William Goldman’s work is varied, and this book is different from his dominant forms, screenplays and “realistic” novels in different genres. Since the publication of The Princess Bride, his fiction has included another tale by the imaginary S. Morgenstern, The Silent Gondoliers (1983). In 1974, he wrote a screenplay of The Princess Bride, which was filmed in 1987.
This novel is an affectionate and humorous spoof on fairy tales and swashbuckling romances. Most of the characters subvert their traditional stereotypes: The beautiful heroine is slow-witted, the giant is afraid of booing crowds, and the evil stepmother is not evil. As are most fairy tales, this one is disconnected from ordinary time, but it is self-conscious about time: The narrator often interrupts to explain why a detail is not anachronistic. The tale is, however, traditional in its adventure and the characters’ acceptance of the fantastic as normal. The frame establishes credibility and moves the reader from the real to the fantasy world; for example, the narrator (who lives in his own illusory world) reports that his father is Florinese.
The book is very self-conscious. The main narrative is interrupted by the narrator’s explanations of his abridgements. Among the alleged excisions are a history of the Florinese crown and a reunion scene between Buttercup and Westley (he provides his publisher’s address so readers can request more details). These red-ink digressions comment on the writing process itself. For example, the narrator notes Morgenstern’s abundant use of parentheses and congratulates Morgenstern on fooling the reader into thinking Buttercup’s marriage has taken place when Buttercup had only dreamed that the event occurred. The red passages also escalate suspense by slowing the narration and allow the author to offer three endings: Morgenstern’s ambivalent ending, the romantic happily-ever-after ending of the narrator’s father, and the narrator’s own practical ending.
Goldman often writes about naïveté and illusion, themes explored in this novel. Characters from both the frame narrative and the fairy tale display varieties of naïveté. Most learn that life is not fair and that varieties of pain are infinite, but most affirm that life is “fairer than death.” The reader still gets a romance in which “true love” can bring one back from the dead.