Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Princess Bride: William Goldman

The Princess Bride, by William Goldman, is the second book I have read for the Once Upon a Time challenge. I think I must be the only person in the world who has not either watched the movie, The Princess Bride, or read the book. The book was published in 1973; the movie came out in 1987.


For the most part, The Princess Bride was a very enjoyable read. This is a story within a story, and it is very clever. The two stories are very different in tone. The story of the princess bride is a fairy tale with characters who are either very good or very bad, and frequent escapes from very difficult circumstances.On the title page of the edition I read, it is described as a "Tale of True Love and High Adventure." The framing story tells the reader how and why the author decided to abridge the very long and sometimes boring version of the The Princess Bride, as originally written by S. Morgenstern.

There were times when I found it difficult to believe that this was intended as a book for children. I don't know what Goldman's intentions were, but I know that many children do read it.  This story has a lot of violence, but that bothered me less than the elements of torture. Torture is something that bothers me in a novel, even a fantasy. Maybe as a child, I would have taken it less seriously. (Note that I am not in favor of limiting children's reading. My reading as a child was not monitored -- to my knowledge -- and I did not censor my son's reading.)

At Common Sense Media, in the section "What parents need to know", they describe the book in this way:
...this sharp-edged fairy tale is geared to tweens and older. The cliffhangers are more intense and some scenes are scarier than in the film version. You'll find truly evil villains, murder, swordfights, knives, blood, poisoning, kidnapping, torture, giant carnivorous rats and eels, and similar scary stuff.

I have read reviews and analyses that examine the post-modern elements of this book. I don't know enough about post-modern literature to comment on that with any intelligence. I enjoyed Goldman's framing story and his cynical and barbed comments more than the basic adventure story; yet at times he was too negative, and the comments took me out of the main story towards the end. I am sure that was intentional.

My overall opinion is that this is an interesting and entertaining story that can be enjoyed at many levels. And, yes, I am now going to watch the movie, sometime soon.

31 comments:

  1. Tracy, both this book and "Chinatown Beat" by Henry Chang certainly sound interesting. I think the HP series has all but obliterated the line between children's and adult fiction with violence and torture woven effortlessly into stories meant for young minds and read by all.

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    1. Prashant, they are both interesting books and so different. I still haven't read the last Harry Potter book. Yes, my friend who writes YA books has discussed how really most books can be enjoyed by any age group if they are good. But I wish they would leave torture out, just for me.

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  2. Was it ever intended for children? Although it was inspired by stories that he told his children, the book seems to me to be something that he wrote because he wanted to write it, rather than because he was aiming for a particular market. As to the nastiness, when I was a kid I read the novelizations of the DOCTOR WHO TV series. These were very firmly marketed as 'Children's/TV-tie in' on the back cover, but they included violent death, torture, mental possession and general horror. I once met one of the authors, and he told me that he would rather tell kids that there are horrible things in the world, but they can be vanquished, instead of trying to kid them that he world is perfectly safe.

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    1. Sextonblake, you are probably right... that it wasn't really intended for children and I agree that it isn't really harmful. I was just surprised. I am sure most kids today have a higher tolerance for torture than I do at my age. My reading in my early teens was adult mysteries, but tamer ones like Rex Stout and the Perry Mason series.

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  3. Tracy - I know exactly what you mean about the intensity of this story for children. Like you I don't condone censorship but it is good I think for parents to know about some of the more intense parts of the novel.

    I agree the novel is entertaining and I respected Goldman's folding of one story into another. That takes skill. Now I'm wondering what you will think of the film once you've seen it.

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    1. Margot, this was another book I wish I had read earlier. Makes me want to read more by Goldman. My son is a fan of both the book and the movie, so I expect to like the movie.

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  4. Aha, at last something I feel I can give a wide berth to!
    Out of curiosity have you watched the US tv show of a similiar name? The second series just started in the UK, which my wife and daughters watch. I have been known to lift my head out of a book, and sneak a peek or two. Robert Carlyle is definitely the star with his Rumpelstiltskin. Quite a clever show in my opinion - which I don't always say about the us imports we get.

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  5. I suppose I could have clicked the link myself and checked to see if it was related, before prattling on. Sorry!

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    1. Col, no worries. I have not tried that series. There are a couple of US TV series based on fairy tales. We stick mainly with crime shows and try not to add more to our TV watching menu, or we would never get in the reading we want to do.

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  6. I was never drawn to this book, though like you I sometimes felt I was the only person who hadn't seen the film or read the book. I have liked several other William Goldman projects - Butch Cassidy, and Marathon Man, and his very interesting books on Hollywood. Perhaps I should give it a try....

