Princess Bride Re-Analysis

(PBR) analysis by Denise Bartolome

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“My love is like a storybook story…but it’s as real as the feelings I feel”

Need I explain more? If so, just comment.



Similar to movies such as The Truman Show, Ghost in a Shell, and A Scanner Darkly, we see a simulacra of sorts in The Princess Bride. We see this play on what’s real and not real primarily through the reality that Goldman creates using his excisions. He uses the excisions to complement the fantastic tale of Westley, his beloved Buttercup, and friends. The “reality” of the fake history of Florin and Morgensten and the fake family and publishing anecdotes provides readers with a sense of reality. The purpose is to enrich the experience of The Princess Bride because part of the anticipation comes from understanding the process of how the novel was made. In this case, it was fake so do the excisions actually enrich? Yes, because in the end, you are amazed at how real the “reality” in the novel seemed to be. You get a good laugh at yourself as well.

Plato's Cave

Goldman’s trickery and what it means

At first, we are left wondering if true love exists because Goldman poses a contradiction when he says that there is no such thing as true love and then shows true love primarily between Westley and Buttercup (but also in the bromance between Inigo and Fezzik).

I think the answer is very subjective but I like to think that the secret to Goldman’s belief lies in how he said each argument. It was in an excision where Goldman said the bit about true love not being real. If you recall, his excisions are actually “fake reality” and if a lot of the things that he said in his excisions were a lie…then it seems to follow that his statement about true love not existing is a “fake statement.” Perhaps he did this in order to highlight the “realness” of true love in a story that is supposed to be fantasy.

We also know that at the end of the book, Goldman completes his phrase about life by ultimately saying, “Life is not fair…but it’s fairer than death.” see here. In a similar fashion, Goldman completes his phrase about true love by showing that it exists but we have to literally find out for ourselves–by Googling. When I googled Simon Morgenstern and Florin, I realized that his excisions were a “fake reality” and thus another “fantasy.” If you put together his “fake reality” (excisions) and “fantasy” (tale of high adventure with Westley and Buttercup and friends), we are left with all fantasy which means that it’s up to us to realize that Goldman really does believe in happiness, life, and the true love that comes with it. If what I said was confusing, perhaps this song will be useful: Princess Bride Theme Song by Mark Knopfler

“Life is not fair…it’s just fairer than death”

It’s all about PAIN, a main theme in the novel.

Westley coming back to life after being fed the fantasmagoria concocted by Miracle Max and Valerie.

William Goldman supposedly came in contact with a writer named Edith Neisser. One day, while “sipping iced tea” she apparently told him that “life isn’t fair…we tell our children that it is, but it’s a terrible thing to do. It’s not only a lie, it’s a cruel lie. Life is not fair, and it never has been, and it’s never going to be” (p.217).

111 pages later, at one of the endings of the novel, Goldman writes about happy endings. Westley, Buttercup, Inigo, and Fezzik had ridden away on white horses. Goldman wrote that

“yes…they got away…But that doesn’t mean I think they had a happy ending either. Because, in my opinion anyway, they squabbled a lot, and Buttercup lost her looks eventually, and one day Fezzik lost a fight and some hotshot kid whipped Inigo with a sword and Westley was never able to really sleep sound because of Humperdinck maybe being on the trail.

I’m not trying to make this a downer, understand. 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 upty-umpth time, that life isn’t fair. It’s just fairer than death, that’s all.”

It seems pretty obvious but if you choose to read into it (which I did), this can be seen as a metaphor for happiness and sadness. Interesting turn of phrase since usually, phrases are meant to reveal something about life. Well, it still does but the metaphor comes from using the concept of life and death to reveal something about life’s happiness and life’s deep sadness. We see evidence of this in certain passages in the book. Each character, at some point, contemplates about what makes them happy and what makes them sad. And every time they talk about their deep pit of sad scenarios, death is recognized.

1. Buttercup would rather die than live without Westley.
2. Westley would rather die than live knowing that his love is marrying his murderer while he’s helpless (this was when Westley’s body was immobile).
3. Inigo Montoya would rather die than be defeated by the man who killed his father.
4. Fezzik is deathly afraid of being alone and especially is deathly afraid of losing Inigo, his life partner of rhymes.

