The Princess Bride
William Goldman

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The Princess Bride



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Goldman presents the novel as a “good parts” abridgement of a novel written (and then translated into English) by S. Morgenstern, a native of the novel’s fictional country of Florin.

The film version, also written by Goldman, and directed and cast marvelously well, was exceptionally true to the book, including the surrounding story of an old man reading to a sick child. Having the film, I neglected to re-read the book for too long. Now I find that some of the best passages are exactly those parts that couldn’t fit into the film, no matter how faithful the adaptation.

I recommend the book. If you have enjoyed the film, I recommend the book all the more strongly: if you don’t read it, you’re still missing out! I hope these quotes give you some idea why.

The Princess Bride

S. Morgenstern’s
Classic Tale of True Love
and High Adventure

Copyright © 1973 by William Goldman

“You’re always thinking, Billy. You just weren’t thinking about the reading test.”

I could only nod.

“What was it this time?”


“Bronko Nagurski. He’s a football player. A great football player, and the paper last night said he might come back and play for the Bears again. He retired when I was little but if he came back and I could get someone to take me to a game, I could see him play and maybe if whoever took me also knew him, I could meet him after and maybe if he was hungry, I might let him have a sandwich I might have brought with me. I was trying to figure out what kind of sandwich Bronko Nagurski would like.”

She just sagged at her desk. “You’ve got a wonderful imagination, Billy.”

I don’t know what I said. Probably “thank you” or something.



Who can know when his world is going to change? Who can tell before it happens, that every prior experience, all the years, were a preparation for . . . nothing. Picture this now: an all-but-illiterate old man struggling with an enemy tongue, an all-but-exhausted young boy fighting against sleep. And nothing between them but the words of another alien, painfully translated from native sounds to foreign. Who could suspect that in the morning a different child would wake? I remember, for myself, only trying to beat back fatigue. Even a week later I was not aware of what had begun that night, the doors that were slamming shut while others slid into the clear. Perhaps I should have at least known something, but maybe not; who can sense revelation in the wind?

What happened was just this: I got hooked on the story.

For the first time in my life, I became actively interested in a book. Me the sports fanatic, me the game freak, me the only ten-year-old in Illinois with a hate on for the alphabet wanted to know what happened next.


Books (general)


Never argue with your wife about hostility when she’s a certified Freudian.



I never was worth beans at self-scrutiny. Everything I write is impulse. This feels right, that sounds wrong—like that. I can’t analyze—not my own actions anyway.

I know I don’t expect this to change anybody else’s life the way it altered mine.

But take the title words—“true love and high adventure”—I believed in that once. I thought my life was going to follow that path. Prayed that it would. Obviously it didn’t, but I don’t think there’s high adventure left any more. Nobody takes out a sword nowadays and cries, “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father; prepare to die!”

And true love you can forget about too. [...] (Sorry about that, Helen.)

Anyway, here’s the “good parts” version. S. Morgenstern wrote it. And my father read it to me. And now I give it to you. What you do with it will be of more than passing interest to us all.





The Bride

The old man nodded. “Now I can die.”

She glanced at him. “Don’t.” Her tone was surprisingly tender, and probably she sensed how important he really was to her, because when he did die, two years further on, she went right after, and most of the people who knew her well agreed it was the sudden lack of opposition that undid her.



“Did you forget to pay your taxes?” (This was after taxes. But everything is after taxes. Taxes were here even before stew.)



“I have stayed these years in my hovel because of you. I have taught myself languages because of you. I have made my body strong because I thought you might be pleased by a strong body. I have lived my life with only the prayer that some sudden dawn you might glance in my direction. I have not known a moment in years when the sight of you did not send my heart careening against my rib cage. I have not known a night when your visage did not accompany me to sleep. There has not been a morning when you did not flutter behind my waking eyelids . . . Is any of this getting through to you, Buttercup, or do you want me to go on for a while?”

“Never stop.”

“There has not been——”

“If you’re teasing me, Westley, I’m just going to kill you.”

“How can you even dream I might be teasing?”

“Well, you haven’t once said you loved me.”



