The Princess Bride

by William Goldman

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The Plot

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The novel begins with an explanation of how the narrator came to abridge the book. His father had read The Princess Bride, by S. Morgenstern, to him when he had pneumonia as a child. Remembering the story fondly, the narrator was shocked that his own son hated it until he realized that his father had skipped the boring passages when reading it to him. The narrator edited the book, leaving only “the good parts” and adding comments in red type throughout. This process resulted in The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure, the “Good Parts” Version, Abridged.

In this abridged form of an imaginary book, when Buttercup is eighteen years old (and not yet the most beautiful woman in the world), she suddenly notices the stable hand Westley, who has always responded to her orders with “As you wish.” They declare their love, and he leaves to earn his fortune. Buttercup soon learns that he has been killed by pirates and vows never to love again.

Evil Prince Humperdinck of Florin needs a wife and proposes to Buttercup because she is beautiful. Given a choice between marriage and death, Buttercup chooses marriage. Once the wedding is announced, she is kidnapped by men hired by the prince to kill her on the Florin/Guilder border. Humperdinck plans to blame the murder on Guilder, giving him a reason to invade that kingdom. The kidnappers, however, are followed by a man wearing a black mask and hood. This man in black fights and bests each of them: Inigo the master swordsman, who trained for years in order to avenge his father, who was murdered by a six-fingered man; Fezzik, a giant who loves rhymes; and clever Vizzini. The man in black takes Buttercup and flees, but she pushes him over a cliff. As he falls, he whispers, “As you wish.”

Realizing that he is Westley, Buttercup follows him. Together, they cross the dreaded fire swamp, surviving its large rats and quicksand, only to find the prince waiting for them on the other side. Buttercup volunteers to go with the prince if he promises not to hurt Westley. Humperdinck agrees.

Westley is taken to a special hunting zoo, the Zoo of Death, designed especially for the prince. There, Westley is tortured with traditional methods and with the Machine, an invention to administer pain in regulated increments.

Meanwhile, Fezzik and Inigo find each other again. In need of a leader, they search for the man in black. At the castle, Buttercup realizes that the prince has tricked her. She calls the prince a coward, which so enrages him that he rushes to the Zoo of Death and turns the Machine to its highest setting. Westley screams in agony and dies.

Fezzik and Inigo find the man in black dead. They hire Miracle Max to revive him, not realizing that Max cannot immediately reinstate his good health and fighting skills. The most they can expect from the man in black is speech, some arm and leg movement, and perhaps very slow walking.

This trio goes to rescue Buttercup from Prince Humperdinck, who plans to murder her after the marriage ceremony and blame soldiers from Guilder. At the palace, Inigo finds and kills the six-fingered man, Westley outwits the prince, and Fezzik finds four horses. Inigo, Buttercup, and Westley jump out a window into Fezzik’s arms and ride off, fleeing from the inevitable pursuit of the prince.

Form and Content

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Buttercup, a beautiful milkmaid, falls in love with Westley, a farm boy, who sails away to seek his fortune. She sinks into...

(This entire section contains 510 words.)

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grief when she hears that he has been captured by the Dread Pirate Roberts, who never leaves survivors. When Humperdinck, the prince of Florin—who cares only for hunting but demands a good-looking bride to bear his children—orders Buttercup to marry him, she refuses, claiming that she will never love again. Because Humperdinck does not seek love and the alternative is death, however, they become engaged.

Before the wedding, Buttercup is kidnapped by Vizzini, Inigo Montoya, and Fezzik, whom Humperdinck has paid to kill her and leave evidence that will incriminate the country of Guilder, Florin’s enemy, so that Humperdinck can declare war. Fezzik is a powerful giant, and Inigo is the best swordsman in the world, having spent twenty years becoming a master fencer in order to find and kill the six-fingered nobleman who murdered his father. They are pursued, however, by a man in black, who follows them up the Cliffs of Insanity and then bests Inigo in a swordfight, Fezzik in a wrestling match, and Vizzini in a battle of wits.

Buttercup is now in the power of the man in black, who insults her faithlessness and greed. When she pushes him down a ravine, she discovers that it is Westley, who was merely testing her love for him.

Humperdinck and the evil Count Rugen are hunting them, so Buttercup and Westley flee down the ravine into the Fire Swamp, where they are nearly killed by various dangers. Westley explains that he has actually been operating as the Dread Pirate Roberts for some time and that they will be safe when they reach his ship. When they escape the swamp, however, Humperdinck is waiting for them. Buttercup surrenders on the condition that the prince not harm Westley, who is promptly imprisoned in Humperdinck’s Zoo of Death once her back is turned.

Plagued by guilt and nightmares, Buttercup realizes that she can marry only Westley. Humperdinck promises to send a message to learn whether Westley will return to her, but he secretly joins Count Rugen to torture Westley each night. He also plots to strangle Buttercup on their wedding night, again to frame Guilder for the murder.

Fezzik finds Inigo and reveals that the six-fingered man is Count Rugen. Inigo decides to find the man in black in order to devise a way into the castle so that they can rescue Buttercup and kill the count. That night, Buttercup realizes that Humperdinck never sent the message. When she mocks him as a coward, the enraged Humperdinck storms to the torture pit and kills Westley. Inigo and Fezzik sneak into the Zoo and find Westley’s corpse, which they carry to Miracle Max, who resurrects him with a magic pill. During the wedding ceremony, Westley, Inigo, and Fezzik storm the castle and rout the guards. Inigo finds Rugen and kills him, Westley ties up the prince, and the protagonists escape on four white horses.

Techniques / Literary Precedents

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The roots of the fairy tale stretch back to a time before literature, when storytelling was essentially an oral form. The theme of The Princess Bride is a common one in fairy tales: the lover of a beautiful woman must show his courage and valor to save her from a fate worse than death.

Unlike most fairy tales, however, The Princess Bride has a distinctly modern tone. It contains modern sarcasm and the narrative is frequently interrupted by the secondary narrator, Goldman, who muses on the story as merely fairy tale and establishes a distance between reader and story. This distancing is an apology of sorts for the violence and the absurdity of a story that often lampoons traditional fairy tale conventions.


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Act II Communications Presentations of Nelson Entertainment released a film version of The Princess Bride in 1987. Goldman wrote the screenplay, and consequently it is very close to the novel. The film was produced by Norman Lear and directed by Rob Reiner.

Fred Savage starred as the boy — the young Goldman in the novel — to whom the story was read by his grandfather played by Peter Falk. (The grandfather role was changed from the novel. In it, young Goldman's father read the story.) Westley was played by Cary Elwes and Buttercup by Robin Wright. The film has a small cult following.


Critical Essays