‘It’s fiction, it’s all fiction!’ I started shouting to my partner, one cleaning glove on, one washing-up brush in my hand. He frowned. ‘No, I mean it’s ALL fiction!’
That’s me post reading The Princess Bride and googling my way through the confusion of the abridgment of The Princess Bride by William Goldman. I had believed so deeply that indeed this was an abridgment. Also, if this was an abridgment I did not understand what all the fuss was about. I enjoyed the story in italics sometimes more than I really did the story, so why was this story praised so much and wasn’t Morgenstern’s story the big epic that hailed bookstores. Also: what publisher would allow what Goldman claims to be an abridgment to have so many notes on it? And even then: what abridgment would require notes to fill in the story gaps?
Boy, oh boy. Yes, despite all those questions I still believed in Morgenstern. That’s how deep I got lost in it until I read a few articles and the truth settled in. It – is – all – fiction. Up to and including the meeting with Stephen King who was supposedly abridging the sequel Buttercup’s Baby, the remarks on his publisher, which I thought were quite cheeky, and his constant complaints about his family, which in truth were quite brutal.
I took a moment to think. This book was indeed something else. What a work of art.
How Goldman stretches the truth
Whenever I pick up a new book I like a clean slate. If it is recommended to me, that is great, but I do not like knowing what is about to happen. I want the full experience, so whatever my reaction is going to be is an honest one, a fully-experienced one.
Well, The Princess Bride surely was. Goldman stretches out his fiction so far into such unchartered corners you cannot help but believe him.
There’s much that Goldman does to lure you in and make you believe he is indeed abridging The Princess Bride, but the thing he does best is that he never wavers and uses wild techniques.
It starts with the title:
“The Princess Bride.
Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure.
The “Good Parts” Version. Abridged by William Goldman.”
That’s truly where the story starts.
Throughout the story itself, Goldman does a lot to pile on to make the reader believe. One of the most notable ones is his call to the reader to request Goldman’s reunion scene. But he doesn’t just ask the reader to request it. He adds his editors name and address. He even puts a footnote there that you can go to PrincessBrideBook.com to request this scene.
No one ever got the scene.
No one ever will get the scene, because he is ‘legally not allowed’.
That’s how far his narrative goes.
And then take the epilogue; a lengthy display of how he was not allowed to abridge Morgenstern’s second book ‘Buttercup’s Baby’, meeting with Stephen King, the assigned abridger. King goes as far as making comments that Goldman never even visited Florin and Guilder. How could he abridge a story with so much culture if he never even saw the place, never even saw the Cliffs of Insanity?
Now I know a fair bit of topography. I also know cliffs aren’t often called Cliffs of Insanity. I know that a Guilder is an old coin from my home country. Call me daft or call it Goldman’s writing. I fell for it!
What about the actual story of The Princess Bride?
Well, the story about Westley and Buttercup is pretty rad. Think sword-fighting, revenge, an evil prince, a princess, a hero. It has a fairy tale classic written all over it and is really quite enjoyable. It has a wealth of classic tropes that blend well with a good pinch of humour. A giant who likes to rhyme. A genius hunchback who doesn’t know how to use ‘inconceivable’ quite right.
The only drawback for me was Buttercup. I could do with her being slightly less dim-witted and not just described as beautiful. Indeed the book could do with more (strong) female characters on the whole. On the other hand Goldman describes his psychologist wife as quite the strong and intelligent character. He also complains about her a lot… In that sense, having been published in 1973… Yeah, it hasn’t aged well.
Nevertheless, I do think there’s a lot of charm in the story, but to me it wouldn’t be quite the same tale if it weren’t for the notes of Goldman’s throughout the story. It adds a lot of spice to the tale and brings this extra layer to the narrative that I’ve never truly read in the same way.
It feels like you’re being read to while at the same time hearing what that narrator thinks about the story. It’s the 70s version of live commentary and it is wildly entertaining.
I’m going to step away from this book and read it again in a little while now that I know what I know. I’m ready for a lot of smirks during that second reading session.
This book review on techniques used in fiction is part of a series I run on my blog. Interested in reading more? Read my writing review on The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde or my review on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein!
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