The Princess Bride
Themes, Motifs, Symbols
The pretension of the literary world versus the hedonism of pleasure reading
By making so many references to his editor and publishers, William Goldman demonstrates the sheer politics and structure of the literary industry, and he manages to set himself apart from it by illustrating his own bumbling faux pas in the industry, and his own buoyant enthusiasm to republish The Princess Bride. In his good parts edition, Goldman makes a point to cut what bores him, leave what entertains him, and create what is lacking. He takes full liberty with the text, and all throughout, he encourages us to do the same. By setting himself as the editor, not the author, he is able to show us what an impact this story made on him as a child, and through retelling it the way he heard it, he emphasizes reading as an invitation to make your own world out of a text, never drawing lines between what is real or not, what happened or did not happen. Goldman's style and tone is in direct opposition to the structure and seriousness of the industry of which he is a part.
The arbitrariness of time, history, and love
The Princess Bride is a story of fantasy, therefore all stories of fantasy require a certain suspension of belief. William Goldman addresses these ideas about fantasy and mocks it, giving strange and parodied reasons for events, entering into the text to assure us that something bad will not (or will) happen. He measures time by arbitrary inventions, once again avoiding the notion of "once upon an unmeasured time." He defies the standards of simple characters or a simple ending, but he still involves super-human strength, miracles, and love that can overcome death. The tendency of his characters to speak too much, rather than in clipped noble phrases, as well as his own tendency to enter into the text perhaps too much, lends very little mystery to the story. We know the characters' backgrounds, awkward phases, and motivations, as so we cannot reduce any of them, nor the text itself, to the simplicity of ordinary fantasy.
Time measured by inventions/statistics
Goldman/Morganstern's use of inventions (before or after America or stew) and statistics (such as ranking of female beauty, or of best kiss) to measure time functions to parody the methods by which we record history. None of these inventions or rankings has single-handedly changed the world, and Goldman seems to imply that very few isolated timepieces actually have changed the world. Most things in this book exist for the higher end of amusement, and these time measurements are no exception. To understand the story, it is not necessary for us to have dates or current rulers. Goldman suggests that it is of much higher importance that we amuse ourselves by watching the progression of Buttercup up the beauty list, or that we consider that stew was probably the world's oldest invention. This motif functions to satire the genre of fantasy, as well as the institution of literature and authorship.
The frequent overturning of picturesque storybook situations
Over and over again, Goldman will set up a scene that appears to be a glorious one, only to promptly overturn it in the next paragraph. For example, the description in quotes of why Inigo loved his father. We are fully prepared for a picturesque, traditional image of love, war, adventure, but each time Goldman adds a twist to throw us off balance. He reminds us that this is not a typical story and that we ought to recognize that since we know so well the elements of this paradigm. Goldman's tone and narrative structure challenges us constantly to reassess our expectations of literature, to prepare our imaginations for surprises and silliness and tangents.
The recurring interruptions of William Goldman
The interruptions of the author/narrator represent literary freedom, and the author/reader's ability to bring whatever he or she has and thinks to the text itself. Goldman's interruption about Robert Browning, for example, has nothing at all to do with this story but happened to pop up in Goldman's mind when he mentioned Morganstern's previous book not having sold well. Goldman's interruptions also allow us to know what will happen before it happens. Because there are supposedly parts of the book that are not important enough to make the good parts cut, these interruptions demonstrate the necessity to view a text as something linear and malleable, rather than a static, stoic piece of work.
The use of the superior
Each of the main characters is the best at something: Inigo, steel; Fezzik, strength; Vizzini, wits; Buttercup, beauty; Humperdinck, hunting; Westley, surviving. Naturally, Westley's strength places him above every other man, since he is faced with death again and again and overcomes each threat in the threats own arena. Having all of the characters represent the beat of their field elevates the story to an epic status, of super-human people dueling with unbelievable skill. In another sense, these superior qualities make the characters' weaknesses and flaws even funnier and more endearing, as we see them juxtaposed with such greatness.