The Princess Bride and Fairy Tales

21787This is the first time I’ve ever read The Princess Bride. Don’t judge me.

I had this book on my shelf for a long time, having picked it up at a pizzeria in New Jersey, Nunzio’s, where they seriously let their customers take books home from their shelves. I suggest you pay a visit. Oh, and their pizza is pretty good, too. (Actually, it’s fantastic, but I digress.) I walked out of this place with a full belly and felt like a bandit, carrying The Princess Bride under my arm after asking the owner, “Wait. You mean I can really just take this?” So yeah—pretty awesome.

The Princess Bride is entwined so tightly with our culture that I couldn’t believe I’d never read it before, especially given my adolescent love for all things fairy tale. The Princess Bride mocks and satirizes fairy tales without once diminishing their importance and their power. You have to love something well to make fun of it well. The Princess Bride achieves that.

Here’s one of my favorite passages from the book:

“Do I love you? My God, if your love were a grain of sand, mine would be a universe of beaches! If your love were—”

“I don’t understand that first one yet,” Buttercup interrupted. She was starting to get very excited now. “Let me get this straight. Are you saying my love is a grain of sand and yours is this other thing? Images confuse me so—is this universal business of yours bigger than my sand? Help me, Westley. I have the feeling we’re on the verge of something just terribly important.”

Part of the brilliance of this book lies in its central conceit: the whole thing is presented as an abridgement of a classic fairy tale by a man named S. Morgenstern who wrote this story based on the true events of a European country called Florin. And then the fairy tale itself is bookended by William Goldman’s reminiscences of his father reading the book to him when he was a kid. The result is a fairy tale that comments on fairy tales, both within the main fantasy story and Goldman’s commentary. And it’s hysterical!

The thing I loved most about this book were the complex characters. You know Inigo Montoya, but I also loved Fezzik the rhyming, gentle giant; Westley, the farm-boy-turned-pirate who is an expert at everything; and especially Buttercup, the most beautiful woman in a hundred years who is also kind of dumb, a little bit selfish, and definitely conceited. It’s definitely a satire!

I also loved how much importance the author places on stories: telling children stories, hearing stories told, believing in them wholly and allowing them to change you. That’s what I love about reading, and about writing. The truth can be told in countless, endless ways.

“I mean, I really do think that love is the best thing in the world, except for cough drops. But I also have to say, for the umpty-umpth time, that life isn’t fair. It’s just fairer than death, that’s all.”

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