Monday, September 10, 2007

Book Review (abridged)

The Princess BrideLet be begin by making clear that this is a book review and not a movie review. While I love the movie, I am specifically talking about the book The Princess Bride, S. Morgenstern's classic novel, abridged by William Goldman in 1973. Let us then continue.

I recently reread one of the great all-time classic novels of daring-do, The Princess Bride. A great work, well-abridged by William Goldman (who penned the scripts for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President's Men, and Marathon Man, among many other great works), this is by all measures an enjoying read. The funny thing of it is this: just after I finished reading I caught a snippet of an aural review for this on NPR (it being the 20th anniversary of the movies release). Interested, I went to the web to track down a text of this review. I was, admittedly, shocked when I finally found the text and discovered it to be a 500-plus page treatise on the novel, the movie, and the Goldman abridgement. The original book was only 1000 pages, and Goldman's "good parts" version only reached a little over 300 pages; finding so long and convoluted a review puzzled me, especially after hearing a more concise version on the radio. So, as a public service, I have decided to offer up an abridgement of the review, and forgive me if this action seems ludicrous (but it is).

Unfortunately, no copy of the original review, written by the leading Florinese expert in the U.S.A. - Professor Bongiorno of Columbia University, exists on the internet (don't ask how I found a copy, but I have some good sources). So take my word on this - I try to remain true to the review of the spirit of the novel, as captured by Goldman's abridgement. A great part of the Bongiorno review focuses on the satirical nature of Morgenstern's original (truly a classic) and the skewering of Florinese and Guilderian royalty. He includes in-depth discussion on why Morgenstern hated doctors (infinitely preferring miracle men to any sawbones), the exquisite detail paid to foliage, and laments on the slow destruction of landmarks such as the Cliffs of Insanity and the famous Florin/Guilder Fire Swamp by tourists (which he lays at Goldman's feet, of course). Here goes nothin'.

The Princess Bride, written by Simon Morgenstern, is a classic tale of high adventure, true love, revenge, giants, fencing, despair, and hope. The abridgement, by William Goldman, is as equally forgettable as Morgenstern's masterpiece is memorable. (Me again. How's that for getting things going. In two short sentences, Bongiorno presents his bias openly and sets up Morgenstern as the greatest author since God Almighty laid down the Ten Commandments. The whole review comes across with these kind of overstatements. Personally, I loved both the original - for its satire, though it goes slow at times - and the abridgement for the fast-paced action and for the insights on the difficulties of winnowing out the "good parts". Back to the review.)

In opening the pages of this great work, you find yourself transported to the lush forests and grasslands of Florin, jewel of Europe (see what I mean about foliage), where we find the plight of the common - though not so common - man. We find Westley, the archetypical rags to riches character combined with the abilities of any great adventurer, as an orphaned farm hand. His true love, the beauty Buttercup, hardly knows he exists until she realizes that other women notice him; then loves burns bright. As Westley goes to seek fortune to win Buttercup's hand in marriage, she progresses to becoming the most beautiful woman on earth and dwells in sorrow over Westley's supposed demise. Through capture and befriending by the Dread Pirate Roberts, Westley quickly becomes one of the greatest fighters and thinkers of the world, returning only to find that true love has become the princess and is to be wed soon to Prince Humperdinck, the greatest hunter ever (note the abundance of great people), who secretly plans his brides murder and war with Guilder.

Through confrontations with Inigo, Fezzik, and Vizzini, Westley reclaims his love, braving the fire swamp, only to lose her again to Humperdinck. Tortured for months by the cruel, six-fingered Count Rugen (killer of Inigo's father) Westley is finally rescued by Inigo and Fezzik, the very people he defeated in rescuing Buttercup, and resurrected by Miracle Max (he was, after all, only mostly dead). The trio proceeds to again rescue Buttercup from the foul Humperdinck, avenge Inigo's father, and evade Brute Squad's to find freedom and happiness.

Based strictly on historical events from the extended period of conflict between Guilder and Florin, Morgenstern . . . (
Sorry, me again. At this point, I feel, Bongiorno goes over the deep end and the proceeding 500 pages is, at best, unfathomable. At times he even slips into idiosyncratic dribble. I thus spare you the rest and conclude with this: read the book! You'll laugh; you'll cry; it's better than Cats. Take my advice and go get a copy now. If you get a more recent copy, you'll even be treated to Goldman's abridgement of the first chapter of Buttercup's Baby, the also-classic sequel by Morgenstern. Unfortunately, due to ongoing litigation between Goldman, the Morgenstern estate (represented by a family of lawyers by the name of Shog), and Stephen King (who has many Florinese relatives and an intense interest in doing the abridgement) the full abridged sequel has yet to see light of day. Keep hoping!)

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