There have been five great kisses since 1642 B.C., when Saul and Delilah Korn’s inadvertent discovery swept across Western civilization. (Before then couples hooked thumbs.) And the precise rating of kisses is a terribly difficult thing, often leading to great controversy, because although everyone agrees with the formula of affection times purity times intensity times duration, no one has ever been completely satisfied with how much weight each element should receive. But on any system, there are five that everyone agrees deserve full marks.

Well, this one left them all behind.




The Courtship
In any case, the two countries had stayed alive over the centuries mainly by warring on each other. There had been the Olive War, the Tuna Fish Discrepancy, which almost bankrupted both nations, the Roman Rift, which did send them both into insolvency, only to be followed by the Discord of the Emeralds, in which they both got rich again, chiefly by banding together for a brief period and robbing everybody within sailing distance.




The Announcement
This was long after hairdressers; in truth, ever since there have been women, there have been hairdressers, Adam being the first, though the King James scholars do their very best to muddy this point.



Domingo Montoya was funny-looking and crotchety and impatient and absent-minded and never smiled.

Inigo loved him. Totally. Don’t ask why. There really wasn’t any one reason you could put your finger on. Oh, probably Domingo loved him back, but love is many things, none of them logical.



“Although I die in your hut, and although it is your own stubborn fault that causes my ceasing, in other words, even though you are killing me, don’t think twice about it. I love you as I always have and God forbid your conscience should give you any trouble.” He pulled open his coat, brought the knife closer, closer. “The pain is worse than I imagined!” Yeste cried.

“How can it hurt when the point of the weapon is still an inch away from your belly?” Domingo asked.

“I’m anticipating, don’t bother me, let me die unpestered.”



“Because, my friend Yeste, you are very famous and very rich, and so you should be, because you make wonderful weapons. But you must also make them for any fool who happens along. I am poor, and no one knows me in all the world except you and Inigo, but I do not have to suffer fools.”

“You are an artist,” Yeste said.

“No. Not yet. A craftsman only. But I dream to be an artist. I pray that someday, if I work with enough care, if I am very very lucky, I will make a weapon that is a work of art. Call me an artist then, and I will answer.”



He would find the six-fingered man. He would go up to him. He would say simply, “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die,” and then, oh then, the duel.

It was a lovely plan, really. Simple, direct. No frills. In the beginning, Inigo had all kinds of wild vengeance notions, but gradually, simplicity had seemed the better way. Originally, he had all kinds of little plays worked out in his mind—the enemy would weep and beg, the enemy would cringe and cry, the enemy would bribe and slobber and act in every way unmanly. But eventually, these too gave way in his mind to simplicity: the enemy would simply say, “Oh yes, I remember killing him; I’d be only too delighted to kill you too.”



“That explains it.” Actually, of course, it didn’t explain anything, but whenever doctors are confused about something, which is really more frequently than any of us would do well to think about, they always snatch at something in the vicinity of the case and add, “That explains it.”



“I always think everything is a trap until proven otherwise,” the Prince answered. “Which is why I’m still alive.”


The Festivities

What happens here that you aren’t going to read is the six-page soliloquy from Inigo in which Morgenstern, through Inigo, reflects on the anguish of fleeting glory. The reason for the soliloquy here is that Morgenstern’s previous book had gotten bombed by the critics and also hadn’t sold beans.



[...] Inigo would say “barrel” and Fezzik right quick would come back “carol” and maybe they would sing a little something until Inigo said “serenade” and you couldn’t stump Fezzik with one that easy because of “centigrade” and then Inigo would make a word about the weather and Fezzik would rhyme it [...]



I said, ‘How do you mean?’

And that’s when she put her book down. And looked at me. And said it: ‘Life isn’t fair, Bill. We tell our children that it is, but it’s a terrible thing to do. It’s not only a lie, it’s a cruel lie. Life is not fair, and it never has been, and it’s never going to be.’

Would you believe that for me right then it was like one of those comic books where the light bulb goes on over Mandrake the Magician’s head? ‘It isn’t!’ I said, so loud I really startled her. ‘You’re right. It’s not fair.’ I was so happy if I’d known how to dance, I’d have started dancing. ‘Isn’t that great, isn’t it just terrific?’ I think along about here Edith must have thought I was well on my way toward being bonkers.

