow Sand would seep behind her eyelids, and now she was beginning to panic badly. How long had she been falling? Hours, it seemed, and she was having pain in holding her breath.

This passage demonstrates William Goldman's use of style to accommodate the varying modes of adventure in his story. As seen above, he tends to write short, choppy, tongue-in-cheek and seemingly paradoxical paragraphs when defying the conventionalities of tales such as his. But as Buttercup is sinking through the Snow Sand, he writes long, uninterrupted, smothering streams of prose as a way of mimicking the breathlessness of her fall. In the above quote he repeats the word Snow Sand three times, in three consecutive sentences, forcing the reader to understand exactly how this substance feels, and to hold his or her breath while we wait for Buttercup to be rescued. This is a frightening, grave moment and we are to have full awareness of its entirety. William Goldman (posing as S. Morgenstern) plays with the text to a great degree, piddling around with direction and caps. For example, he makes Fezzik's splat sound when he hits someone run down the page like a set of stairs. In passages such as these we recognize the author not only as a creator of plot, but also as a crafter of language to accommodate that plot.

What happens here that you aren't going to read is the six-page soliloquy from Inigo in which Morgenstern, through Inigo, reflects on the anguish of fleeting glory. The reason for the soliloquy here is that Morgenstern's previous book had gotten bombed by the critics and also hadn't sold beans. (Aside-did you know that Robert Browning's first book of poems didn't sell one copy? True. Even his mother didn't buy it at her local bookstore. Have you ever heard anything more humiliating?….)

This quote reminds us that we are, in fact, at the mercy of William Goldman's interpretation of the story. There is no order to what we can and cannot read other than that we cannot read that which our author/editor finds boring. Here, William Goldman finds the fleeting glory passage tedious, but in his chatty, conversational manner decides to tell us about Robert Browning, who has nothing at all to do with the story we are reading. We are subject to our author's tangents as we read, and it us our decision whether to appreciate them as part of the story. We note here that William Goldman does not even print everything that "S. Morgenstern" wrote. In this way, he frees us to appreciate his version of the book, as we will take what we want from it, and disregard the rest. This book is more than anything else about author's freedom, and the flip side of that is reader's freedom.

Max had married Valerie back a million years ago, it seemed like, at Miracle School, where she worked as a potion ladler. She wasn't, of course, a witch, but when Max started practice, every miracle man had to have one, so, since Valerie didn't mind, he called her a witch in public and she learned enough of the trade to pass herself off as one under pressure.

This is a wonderful example of the resourcefulness of the text. When William Goldman needs a true love reunion, he writes his own and tells us to ask his publisher for it. When Miracle Max needs a witch, he asks his wife to stand in. Nothing is unachievable in this story; even death, which William Goldman warns us about, it easily held off by a miracle pill. Nothing is quite believable, but it all is so consistently pulled together like this, and none of the characters seem to mind, that we as the readers simply accept it and continue reading. Most of the adventure scenarios are a direct challenge to our imagination, as are the adventures in most stories of the genre. William Goldman allows us to see how the greatest miracle man acquired his witch, demystifying the process but upholding the tradition. This passage is ridiculous but somehow explicable, as is almost everything in the story.

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Look at the clues

by bear19100, April 24, 2013

As you read you found out that the man in black is westley saving buttercup.


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