Saturday, 16 October 2010

Excerpt from "The Princess Bride" by William Goldman

[I've reblogged this verbatim from since that blog no longer exists. -FF]
The following is an excerpt from S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure, The "Good Parts" Version Abridged by William Goldman. This is included in my web page for the truth it holds, so William Goldman, if you're reading this (or anyone, for that matter, from his publishing company) please don't sue me for copywright infringement. And for everyone else, if you have not seen "The Princess Bride," rent it this week, and if you have not read the story, read it because William Goldman just did a magnificent job with this book. And for all the fantasy-filled life this story evokes, at the heart of it, the story is quite realistic, and Morgenstern (and Goldman) never loses sight of that fact. Now read:

It's one of my biggest memories of my father reading. I had pneumonia, remember, but I was a little better now, and madly caught up in the book, and one thing you know when you're ten is that, no matter what, there's gonna be a happy ending. They can sweat all they want to scare you, the authors, but back of it all you know, you just have no doubt, that in the long run justice is going to win out. And Westley and Buttercup - well, they had their troubles, sure, but they were going to get married and live happily ever after, I would have bet the family fortune if I'd found a sucker big enough to take me on.

Well, when my father got through with that sentence where the wedding was sandwiched between the ministers' meeting and the treasury whatever, I said, "You read that wrong."

My father's this little old barber - remember that too? And kind of illiterate. Well, you just don't challenge a guy who has trouble reading and say he's read something incorrectly, because that's really threatening. "I'm doing the reading," he said.

"I know that, but you got it wrong. She doesn't marry that rotten Humperdinck. She marries Westley."

"It says right here," my father began, a little huffy, and he starts going over it again.

"You must have skipped a page then. Something. Get it right, huh?"

By now he was more than a tiny bit upset. "I skipped nothing. I read the words. The words are there, I read them, good night," and off he went.

"Hey please, no," I called after him, but he's stubborn, and, next thing, my mother was in saying, "Your father says his throat is too sore; I told him not to read so much," and she tucked and fluffed me and no matter how I battled, it was over. No more story till the next day.

I spent that whole night thinking Buttercup married Humperdink. It just rocked me. How can I explain it, but the world didn't work that way. Good got attracted to good, evil you flushed down the john and that was that. But their marriage - I couldn't make it jibe. God, did I work at it. First I thought that probably Buttercup had this fantastic effect on Humperdinck and turned him into a kind of Westley, or maybe Westley and Humperdinck turned out to be long-lost brothers and Humperdinck was so happy to get his brother back he said, "Look, Westley, I didn't realize who you were when I married her so what I'll do is I'll divorce her and you marry her and that way we'll all be happy." To this day I don't think I was ever more creative.

But it didn't take. Something was wrong and I couldn't lose it. Suddenly there was this discontent gnawing away until it had a place big enough to settle in and then it curled up and stayed there and it's still inside me lurking as I write this now.

The next night, when my father went back to reading and the marriage turned out to have been Buttercup's dream, I screamed, "I knew it, all along I knew it," and my father said, "So you're happy now, it's all right now, we can please continue?" and I said, "Go," and he did.

But I wasn't happy. Oh my ears were happy, I guess, my story sense was happy, my heart too, but in my, I suppose you have to call it "soul," there was that damn discontent, shaking its dark head. All this was never explained to me till I was in my teens and there was this great woman who lived in my home town, Edith Neisser, dead now, and she wrote terrific books about how we screw up our children - "Brothers and Sisters" was one of her books, "The Eldest Child" was another. Published by Harper. Edith doesn't need the plug, seeing, like I said, as she's no longer with us, but if there are any amongst you who are worried that maybe you're not being perfect parents, pick up one of Edith's books while there's still time. I knew her 'cause her kid Ed got his haircuts from my pop, and she was this writer and by my teens I knew, secretly, that was the life for me too, except I couldn't tell anybody. It was too embarrassing - barber's sons, if they hustled, maybe got to be IBM salesmen, but writers? No way. Don't ask me how, but eventually Edith discovered my shhhhhh ambition and from then on, sometimes, we would talk. And I remember once we were having iced tea on the Neisser porch and talking and just outside the porch was their badminton court and I was watching some kids play badminton and Ed had just shellacked me, and as I left the court for the porch, he said, "Don't worry, it'll all work out, you'll get me next time" and I nodded, and then Ed said, "And if you don't, you'll beat me at something else."

I went to the porch and sipped iced tea and Edith was reading this book and she didn't put it down when she said, "That's not necessarily true, you know."

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 terrific?" I think along here Edith must have thought I was well on my way to being bonkers.

But it meant so much to me to have it said and out and free and flying - that was the discontent I had 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's not fair" and I'm telling you, one and all, you better believe it. I got a fat spoiled son - he's not gonna nag Miss Rheingold. And he's always gonna be fat, even if he gets skinny he'll still be fat and he'll still be spoiled and life will never be enough to make him happy, and that's my fault maybe - make it all my fault, if you want - the point is, we're not created equal, for the rich they sing, life isn't fair. I got a cold wife; she's brilliant, she's stimulating, she's terrific; there's no love; that's okay too, just so long as we don't keep expecting everything to somehow even out for us before we die.

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.


Anonymous said...

FreeFox said...

Exactly. Thanks. ^_^