Look what my favorite offspring gave me yesterday!
I discovered the Princess Bride in its first edition when I was a teenager in the mid-1970’s. I loved it. LOVED IT. It remains one of my favorite books in all the world, and I have owned many copies and many editions of it. (My favorite back-cover blurb read simply: “What happens when the most beautiful woman in the world marries the most handsome prince in the world and he turns out to be a son of a bitch?”) I usually keep at least one extra copy on hand because this is a book I push on people.
They wave it away dismissively. “I’ve seen the movie,” they tell me. “But you haven’t READ it,” I insist as I make them take the book anyway. The book contains all the good parts and many good parts didn’t make it into the 1987 movie.
Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest ladies. Snakes. Spiders. Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles.
For years I refused to see the movie. I could not bear the thought of my beloved book ruined by Hollywood’s chop-shop attitude toward beloved books.
I need not have delayed. William Goldman was both the author and the screenwriter. William Goldman, who wrote such classic screenplays as Butch Cassidy & Sundance Kid. Yes, THAT screenwriter. My beloved book was in the very best hands for the job. It was in the hands of the brilliant S. Morgenstern himself.
When the swordfight between the Spaniard and the Six-Fingered Count finally arrived on screen during that first reluctant viewing, I probably shouted with delight. Mandy Patinkin got it exactly right – exactly as I had pictured it in my head for all those years. “HELLO. MY NAME IS INIGO MONTOYA. YOU KILLED MY FATHER. PREPARE TO DIE.” And Patinkin delivered the ultimate line when Count Rugen promises Inigo anything – anything! – if Inigo will please not kill him, with perfect anger and finality: “I want my father back, you son of a bitch.”
Billy Crystal’s Miracle Max was spot-on. Goldman literally conceived of Fezzik as Andre the Giant. Very briefly after my divorce, I dated a guy who was a dead ringer for the non-hunchbacked, screen version of the Sicilian Vizzini. The relationship was doomed when he didn’t understand why I kept referring to his need for an immunity to iocane powder or why the word “inconceivable” seemed to slip into the conversation so much. I will admit that I thought Cary Elwes was a little too pretty and not quite muscle-bound enough to be Westley, but Chris Hemsworth was still in diapers. I will also confess that I own a CD of Mark Knopfler’s soundtrack to the movie.
As I flip through the beautiful pages of this edition, I see illustrations straight out of my reader’s memory. I reread favorite passages that I had memorized before I was old enough to drink alcohol legally. Some passages didn’t make it into the movie, like the very beginning of the book:
Chapter One. The Bride.
The year that Buttercup was born, the most beautiful woman in the world was a French scullery maid named Annette. Annette worked in Paris for the Duke and Duchess de Guiche, and it did not escape the Duke’s notice that someone extraordinary was polishing the pewter. The Duke’s notice did not escape the notice of the Duchess either, who was not very beautiful and not very rich, but plenty smart. The Duchess set about studying Annette and shortly found her adversary’s tragic flaw.
Armed now, the Duchess set to work. The Palace de Guiche turned into a candy castle. Everywhere you looked, bonbons. There were piles of chocolate-covered mints in the drawing rooms, baskets of chocolate-covered nougats in the parlors.
Annette never had a chance. Inside a season, she went from delicate to whopping, and the Duke never glanced in her direction without sad bewilderment clouding his eyes. (Annette, it might be noted, seemed only cheerier throughout her enlargement. She eventually married the pastry chef and they both ate a lot until old age claimed them…).
Goldman brilliantly used the device of an editor inserting himself into the narrative to explain “cuts” in the “abridged version”. The movie changed that device somewhat and while Peter Falk still would have been the perfect immigrant father reading to his very ill son in the 1940’s, I deeply regretted the loss of the scenes in Los Angeles and New York, with that sick little boy all grown up and desperate to find a copy in English (not in the original Florinese) to give to his own son.
This is my favorite book in all the world, and I have read it countless times. I will read it countless more, I am sure.
Thank you, Jack! There’s a reason you’re my favorite.