Book VS Film: The Princess Bride (1987)

Content Warning: this article contains spoilers 

(Image Courtesy of Rolling Stone, originally from 20th Century Studios)

The Princess Bride, first published as a novel in 1973 and later released as a film in 1987, is a dramatic tale of love and adventure. With both versions having been written by William Goldman, the original book and the later-made film have become well-known classics that encompass Goldman’s pure genius in telling a story of fighting, miracles, pirates, giants and everything in between. 

With the book and the film being such favourites of mine, it will not come as a surprise that I have mainly good things to say about both of them. But, first, let’s give an overview of the storyline. The Princess Bride is set in a fantasy world and time period; it’s about a beautiful girl called Buttercup who falls for the farm boy, Westley. Once he decides to leave the farm to make his fortune, Buttercup hears of his death and is heartbroken. Although she promises to never love another man, she accepts Prince Humperdinck’s marriage proposal… only to be kidnapped later on so that a war will ensue between Humperdinck’s land and another. From here, the adventure begins with both Humperdinck and a mysterious rescuer trying to return her home safely.

Firstly, I’d like to show appreciation for Goldman’s writing ability. In my opinion, the writing in the original novel, and more specifically the speech from the characters, was refreshing and unique, and the humour was always on point. It’s a fairytale like no other… a fairytale with more drama, more love, more adventure, more fighting and more twists and turns than I have ever seen. To put it simply, it’s iconic. 

Goldman also had a few narrative tricks up his sleeve as well. At one point I was even fully convinced that one of the main characters had actually died, when in fact, he hadn’t at all. It so happens that this said character comes back later on as a different character to surprise us all. It is honestly one of the most absurdly brilliant books I have ever had the pleasure of reading, with a tightly packed plot that will have you smiling, gasping and laughing. 

After reading and loving the book first, I had high expectations for the film. And, despite the few changes there were to the storyline during filmmaking, I was not disappointed. Instead, I was excited and humoured to see the film was just what I hoped it would be. I had a smile on my face the entire time watching it, and each scene was better than the last. 

The reason for there being very few differences is most likely down to the fact that the screenplay was written by Goldman himself, the original author of The Princess Bride. It was great that he wanted to capture his original story as best as he could, and keep the comedy and adventure that he came up with. But, of course, like with a lot of film adaptations, the storyline of the book needed to be trimmed and some characters needed to be cut so the end result wasn’t a ten hour long film. 

The main characters were all kept of course (whether they were loved or hated by audiences): the stunning princess, the handsome (but secretly evil) prince, the valiant rescuer, the gentle giant, the diligent fencer and the cunning mastermind. But, of course, with the original book’s storyline having to be cut, there were backstories that had been shortened for the film. I know this to be necessary, but it still disheartened me when I couldn’t watch all the scenes I had read in the book about these marvellous characters. Though, one thing I loved when watching the film was that there was an extra scene added, despite others being left out. The loving reunion scene between the two main characters, Buttercup and Westley, was part of the film, but wasn’t initially part of the book. Goldman saw this as a unique narrative choice for the novel… but I personally disagree with this because, well, who doesn’t enjoy a happy reunion scene? Safe to say, I was thankful for the film rectifying this issue for me and the other hopeless romantics out there. 

When looking at the construction of the whole story, there is also a slight difference. In the film, the set-up of the story is a grandfather reading the book (The Princess Bride) to his grandson. But, in the book, Goldman claims to be a writer who is paying homage to another writer’s work and is simply ‘editing’ and adding commentaries to S.Morgentern’s The Princess Bride. This rather confused me, but after a thorough Google search I understood what was going on. But, this didn’t negatively impact the telling of story, as I, in fact, rather liked the Grandfather reading The Princess Bride to his grandson; it added another dimension to the film, reminding the audience that it’s a fantastical, made-up story. 

To end, I would like to state that the dialogue from the film is as though it has been copied and pasted straight from the book… and I loved this. It was nice to see the writer’s original work on the characters be kept, and the famous, dramatic lines still being used in the film. My all-time favourite will have to be Inigo Montoya’s classic line: ‘Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father; prepare to die!’. Despite this classic line being about Inigo’s revenge for his father’s death, Goldman has still kept the comedic value with his dramatic, yet sad, backstory (which basically sums up the film’s style rather well). 

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Chloe D’Inverno

Chloe D'Inverno is the TV & Film editor at The Yorker. If you have any queries, please contact her at film@theyorker.co.uk.