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    1. I would be interested to know what you thought about it. I had no idea what it was like and my son had been encouraging me to read it for years. The books on Hollywood do sound interesting. With his writing style I think anything he wrote would be readable.

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  7. I just watched this movie with my sister. She hadn't seen it, either - and I have no idea how she managed not to! I practically had the dialog memorized by the time I read this book as a teenager (sort of like reading Pride and Prejudice after watching the BBC version too many times). I got some good laughs out of the book, but I think the movie was just as good. William Goldman wrote the screenplay, so of course the movie stayed pretty close to the book.

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    1. I am eager to watch the movie. I expect to like it as well or better than the book.

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  8. Tracy- I'm a fan of the movie and the book though I haven't read/watched them in ages, but I imagine I'll be watching it on repeat as my daughters get older (or so I hope!).

    The postmodern comment, I think, is to point out that the story is also a story about telling stories. I don't think that commenting about the story as it progresses is really uniquely postmodern, but that's a whole other topic.

    Signed,
    A former English major

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    1. Rebecca, one review mentioned metafiction as a device used in this book. I plan to seek out postmodern mysteries and try to understand more about the concept. I don't need to know the concepts to enjoy a book but it bugs me when I can't "get" a concept. So I want to expand my knowledge in that area.

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  9. I haven't read the book or seen the film either. But I know more about the book now. Probably not my thing but thanks for the review.

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    1. Sarah, I think that there are depths in this book that I have not plumbed, so will probably reread it one day. But I am a big believer in not spoiling the fun for someone who is new to the book, and anything more I could have said would have spoiled it for me as a new reader. Anyway, a good experience for me, but not for everyone.

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  10. I'd like to read this one eventually, but there are so many more higher on the list. The movie's cute enough though.

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    1. Carol, I know the problem ... too many books. If I had not challenged myself to fit in some fantasy, I would have still not gotten to this book. I am glad I did.

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  11. This is one of my favourite books TracyK - but then I am a huge fan of William Goldman as a novelist and screenwriter. The movie is quite different in many respects, and Buttercup is probably a better character in the book, but it's wonderful all the same. I don;t believe this is aimed at children though - certainly not pre-teen anyway. It's worth getting the 25th annicersaty edition with Goldman's sequel novella, BUTTERCUP'S BABY - He also wrote another book as by 'S. Morgernstern', THE SILENT GONDOLIERS, which is very short and with illustrations and more obviously child friendly.

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    1. Sergio, I was hoping you would comment, because I know you like the book (and the author). Reading this has certainly encouraged me to seek out more books by Goldman. I will let you know what I think of the movie... and I am sure I will like it.

      The copy I read belongs to my son and I like it, a paperback with the little map. But I will seek out my own copy and was planning to look for a later edition with the addition of Buttercup's Baby. And I did not know about The Silent Gondoliers, and will look for that. We collect illustrated books, which we started doing when my son was young, so it would fit right it.

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  12. I really enjoyed reading this one--and it's on my reread list for some time, er, soon. We'll see! I've only read the book once, but I've seen the movie many times, so it's the stronger in my mind. I think you'll find the movie to be lighter in many ways. Or maybe it's just the humor that stands out to me!

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    1. Cheryl,I am glad I finally read this. I know what you mean about planning to read books soon. And it taking a long time.

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  13. Well, I think I'm the odd man out on this one, I just don't like the movie. When I was a kid, I couldn't stand it, though I don't remember why. As an adult, it just doesn't hold my interest for very long. Because of that, I've never felt a desire to read the book. While I'm sure the book is better, I think there are a lot of books out there that I would like even more.

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    1. Ryan, my husband did not like the movie either... and has not read the book. Haven't seen the movie yet, so don't know from personal experience, but I think the movie and the book are different. The basic story is the same.

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    2. I'm glad I'm not alone on that one then :-)

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  14. I've read the book and watched the film although not in that order and really enjoyed both. It never occurred to me about what target audience this is aimed at to be honest. Interesting. I definitely wouldn't think it would hold appeal for children under a certain age though.
    Lynn :D

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    1. Lynn, I agree, probably would not appeal to younger children, unless maybe if it was read to them. Although the reading maturity of children varies. From my point of view, the best parts would only be understood by adults.

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  15. Interesting you should review this just when I bought it during a daily deal with Amazon not that long ago. Glad you enjoyed it, TracyK! I did see the movie and thought it was funny.

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    1. Keishon, it is serendipity. I am expecting to like the movie and looking forward to seeing it for the first time. Interesting, I thought my son had seen it, but he now tells me that he does not remember seeing it. So it will be interesting to see what he thinks too.

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    2. I'm rewatching it tonight, in light of your review of it. Hope you both enjoy!

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