That's a lie.
Well, kind of.
I do not remember the moment I was first introduced to my “favorite book in all the world”, The Princess Bride by William Goldman. I had no epiphanic moment when I stumbled across such a hidden treasure. No, it wasn’t like that.
The Princess Bride was simply always there.
My father was the first to introduce it to my family. It became our favorite book to read on long road trips. That’s how I was introduced, with my mom reading it aloud to me and my siblings, crammed in the family van for hours and hours. It won me over immediately. I was maybe ten years old, or less.
It was not until my junior year of high school when I wanted to read the book myself. For, up to that point I embodied the first line of the book, quoted above. I was enthralled by the witty humor, and by finally seeing (be still my heart!) the very words myself.
Many people watch the film The Princess Bride, others scour the pages, some hear it aloud, and a lucky few got to have all three. I am one of those. The story takes on a new life each time, and as I watch, hear, and read it, I become more and more aware of the literary genius inside. Here are some reasons why I think this is the best book in all the world:
1. “Love is many things, none of them logical.”
Goldman prospers in statements like these. The Princess Bride is riddled with these one-liners, the ones that make you go “Hmmm,” or laugh to yourself, or share on Instagram with one of those vague, landscape pictures. Always, it’s an instant hit. Quotable, is what he was going for, I think. Quotable means being remembered. How else can you explain that every time someone is eating peanuts you turn into Fezzik, or how you have to say “inconceivable” with a lisp, or if (heaven forbid) someone kills your father then you know exactly what to say.
2. When is this? I can't tell!
Throughout the book, the reader is given hints about when this story took place. The thing is they don’t make sense. For instance, in the first chapter there are many parenthetical phrases that tell us things about the time: “(This was after mirrors.)” or “(This was after Europe.)” or even “(This was after taste too, but only just.)”. Those may make a little bit of sense, but I reveled in their strangeness. My favorite parenthetical interjections are: “(This was after stew, but so is everything. When the first man first clambered from the slime and made his first home on land, what he had for supper that first night was stew.)” and “(This was after taxes. But everything is after taxes. Taxes were here even before stew.)”. How wonderful are those? Why are they so funny? Because they break the rules. And how I love it.
3. For things like this:
“At 8:23 there seemed every chance of a lasting alliance starting between Florin and Guilder.
At 8:24 the two nations were very close to war.”
How delicious is that! Could there be anything more intriguing, more “come and read me, I know you want to” that two sentences can give? I do not think so. What happens in that one minute? How can such an incredible event happen in so short of time? I will not tell you, for you must read it yourself. But I will tell you that these two sentences are probably my favorites in the entire book. Such anticipation! I delight in it.
Goldman is fearless in my eyes. He does not conform to the guidelines of a fantasy story. For instance, he uses figurative “middle men” to tell the story for him. The form is this: he declares he did not write this book. A historian named Morgenstern wrote it, and it was read to him by his father when he was young. As an adult, he searched for this childhood memory and found that it was not much like the story he heard from his father. It was a lengthy, boring satire. His father had only read him the “good parts”. So, he went back and wrote a “good parts version,” which is what we have today. In any case, these middle men are fictitious. They allow Goldman to add his own commentary whenever he wants, which enhances the novelty of the story. For instance, this insert:
“Look. (Grownups skip this paragraph.) I’m not about to tell you this book has a tragic ending, I already said in the 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 preparing 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.”
As a young girl, reading this for the first time, I knew this book would be one of my favorites for life. I love writing styles that are not afraid of, well, distinctive style. And this. And this was perfect. Here is the author, warning us about what happens next. It’s like the characters were actually real people and he could do nothing to help them, except let their story run its course.
The best example of this device is at the very end of the book, when Goldman describes three different endings. The ending that the imaginary Morgenstern wrote was cynical and less than hopeful. The ending his father told him was much happier and more romantic. Goldman’s own ending was this:
“Well, I’m an abridger, so I’m entitled to a few ideas of my own…You can answer it for yourself, but, for me, I say yes…they got their strength back and had lots of adventures and more than their share of laughs.
But that doesn’t mean I think they had a happy ending either…I’m not trying to make this a downer, understand. I mean, I really do think that love is the best thing in the world, except for cough drops. But I also have to say, for the umpty-umpth time, that life isn’t fair. It’s just fairer than death, that’s all.”
And that’s it. That’s the end of my favorite book in all the world. I have never written a book, but I think that the hardest part has got to be writing the ending. What feelings do you leave in their hearts? Do you want them to desire to read it again and again? Are you trying to teach them a lesson? I think that Goldman uses the three endings to give the reader a chance to end the story themselves, which is something they hardly ever get to do. This leads to self reflection. Do I believe that they got away? Yes. I do. I believe in happy endings, but I also believe that perfect endings do not exist. Life truly isn’t fair, I learned. But boy, it sure can be great sometimes.