Book Review: The Princess Bride

November 12, 2009

What happened was just this:  I got hooked on the story.
For the first time in my life, I became actively interested in a book.  Me the sports fanatic, me the game freak, me the only ten-year-old in Illinois with a hate on for the alphabet wanted to know what happened next.

I picked up The Princess Bride by William Goldman because a friend of mine said she loves it lots and lots–more than the movie.  That intrigued me because I’ve heard lots of gushing over the movie in my time, but that was the first time I’d really ever heard someone say they loved the book.  It may have been the first time I realized the movie was based on a book.

princessbrideI was also really intrigued because I’m not that big a fan of the movie.  I know, intellectually, that I should like it.  It should be really funny and interesting to me, but it’s just not.  (And to prove it, I rewatched the movie after I finished the book and still got bored before the end and started finding other stuff to do.)  The movie is really great at capturing the overall spirit of the book–most of the fantastic quotes come straight from the novel–but it pales in comparison to the book, which is an absolute delight.

What I Liked

– The book is FUNNY.  I found myself laughing out loud lots and lots of times.

– The metanarrative. This is a story within a story that tells a story, and the most important part of the story is the absolute joy of reading.  The breakout quote I used is from the story that shapes the story (William Goldman’s father reads this book to him), and it just really shows what Goldman was going for with the whole thing.  That thrill that reading brings, that insatiable need to keep reading just to see what’s going to happen.  That’s what reading should be, and that his father in the story is an illiterate man who makes the book better by omitting the boring parts is the biggest call to editing ever.  It is AWESOME.

– The story of Westley and his quest to recapture Buttercup.  It has action, adventure, sword fights…well, you know the spiel from the movie.  All of that is in there.

– Awesome characters with great backstories and fully realized motivations.

– The book is long but doesn’t feel long, and it never gets bogged down in its own cleverness.  And it is extremely clever.

What I Didn’t Like

– I read the 30th anniversary edition, and it has a reader’s guide at the back.  One of the questions is about gender, and gender is VERY problematic in this book, on a lot of levels.  The big problem is that Buttercup is dumb as a post and is the biggest do-nothing character ever.  The way she’s treated in the book is super problematic:  she is nothing but a trophy.  There’s also the gender problems with the metanarrative.  According to ye olde pedia de wiki, Goldman made up the story for his daughters.  In the book, everything is rendered male.  The story is read to a boy by his father, and all of the women are obstacles to be overcome.  It is really kind of a problem.  But I wasn’t thinking about it as I read the story.

That said, the big thing for me was Buttercup and the lack of women in the story, but since the book is satire, it may have been his very intention to bring attention to the lack.  But I doubt it.

In conclusion:  Love, love, love, love, love.  So much fun.

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