If you’ve never heard of S. Morgenstern, then you aren’t alone.If you’ve never heard of S. Morgenstern, then you aren’t alone, although it’s likely that you’ve heard of his work. Morgenstern is the author of the abridged ‘good parts version’ of The Princess Bride. He also does not exist, and nor does a full, unabridged version of the book.
At this moment, you may very well be surprised to find that The Princess Bride is based on a novel at all. In the minds of many fans, The Princess Bride will always be a cult classic hit film from the mid-80s. However, that movie, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, was adapted from the original text by the same man who wrote it, William Goldman.
Confused? Goldman, who grew up in Illinois and received his M.A. from Columbia, first wrote The Princess Bride as a novel in 1973. S. Morgenstern was a nom de plume- a red herring, as one Amazon reviewer put it- chosen to further the association between Princess Bride and the more traditional Victorian fairy tales it parodies. Goldman’s other screenplays include Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and All the President’s Men.
When I first picked up The Princess Bride, I had no idea that a movie edition existed.Ironically, when I first picked up The Princess Bride, I had no idea that a movie edition existed (yes, I know, I live under a rock). I had just finished T.H. White’s surprisingly slapstick Once and Future King, and a brief read of the synopsis convinced me that The Princess Bride would be an ideal continuation of the odd fantasy/humor binge that I was on at the time.
When I read the book, I was oblivious to the fact that over two decades after the movie’s initial release, “S. Morgenstern’s” creation still enjoyed a sizeable and thriving fan base. As of the writing of this post, The Princess Bride maintains a 96 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Look up the word “inconceivable” in the dictionary, and you’ll probably find a picture of Wallace Shawn (Vizzini) there.
So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty: is the book better?So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty: is the book better? In my honest opinion, I would rate them as equals. William Goldman himself penned the screenplay, after all. As in many occasions when the original author has creative involvement with a movie adaptation, the finished film remained quite true to the novel. But of course, with 500 pages at his disposal, Goldman had much more time to flesh out his fabled countries of Guilder and Florin in print, providing maps and detailed histories.
One facet of the book that is mostly lost in the movie is the alternating narration between Goldman as “Morgenstern”- a somewhat dry, omniscient storyteller- and Goldman in first person, commenting bluntly on the story as himself. Part of what makes The Princess Bride so unique is its unabashed self-awareness, and the manner in which the author refuses to take his own characters seriously, very unlike the conventional fairy tales that Goldman fondly mocks.
If you’re like me, and don’t own anything beyond a very basic cable package, it’s possible that you haven’t run across the movie so many times while clicking through channels that you’re sick to death of it. Or even if you have but still harbor a stubborn love for Buttercup and Westley, I’d recommend giving the book a go. It’s charming, it’s funny, and as promised, contains: “Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passions.”