5 stars. I have a feeling that I’m a rarity, because I read The Princess Bride before seeing the movie. The book is brilliant, with lovable characters, a completely satisfying plot, and plenty of wit and gentle sarcasm. Now, let me go ahead and commit the ultimate heresy for a devoted book lover:
The movie is better.
I say that for three main reasons:
1. The movie features snappier dialog and handles exposition much better than the book. In virtually all cases where the movie dialog differs from the book dialog, the movie dialog is phrased better and more succinctly. Where side stories fill in details in the text, the movie presents them naturally through conversations, conveying the necessary information more quickly (compare Inigo’s backstory as given in the book with the summary that Mandy Patinkin relays before the duel scene).
2. The actors in the movie completely embraced and understood their roles, from Andre the Giant’s perfection as Fezzik to Chris Sarandon’s “I’m swamped!” to Billy Crystal’s curmudgeonly delivery of his lines. Try reading the book without hearing the movie characters, I dare you.
3. The framework of the movie, with the grandfather reading the story of Westley and Buttercup to his grandson, avoided the smugly self-aware tone of Goldman’s fictional abridgement of S. Morgenstern’s ponderous tome to the exciting story hidden within. Within the text, in jokes and asides combine for a skewering of the pompous worlds of publishing, lawyers, and literature departments that started to get as tedious as the prose that Goldman supposedly excises.
Now, as to the book itself. I’ve read this book several times, finding new pleasure in each reading. The characters are all wonderful (with one minor exception…); I take particular delight in the relationship between Fezzik and Inigo. Westley’s panache makes him the ideal hero, and yet he’s not above being the foil for many of the lighter moments. Even Prince Humperdinck and Count Rugen have so much going for them to raise them above stock bad guys; they are both very developed and interesting. The only real weakness is that Buttercup doesn’t have much going for her besides beauty; it’s not easy to see what makes Westley fall so madly in love with her.
Goldman’s writing constantly delivers twists, turns, suspense, clever resolutions, and satisfaction. The plot very rarely eases off the gas once the story gets underway. I especially appreciate that intelligence and hard work are given prime importance in how the tale goes.
The Princess Bride is a book to read over and over for the love of character and story. Highly recommended (but I still like the movie better)!