The Princess Bride
Chapters Two, Three and Four—"The Groom," "The Courtship," and "The Preparations"—together cover fewer than fifteen pages. This is because, as William Goldman explains, they are primarily composed of the boring stuff that his father skipped when reading aloud. He says that they consist of bitter satires of Florinese history that are of no interest to anyone other than Florinese historians. Thus, these three chapters are his first major excisions.
In "The Groom," (after pages and pages of Florinese royal history so kindly cut out for us by William Goldman) we meet Prince Humperdinck, the ruler-in-line to the throne of Florin. The prince's greatest love is hunting, and he builds in the forest-covered grounds of his kingdom a five-level structure that he calls, "The Zoo of Death." Inside this, he keeps all and any fierce, fast, or frightening animals for his hunting purposes. One afternoon while Humperdinck is in the process of killing a giant orangutan, his sidekick and confidante, Count Rugen," comes to inform him that his father, the king, is about to die. The prince is upset because this means he has to get married.
In Chapter Three, "The Courtship," we meet the dying, mumbling King Lotharon and his wife, Bella, a kind and loving woman whom Prince Humperdinck affectionately calls his E.S., short for Evil Stepmother. Through a tedious dialogue (Bella has to translate for the king, whose mumbles nobody else can understand), they all conclude that Humperdinck must make an alliance with Guilder, the country across the sea, by marrying their princess, Noreena. Here, William Goldman enters the text to inform us that he has excised the many dozens of pages describing the packing and subsequent unpacking of Noreena's glorious hat collection. At the grand feast when the proposal ought to have taken place, the narrator gives a second-by-second account of the events that transformed the evening from a quite peaceful one into one in which Florin and Guilder were almost at war. The climactic moment is a wind that blows in and sweeps away Princess Noreena's hat, revealing a hairless head. Since Humperdinck demands to marry a beautiful wife and therefore cannot possibly marry a bald woman, Count Rugen takes him to find Buttercup, who agrees to marry him only after he threatens to kill her if she refuses. She assures him that he would never love him, since she had loved already and lost, and he seems pleased with this agreement.
Chapter Four, "The Preparations," is omitted entirely. William Goldman, in a single page, tells us that he himself had never known that this chapter existed, let alone that it was the longest chapter of the book. Apparently, the chapter consists solely of a satire on Florinese royal wedding preparations, doctors, and princess training, and for narrative purposes it is all entirely useless, so William Goldman decides to skip over it, to Chapter Five.
These short chapters serve to further our belief that William Goldman is, in fact, abridging someone else's book. The chapters further convince us that there are world scholars who care deeply about the historical rituals of this country of Florin, even if Goldman is not one of them. There is something undeniably funny about planning to reprint a book and then slicing out its longest chapter, and William does this without thinking twice. After all, he believes that his audience should be as entertained as he was as a child, and not fully educated on the royal politics of the day. The crux of these pages is a basic mockery of significant rituals and important people, once again illustrating that while this is a fairy tale of sorts, it is not in any way conventional in its romances.
The ritual of marriage becomes a great source of humor when Prince Humperdincks's great regret at his father's dying is that he now will have to find a wife. Then we laugh at how quickly the relations between nations turn from camaraderie to almost-war simply through the uncovering of Noreena's bald head. The final element of irony in the prince's wife-selection process is when Count Rugen suggests Buttercup as an option, warning the prince that she is a commoner and cannot hunt, to which Humperdinck responds, "I don't care if she can't spell." We learn any beautiful wife will serve his purposes, so long as he is admired by his people and is free to hunt as much as he pleases. He is treated as if he were a small boy—impetuous and very specific in the things he must have.
These chapters treat their characters with the same quick, bizarre, and ironic descriptive humor as the first chapter treats Buttercup, her parents, and Westley. Humperdinck is illustrated as being built like a barrel and walking like a crab. The narrator jumps to point out quite earnestly that if the prince had wanted to be a ballet dancer, he would have lived an awfully difficult life. It had probably never occurred to most of us that any prince might have yearned for a tutu, but the immortal "S. Morgenstern" makes sure he addresses all possibilities.
Perhaps most importantly, Chapters Two, Three and Four allow us another solid glimpse into William Goldman, and what we prize most is his loyalty to literature. He deems the bulk of the material in these chapters exceedingly dull, and rather than begrudging "S. Morgenstern" for that, he skips ahead on his own terms. He seems to be giving us a model for reading, so that we love things in parts, take exactly what we want from a text and no more, and understand that our reason for reading does not have to coincide with the author's reason for reading. In these chapters, and in this book as a whole, William Goldman states his own very strong opinions about the nature of immortalizing a favorite book, not in paper as he has with his, but in our minds as we reread it. He is conscious, no doubt, that The Princess Bride as he has recorded it has the likelihood of becoming a favorite book to a number of his readers. Once again, he places himself in our position, standing back with us as we regard his story.