The Princess Bride assumes a familiarity with fairy tales and folktales, which commonly depict sorcerers, beautiful princesses, evil noblemen, and young heroes on quests. In this tradition, evil is thwarted, rightful kings are restored to their thrones, and the hero marries the beautiful girl. William Goldman’s book argues that things rarely work out so neatly in real life. He shows too that heroes do not possess endless strength or always make the right decisions. The admirable Inigo, for example, turns to drinking when he feels depressed, and Buttercup suffers terrible guilt over choosing to live without love rather than to die with Westley in the Fire Swamp. The book shows, however, that friendship can strengthen weakening resolve and rouse the courage to survive hard times. Inigo’s dedication of his life to avenging his father’s death is problematical, but his kindness and loyalty to the dim-witted Fezzik are poignantly portrayed and contribute to a depth in his character that the more conventionally heroic Westley lacks. Young readers will feel that these characters are more realistic than the one-dimensional figures of folktales, and they may take the next step of understanding that Goldman is contrasting fiction with real life.
Young people may not comprehend fully the parody of the novel, but they can enjoy the rapidly paced adventures and appreciate the “life is not fair” moral. The lasting appeal of Goldman’s novels and screenplays arises from his consistent emphasis on the importance of friendship and loyalty. The Princess Bride has retained its popularity, especially after its 1987 adaptation as a successful film directed by Rob Reiner.