But it meant so much to me to have it said and out and free and flying—that was the discontent I endured the night my father stopped reading, I realized right then. That was the reconciliation I was trying to make and couldn’t.

And that’s what I think this book’s about. All those Columbia experts can spiel all they want about the delicious satire; they’re crazy. This book says, ‘life isn’t fair’ and I’m telling you, one and all, you better believe it. [...]

Look. (Grownups skip this paragraph.) I’m not about to tell you this book has a tragic ending, I already said in the very first line how it was my favorite in all the world. But there’s a lot of bad stuff coming up, torture you’ve already been prepared for, but there’s worse. There’s death coming up, and you better understand this: some of the wrong people die. Be ready for it. This isn’t Curious George Uses the Potty. Nobody warned me and it was my own fault (you’ll see what I mean in a little) and that was my mistake, so I’m not letting it happen to you. The wrong people die, some of them, and the reason is this: life is not fair. Forget all the garbage your parents put out. Remember Morgenstern. You’ll be a lot happier.

Okay. Enough. Back to the next. Nightmare time.



“I’m fascinated to see what happens,” the Count went on. “Which pain will be least endurable? The physical, or the mental anguish of having freedom offered if the truth is told, then telling it and being thought a liar.”



“Is he really so wonderful, this Westley of yours?”

“Not so much wonderful as perfect,” she replied. “Kind of flawless. More or less magnificent. Without blemish. Rather on the ideal side.” She looked at the Prince. “Am I being helpful?”

“I think emotions are clouding your objectivity just a bit. Do you actually think that there is nothing the fellow can’t do?”

Buttercup thought for a while. “It’s not so much that there’s nothing he can’t do; it’s more that he can do it all better than anybody else can do it.”


“Well, why don’t we just begin our letter with ‘Divine Westley,’ and appeal to his sense of modesty,” the Prince suggested.

Buttercup began to write, stopped. “Does ‘divine’ begin de or di?”



“I think pain is the most underrated emotion available to us,” the Count said. “The Serpent, to my interpretation, was pain. Pain has been with us always, and it always irritates me when people say ‘as important as life and death’ because the proper phrase, to my mind, should be, ‘as important as pain and death.’ ”

“I understand everything,” he said.

“You understand nothing, but it really doesn’t matter, since what you mean is, you’re glad to see me, just as I’m glad to see you because no more loneliness.”

“That’s what I mean,” said Fezzik.




The Wedding

“Sonny, don’t you tell me what’s worth while—true love is the best thing in the world, except for cough drops. Everybody knows that.”


Amusing one-liners

One last thing: Hiram, my editor, felt the Miracle Max section was too Jewish in sound, too contemporary. I really let him have it on that one; it’s a very sore point with me, because, just to take one example, there was a line in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where Butch said, ‘I got vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals,’ and one of my genius producers said, ‘That line’s got to go; I don’t put my name on this movie with that line in it,’ and I said why and he said, ‘They didn’t talk like that then; it’s anachronistic.’ I remember explaining, ‘Ben Franklin wore bifocals—Ty Cobb was batting champion of the American League when these guys were around—my mother was alive when these guys were alive and she wore bifocals.’ We shook hands and ended enemies but the line stayed in the picture.

And so here the point is, if Max and Valerie sound Jewish, why shouldn’t they? You think a guy named Simon Morgenstern was Irish Catholic?

As a matter of fact, everything Morgenstern wrote is historically accurate; read any decent book on Florinese history.


“I suppose I was dying again, so I asked the Lord of Permanent Affection for the strength to live the day. Clearly, the answer came in the affirmative.”

“I didn’t know there was such a Fellow,” Buttercup said.

“Neither did I, in truth, but if He didn’t exist, I didn’t much want to either.”



“To be together. Until one of us dies.”

“I’ve done that already, and I haven’t the slightest intention of ever doing it again,” Westley said.

Buttercup looked at him. “Don’t we sort of have to sometime?”

“Not if we promise to outlive each other, and I make that promise now.”

Buttercup looked at him. “Oh my Westley, so do I.”

‘And they lived happily ever after,’ my father said.



text checked (see note) Jan 2006

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Graphics copyright © 2006 by Hal Keen