It’s all about pain because there is pain involved in fear and the actual falling into a pit of depression. There’s an entire section starting on p.233 where The Count uses The Machine on Westley and “the science” of pain is revealed.

betrayal of a laughing kind

Vizzini "the Sicilian" who died laughing thinking that he had fooled Westley in a game of wits (p.165)

I was really angry when I found out that Simon Morgenstern is actually a pseudonym and narrative device by William Goldman and that the country of Florin isn’t really a country. He duped me. But it was alright because the joke was on myself. The only thing that makes me angry is that I told a friend about how the book is an adaptation of a much longer work written centuries ago by someone named Morgenstern. Fun fact fail. At least it was just one person. I like to share fun facts with people and I’m glad I didn’t share with too many people yet. If I did, I would have been 20 degrees of anger more angry.

excisions, an aesthetic

Excisions are the italicized passages that Goldman likes to “interject” into the story of Wesley, Buttercup, and Co. The excisions act as a narrative device meant to show reality within the fantastic story of romance and high adventure.

Usually, the excisions are about Goldman’s personal life–primarily about his family, personal struggles in producing the book, and his overall publishing process. Before finding out more about the Simon Morgenstern that wrote the original Princess Bride and eventually, about this country called Florin, I believed that everything that was italicized was true.

And then I finished the book and looked up a lot of facts.

They were not true.

As an aesthetic, the excisions are really effective in giving readers a sense of reality to compare with the fantasy portion of the novel. The aesthetic is very similar to the one that we can observe in the popular T.V. show, How I Met Your Mother. Sometimes, in the show, we hear Ted narrating a scene multiple times and each time, the visual changes so that characters are saying things differently, dressing differently, or holding props as a way to show how Ted, the narrator, is thinking through the story he wants to say. Goldman’s excisions have the similar effect of letting the audience in on his storytelling process.

Arguably, we really can’t say that the excisions are excisions because the italicized passages supposedly about Goldman’s real life are actually not true. The excisions are a “fake reality” that is actually another layer of fantasy that Goldman uses to create a sense of reality vs. fantasy.

This topic reminds me of Peter Elbow’s article called “The Believing Game–Methodological Believing.” In the article, Elbow defines two main ideas: the doubting game and believing game.

The doubting game represents the kind of thinking most widely honored and taught in our
culture. It’s sometimes called “critical thinking.” It’s the disciplined practice of trying to be as skeptical and analytic as possible with every idea we encounter. By trying hard to doubt ideas,
we can discover hidden contradictions, bad reasoning, or other weaknesses in them–especially
in the case of ideas that seem true or attractive. We are using doubting as a tool in order to
scrutinize and test.

In contrast, the believing game is the disciplined practice of trying to be as welcoming or
accepting as possible to every idea we encounter: not just listening to views different from our
own and holding back from arguing with them; not just trying to restate them without bias;
but actually trying to believe them. We are using believing as a tool to scrutinize and test. But
instead of scrutinizing fashionable or widely accepted ideas for hidden flaws, the believing game
asks us to scrutinize unfashionable or even repellent ideas for hidden virtues. Often we cannot
see what’s good in someone else’s idea (or in our own!) till we work at believing it. When an
idea goes against current assumptions and beliefs–or if it seems alien, dangerous, or poorly
formulated—we often cannot see any merit in it.

In Princess Bride, we see a balance of Peter Elbow’s “doubting game” and “believing game.”

dystopia found in “The Machine”

In a way, the negative use of machines and technology in The Princess Bride shows a type of dystopia. By having the “bad guys” use and title a torturing contraption as “the Machine” we see how technology is used for bad rather than good. One could argue that later, when Westley is revived by Miracle Max, technology can be used in a positive way. However, it’s not really technology because Miracle Max uses magic and witchcraft.

p. 237-238, The Count’s almost-monologue about pain to Westley, who he had been torturing for a month:

“I think pain is the most underrated emotion available to us…The Serpent, to my interpretation, was pain. Pain has been with us always, and it always irritates me when people say ‘as imporant as life and death’ because the proper phrase, to my mind, should be, ‘as important as pain and death.’ One of my theories is that pain involves anticipation. Nothing original, I admit, but I’m going to demonstrate to you what I mean: I will not, underline not, use the Machine on you this evening…But instead I will simply erect it and leave it beside you, for you to stare at the next twenty-four hours…

…I want you to know one thing before tomorrow night happens to you, and I mean it: you are the strongest, the most brilliant and brave, the most altogether worthy creature it has ever been my privilege to meet, and I fell almost sad that, for the purposes of my book and future pain scholars, I must destroy you..

