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Written by Timothy Sexton
The author of the novel is also a major character in framing device in which the story of Buttercup, Westley and Inigo Montoya is being told. Goldman creates a semi-fictionalized version of himself in an extended introductory segment that sets up his novel as an abridgment of a classic tale called “The Princess Bride” by a seemingly real historical figure named S. Morgenstern.
Still within the framing device, S. Morgenstern is the entirely fictitious author from the entirely fictitious country of Florin who wrote a book titled “The Princess Bride” which Goldman as an adult recalls being his favorite book as a child. The only problem is that he never actually read Morgenstern’s book—he only had it read to him as a bedtime story. Wanting to track down a copy of the long-forgotten and out-of-print tale of true romance and high adventure as a present for his son, Goldman eventually learns that the book Morgenstern actually wrote was heavily edited in the reading process and was, in fact, a weighty and overwrought satire of European customs, traditions, history and manners.
Buttercup is the unusually-named heroine in the book written by Morgenstern which Goldman alleges to be abridging. The year that Buttercup was born, a scullery maid in France who is never mentioned again was considered the most beautiful woman in the world. By her tenth birthday, the title has been passed over to the daughter of Indian tea merchant. Eventually Buttercup would grow up to take on the title of the most beautiful women in the world and if only she had cared a whit about her appearance and did not neglect nearly everything else for the love of her beloved horse, she might have claimed the title much earlier. All of this is meaningful because it is Buttercup’s beauty alone that catches the eye of Prince Humperdinck, future heir to the throne of Florin which has been at war with neighboring Guilder even longer than the U.S. has been at war in Iraq. This attraction to Buttercup’s beauty is what sets the entire narrative of The Princess Bride in motion.
Westley/Man in Black/Dread Pirate Roberts
Westley is the poor farm boy whom Buttercup abuses rather cruelly, in part because he seems so willing to take her abuse without complaint and with only his regular reply to any of demands: “as you wish.” One day Buttercup realizes—as these things often turn out—that she has actually fallen for the farm boy who—as these things often turn—just so happens to have been taking her abuse because he is absolutely devoted to Buttercup. After mutually expressing their undying love for each other, they unexpectedly part. Why? Because Westley is not just as handsome as Buttercup is beautiful, he is also a stand-up guy who refuses to marry a woman he is not economically equipped to support. And so Westley sets off to make his fortune. Not long after, Buttercup receives word that her beloved Westley has been murdered by the dreaded pirate known as the Dread Pirate Roberts. It is this news that leads Buttercup to accept the marriage proposal of Prince Humperdinck. The revelation that the Man in Black who has been chasing after her and the three men who kidnapped her the day before her wedding not only is a very much alive and well Westley, but that Westley himself became just one of several men who took over the role of Dread Pirate Roberts from the man who preceded him is just one of many shocking twists and turns in the book.
The romance between Buttercup and Westley is the heart of the plot The Princess Bride, but Inigo Montoya’s lifelong search for revenge upon the six-fingered man who murdered his sword-making father is the soul of the novel. One of the areas in which the novel differs significantly from the film is in its providing extensive flashback segments that provide background and context for Inigo and Fezzik whom the Man in Black is chasing after they kidnap Buttercup. It is in Inigo’s flashback that full story of how his father was hired to make the perfect sword for the six-fingered who wound up killing him and scarring Inigo for life and how Inigo taught himself to become the best swordsman on the planet. The scene where Inigo finally catches up with the man who killed his father and should prepare to die only to wind up being stabbed through is the most shockingly unexpected moment in the novel. The moment when he finally reveals the one thing he wants the man who killed his father to offer him in exchange for mercy is a moment of such powerful emotional intensity it is almost impossible to take.
Heir to the throne, the world’s most talented hunter and the biggest all-around jerk in either Florin or Guilder, Humperdinck turns out to be the architect behind the kidnapping of Buttercup on the eve of their wedding. Such is Humperdinck’s love for the hunt that marriage to the most beautiful woman alive represents to him only the potential for a wife nagging him to stay home and keep him from attending his beloved Zoo of Death. Which is another significant break from the book that the movie takes.
Prince Humperdinck is a massive jerk, but his right hand man is pure evil. He is in the midst of writing the ultimate scientific textbook on all things associated with delivering and experiencing pain. In fact, he has constructed a machine located in Humperdinck’s Zoo of Death that is expressly built for the purpose of testing the limits of how much pain one can endure. It is also worth noting that Count Rugen has a quite distinctive anatomical deformity that nevertheless has not adversely impacted his skill with a sword: he has six fingers.
Fezzik is enormously huge and amazingly strong. To most people he seems a bit on the slow side, but he has developed a close relationship with his best friend, Inigo Montoya. Inigo has found a way to communicate with Fezzik by appealing to the giant’s love of rhymes that reveals that while he is certainly never going to win a battle of wits with Vizzini the Sicilian, he is not nearly as dim-witted as most people assume. Along with Inigo and Vizzini, Fezzik has been hired by Humperdinck to kidnap Buttercup and leave evidence pointing the finger at Guilder.
Vizzini the Sicilian
Vizzini is the self-professed brain of the trio hired to kidnap Buttercup. Vizzini is every bit as proud of his brain power as Inigo is of his talent with a sword or Fezzik of his strength. Like those two, Vizzini learns that he is not quite up to the startling talents and abilities of the Man in Black who is chasing them. Unlike his two companions, serious doubt is raised that Vizzini is quite as deserving of sense of pride in his superior intelligence as Inigo is in his superior swordsmanship or Fezzik in his overpowering physical potency.
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