The Princess Bride Literary Elements

The Princess Bride Literary Elements


Fantasy, Romance, Satire, Experimental Metafiction

Setting and Context

Contemporary America, Undetermined Pre-Modern Fictional Country of Florin

Narrator and Point of View

Author William Goldman creates a semi-fictional version of himself in an extended opening introductory segment in which he establishes the foundation for the The Princess Bride fitting into the genre of experimental metafiction. The introductory segment is written in the first person while the story proper is written in the omniscient third person. However, since the story proper is a conceit in which Goldman is abridging a much longer novel titled The Princess Bride by an author named S. Morgenstern, this third-person perspective is occasionally interrupted by first-person annotations from Goldman written in the same breezy, conversational style.

Tone and Mood

The tone and mood of both the introductory segment and the narrative proper reflect author William Goldman's distinctive style of writing which is breezy, conversational, witty and terse. Despite the fact that the literary conceit of the book is that Goldman is presenting the work of a completely different writer with judicious editing so that only the "good parts" are the original are left intact, precious little differentiation can be noted between the story written by the fictitious Morgenstern and Goldman's commentaries which frequently interrupt the narrative. The mood is always light with a heavy dose of irony until Goldman suddenly reveals the much darker message underlying the lightness.

Protagonist and Antagonist

The Princess Bride really tells two stories at once. In the overlying story, Westley is the protagonist pitted against antagonist Prince Humperdinck. Beneath that tale of true love runs a parallel story of true love of another sort in which Inigo is the protagonist pitted against Count Rugen, the antagonist who murdered Inigo's beloved father.

Major Conflict

There are two major conflicts in The Princess Bride. One occurs as the result of Buttercup vowing to never love again after receiving news that her beloved Westley has been killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts. As a result of vow, Buttercup agrees to accept the marriage proposal from Prince Humperdinck who asserts that the marriage will be one entirely of convenience for him as well. The revelation that Westley did not die creates a conflict between him and Humperdinck since he has serious plans ahead once he becomes king and those plans rest upon killing his bride and blaming it on Florin's longstanding enemy across the water, Guilder. The other great conflict of the book results from Inigo Montoya's lifelong pursuit of the six-fingered man who murdered his father which climaxes with his discovery that the perpetrator of this horrific act is none other than Humperdinck's right-hand man, Count Rugen.


The first climax of The Princess Bride is the result of the confrontation between Inigo Montoya and Count Rugen. After spending his entire life in pursuit of revenge against the man who murdered his father, Inigo nearly blows it by allowing Rugen to sink his sword into him. Calling upon the strength of his father's memory, Inigo revives himself and eventually enjoys the satisfaction of delivering vengeance. The second climax has a Westley revived from near-death through the magic of true love outwitting Prince Humperdinck to secure the freedom of Buttercup. As Westley, Buttercup, Inigo and Fezzik make their escape from the clutches of Humperdinck on horseback into the land of happily ever after, however, Inigo starts bleeding from his wound, Westley slips back into unconsciousness, Fezzik takes a wrong turn and Buttercup's ride throws a horseshoe, raising the possibility that what seems a climax is actually just a high point.


Goldman's running commentary that explains why he chose to edit out significant chunks of Morgenstern's original text includes a healthy dose of ironic foreshadowing, usually presented with a dollop of sarcasm. Even Westley's second "death" is foreshadowed by Goldman's ominous warning to more sensitive readers that "some of the wrong people die."


Understatement is the predominant mode of humor in one of the most famous sequences in The Princess Bride: the confrontation between Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black as he climbs the Cliffs of Insanity and the two engage in a duel. A representative example of the understated humor permeating throughout this extended sequence would be:

"I don't suppose you could speed things up," Inigo said.
"If you want to speed things up so much," the man in black said, clearly quite angry now, "you could lower a rope or a tree branch or find some other helpful thing to do."
"I could do that," Inigo agreed. "But I don't think you would accept my help, since I'm only waiting up here so that I can kill you."
"That does put a damper on our relationship."


The entire book is an allusion to swashbuckling adventure tales, but there are more very direct references. William Goldman alludes to a famous scene from his own screenplay for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where they escape from a pursuing posse by jumping off a high cliff into the rushing river rapids below as the inspiration for that famous scene in The Princess Bride in which the situation is the exact reverse. Inigo, Fezzik and Vizzini attempt to escape a pursuing figure by climbing up a high cliff from the waters below.


Despite the fact that The Princess Bride is set in a fictitious foreign land with a quite unusual topography and populated by even more unusual creatures, Goldman consistently rejects the use of imagery as a means of conveying descriptive information. In fact, an exchange between Westley and Buttercup in the Fire Swamp in which he relates exactly how he managed to avoid being killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts includes a short exchange which satirizes the use of imagery:

I explained my mission, how I had to get to America to get money to reunite me with the most beautiful woman ever reared by man, namely you. 'I doubt that she is as beautiful as you imagine,' he said, and he raised his sword again. 'Hair the color of autumn,' I said, 'and skin like wintry cream.' 'Wintry cream, eh?' he said.


The opening line of the book--which sets the stage for the literary conceit of it actually being an abridgment of another author's story--is just one example of the way Goldman constructs a paradox within a sentence throughout the book: "This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it."


Goldman engages techniques of parallelism throughout the novel. On a more expansive scale, for instance, there is the parallel background segments that provide context for Inigo and Fezzik. Despite the striking differences between the two, the parallel that the flashbacks drawn serve to bind them together and facilitate reader understanding of how they differ so much more from Vizzini. On a smaller scale is Goldman's consistent approach to mining humor in individual scenes through parallel construction of dialogue such as the following:

Inigo, busy with the tea, knew what would happen now: Yeste would use his charm.
Yeste would use his wealth.
His wit, his wonderful gift for persuasion.
He would beg, entreat, promise, pledge.
Insults. Threats.
Finally, genuine tears.
"No. More tea, Yeste?"

Metonymy and Synecdoche

One of the book's revelations offers an unusual example of the rare occasions of metonymy in The Princess Bride. Only after the mystery of the identity of the Man in Black is solved does it become apparent that the phrase Dread Pirate Roberts refers not to any one single individual, but the series of men who have taken on the appearance and role of the original who has long since retired.


Very few examples of personification are found in the novel, but one of those few instances proves surprisingly robust. Throughout three page long description of Westley and Buttercup's encounter with the material in the Fire Swamp, the effect on the human body that the Snow Sand has is made palpable through language that increasingly has the effective of personifying it into an almost sentient sort of malice.

Update this section!

You can help us out by revising, improving and updating this section.

Update this section

After you claim a section you’ll have 24 hours to send in a draft. An editor will review the submission and either publish your submission or provide feedback.