And you can stop all your performing about how weak and beaten you are; you haven’t fooled me for a month. You’re practically as strong now as on the day you entered the Fire Swamp. I know your secret, if that’s any consolation to you

You’ve been taking your brain away…You raise your eyes and drop your eyelids and then you’re off, probably with–I don’t know–her, most likely.”

“As you wish” –Westley

It’s just so damn sexy knowing it’s coming from a handsome stable boy who basically becomes a prince of every boy’s dream kingdom–a kingdom without borders. That was a leap but hear me out: Westley is introduced (both in the movie and in the book) as a guy who gets things done. The tall, man-of-few-words-thus-mysterious caricature is cliche but effective in getting across an essential component for a fantastical story. BUT is it really all in the realm of fantasy? One can argue the other way and say that there is a realism in this fantastical depiction of Westley. If we consider that Buttercup and Westley are in their teens, it makes sense that the lens with which we see Westley is fantastical. It makes sense that Westley looks like a golden Adonis despite the soot on his face. We’re seeing Westley through Buttercup’s eyes–eyes which are young and impressionable. In reality, hot people are viewed as fantastical. And then we discover that they’re human, which is what happens as the story progresses.

As a hero in the book, Westley is set up to be this fantastic guy who can do anything and it starts with three little words, “As you wish.” This phrase implies that he can do anything and throughout the rest of the novel, this description is put to the test. What I’m saying (to tie it all together) is that Goldman sets Westley up so that we can discover that he’s human despite his amazing good looks. Westley starts out as a fantastical sort of hero that turns out to be a more realistic hero(given the rules of “magic” in the novel) because we are given a chance to observe his flaws.

About the kingdom: he turns into the Dreaded Pirate Robert which means that he’s a sort of prince of the sea.

bashing the wifey

I don’t really get why Goldman keeps bashing his wife (Helen) in the introduction and passages in between the story about Westley and Buttercup. It’s really kind of weird because it seems that Goldman is bipolar about women; one minute he’s talking about how annoying they can be (mostly Helen), the next moment he’s devoting a passage about their beauty (mostly Buttercup). Right now, my conclusion: G-man is either bipolar or bitter about his lot in life. I’m waiting to have some sort of epiphany about his aesthetic choice. Goldman wrote:

“…take the title words–‘true love and high adventure’–I believed in that once. I thought my life was going to follow that path. Prayed that it would. Obviously it didn’t, but I don’t think there’s high adventure left anymore. Nobody takes out a sword nowadays and cries,’Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father; prepare to die!’

And true love you can forget about that too. I don’t know if I love anything truly anymore beyond the porterhouse at Peter Luger’s and the cheese enchilada at El Parador’s. (Sorry about that, Helen.)”

(p. 32)

and builds up in p. 177-180

“At this point in the story, my wife wants it known that she feels violently cheated, not being allowed the scene of reconciliation on teh ravine floor between the lovers.he[Morgenstern] was continually referring to his wife in the unabridged book…Mrs. Morgenstern was rarely anything but supportive to her husband, unlike some wives I could mention (sorry about that, Helen)…”

finally, on p. 218, Goldman writes a line about the reality of life. He jabs at his son and of course, Helen as well:

“…I got a cold wife; she’s brilliant, she’s stimulating, she’s terrific; there’s no love; that’s okay too, just so long as we don’t keep expecting everything to somehow even out for us before we die.”

Yes…there is a theme of “(sorry about that, Helen).” I know it’s all supposed to be funny but every time there’s an excision in the text, I think about how Goldman had that line about true love not being real. Because of his use of “excisions”, Goldman keeps us grounded to the “real” world in a way that we can’t really get into the text. The fact that what we’re reading is Goldman’s explicitly abridged version of Morgenstein’s The Princess Bride I think has come to be Goldman’s way to remind us of the line between fantasy and reality. So why is this book under the fantasy section if Goldman is constantly interjecting about the real world? I think that even though Goldman doesn’t allow readers to fully get into Buttercup and Westley’s story, that’s not really the point. The fantasy isn’t about Buttercup and Westley; the fanstasy is actually the world that Goldman creates from Buttercup and Westley’s story. The fantasy is Goldman’s story. The fantasy world that we see is, in essence, created by Goldman’s choice in what is important to keep in the abridged version.

See here for a discussion on simulacra.

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