The Princess Bride Themes

The Princess Bride Themes

Life Isn't Fair

Very few novels offer their overarching theme so distinctly and so clearly as The Princess Bride.

“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.”

You won’t find this theme laid out with such precision or effectively transmitted through means of dramatic narrative in the popular film adapted from the novel because the thematic lesson forwarded within the pages of the book is situated within the annotations proffered by author William Goldman in his guise as the editor of the S. Morgenstern’s original novel.

The thematic lesson that life isn’t fair which is delineated via remembrance of a childhood conversation young “Billy Goldman” has with an older neighbor lady is constantly revealed throughout the narrative progression of the book. In fact, it is the very framework through which those narrative events are related that underlies and justifies this explicit realization of the book’s theme. The novel exists as an attempt to put back into the story “the good parts” that Goldman’s father left out when he read the original to young Billy. By removing the more disturbing elements of reality, the father inadvertently contributes to the conceptual motivation to present to children a reality that is, in fact, a lie. This lie arrives in the form of creating a worldview that insists that life is fair: the good guys always win, the bad guys always get their just desserts and life is always good. When children grow up, of course, they come to realize that view of life being fair is not even close to be the truth and that realization results in a traumatic reaction that engenders lifelong anxiety.

The nice neighbor lady who provides the insight into the fact that life isn’t fair is, on the contrary, not viewed with disdain by young Billy nor does her insight engender a traumatic reaction of anxiety. In fact, as the woman almost certainly imagined it would, brutal honesty serves to emancipate Billy from the shackles of hypocritical lies.

“I was so happy if I’d known how to dance, I’d have started dancing. Isn’t that great? Isn’t it just terrific?”

Right from the beginning during the extended introductory sequence in which William Goldman explains how he came to know the S. Morgenstern’s The Princess Bride in edited form and what has driven him to edit it and annotate for public consumption in a new revised form, there is the suggestion that for no one life is exactly what might be termed fair. Although the life that is detailed as being the the biographical strain of “William Goldman” is circumstantially different from the life of the actual William Goldman, he lets us know that it is not what he imagined. He even allowed that his marriage is not one that can be characterized entirely accurately as “happy.”

From that opening salvo, the novel becomes one in which unfairness after unfairness piles on top of one another: Westley is presumed dead by Buttercup; Inigo Montoya’s father is brutally murdered; Inigo seems to fail to exact vengeance; Buttercup’s marriage to Humperdinck takes place as planned. And then, just when it seems as though all these unfair bits are going to fade away as the good guys do win and the bad guys get their comeuppance, Inigo starts to bleed profusely, Westley lapses back into deadness, Fezzik’s sense of direction fails again and a horse loses a shoe.

Why?

Because life isn’t fair. And among all the romance and swashbuckling and high adventure, that is ultimately the lesson that the reader is intended to take away from The Princess Bride.

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