Filed under: book reviews, fiction | Tags: adventure novels, fantasy, feminism, film adaptations, frame story, princess bride, william goldman, women in fantasy
At work I frequently find myself suggesting books to my co-workers but seldom have anything suggested in return and the other afternoon I asked two of my co-workers often at the receiving end of my suggestions to write out a list of three books (and what also turned into three films) they would recommend I read. Topping one of the lists was William Goldman’s The Princess Bride and as I have always enjoyed the movie I thought the book would provide an excellent fun read.
The Princess Bride is an adventure novel that butts against the fantastic. It is a book of travel and heroic escapades. Goldman employs an interesting literary technique of placing himself in the story as abridging a classic tale by S. Morgenstern and using the occasional commentary to further expand the story. In this sense, The Princess Bride is also a frame story as the father of William Goldman reads this story to William Goldman who is laid up with pneumonia. It is an entertaining book that good heartedly plays on classical adventure and pokes fun at times too serious academic interpretation of such books.
I should love this book, but I kept getting hung up.
Something I do not feel the movie was faithful to (granted it has been years since I have last seen it) was the flat representation of Princess Buttercup. In fact, I feel Goldman’s screenplay (or Robin Wright’s performance) gave Buttercup a complexity or dynamism that she otherwise lacks in the book. I recall reading once in a forum as a poster commented with his frustration that women in literature (particularly fantasy) were always represented as strong and well-developed characters and wouldn’t it be nice if they were occasionally portrayed as dullards as men sometimes are? If only this were true, but the more fantasy I read the more I keep stumbling on a rather frustrating representation of women. 
Buttercup is possibly the world’s most beautiful woman and the first chapter of the book goes into great depth regarding her beauty. But it is also something of a running remark in the book that Buttercup is not the brightest. Not really much of a problem until she is paired with her true love Westley: perhaps the world’s most cleverest man and certainly a wizard of swordplay. As I read the book, I kept hoping that Buttercup would become more than a beautiful woman, but The Princess Bride is very much a boy’s club as Buttercup stays mostly dim-witted to the end.
The whip-cream on this is the scrutiny and criticism Buttercup undeservedly receives for her decisions. She is derided for eventually choosing a loveless marriage (when it was between life and death) with Prince Humperdinck after she has believed for quite some time that Westley is dead (as he does nothing to counter this). Additionally, in the first chapter of the “long-lost sequel” Buttercup’s Baby the reader learns Westley has been shagging across the oceans “and well things happened” is a lousy internal remark considering his initial treatment or test of Buttercup’s “true love.”
I really wanted to love The Princess Bride. I wanted to set it next to The Neverending Story as an oft returned to fantasy tale. And it’s certainly not all bad: I adore Mad Max and Valerie and wish they could have played a more prominent or at least a lengthier role in the novel. The trio Fezzic, Inigo, and Vizzini are as brilliant if not more so than in the movie. It’s just the Princess Buttercup bit got under my nails. As much as I enjoyed reading Mercedes Lackey’s Five Hundred Kingdom Series, perhaps I’ve just spent too much time with so-so representations of women in fantasy.
P.S. The satiric history of Florin that William Goldsmith keeps poking fun at – I want that!
 I have been told there is plenty of feminist friendly fantasy available, but I don’t always have much luck in finding it.
Other opinions: books i done read.