The Princess Bride (novel)

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

A Hot Fairy-Tale

A 1973 book by William Goldman, The Princess Bride is about the trials of true love in the Renaissance European nation of Florin. The story stars Buttercup, a simple yet incredibly beautiful farmgirl, and Westley, the farmhand she enjoys ordering around. Although they realize that they share the incredibly rare thing called "true love", fate conspires to keep them apart, as Westley is lost at sea.

Five years later, Prince Humperdinck, who rules Florin in place of his elderly and doddering father, decides to celebrate the kingdom's 500th anniversary by marrying Buttercup, who is still the most beautiful woman in the kingdom. Buttercup, knowing that the Prince is well within his rights and believing she can never love again anyway, reluctantly agrees.

In a plot against the throne, Buttercup is kidnapped by the criminal trio of Vizzini (the mastermind), Fezzik (the dumb muscle) and Inigo Montoya (the world's greatest fencer, traveling to avenge his father) - but their steps are hampered by a mysterious man in black who seems determined to stop them at all costs. The subsequent adventures are madcap, iconic and brilliant.

The book uses a Framing Device with the author "abridging" an older story in order to turn a very satirical (and rather cynical) adult novel by the Florinese author S. Morgenstern into the adventure tale for children that he remembers his father reading to him as a kid. He was so successful with it that over the decades since its publication more than a few fans have searched in vain for the fictional "original version".

It was later adapted by the author into a well-known film of the same name.

The new edition published for the book's 25th anniversary included additional commentary (including some remarks on the film), and a rather confusing preview chapter from a projected sequel, Buttercup's Baby, which implicitly references Goldman's unrelated novel Control. Unfortunately, Goldman died before finishing the sequel.

Tropes used in The Princess Bride (novel) include:
  • Acquired Poison Immunity: The Man in Black has been building up an immunity to iocaine powder for several years.
  • Adaptation Distillation: In-universe. The[1] original book that the story was told from was a long, boring political satire that the narrator distilled into just the good parts for his son.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Humperdinck calls Queen Bella "Evil Stepmother," or E.S. for short. And yes, it is an affectionate nickname; he's quite fond of her.
  • Affectionate Parody: Pulls off the tricky balancing act between joyful appreciation and subtle (and not so subtle) parody.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Prince Humperdinck is the only character not swayed by Buttercup's beauty. He just views her as a political tool to convince his country to go over war for.
  • Anachronism Stew: The setting is "before Europe", yet "after America" and before the invention of the word "glamour." Also, there is a mention of Australia being populated entirely by criminals, and Westley is described as wearing blue jeans. Oh, and stew is older than everything, except taxes.
    • Lampshaded by the confused and exasperated comments Goldman claims he received back from his frazzled editor about this very subject.
  • And Now You Must Marry Me: The Scarpia Ultimatum version.
  • Arranged Marriage: Buttercup to Prince Humperdinck.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Played straight with Prince Humperdinck and Count Rugen; the King, however, is merely senile, and the Queen is the most beloved person in the kingdom.
  • As You Know: Subverted. "Let me explain. (Beat) No, there is too much. Let me sum up."
    • Iocaine comes from Australia, as everyone knows. (There is no such thing, but then again...).
  • Author Filibuster: Parodied; the original version[2] was apparently riddled with these, but the 'editor' didn't realize until adulthood because his father only told him 'the good bits' as a child. The editor promptly cuts pretty much all of them from his annotation, as they apparently completely bog the novel down in irrelevant minutiae and pompous tangents.
  • Badass Spaniard: Inigo Montoya plays this one to the hilt.
  • Battle of Wits: Iocaine powder. That is all.
  • Best Served Cold: Inigo's quest for vengeance against six-fingered man Count Rugen.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: For Westley and Buttercup's first kiss, the narrative goes on at length about how, since the accidental invention of the kiss, people have been divided over what mathematical equation will best describe the perfect kiss; however, there have been five throughout history that everyone agrees "deserve full marks." The narrative then declares, "Well, this one left them all behind."
  • The Big Guy: Fezzik. It's been his condition since childhood; when his father tried to teach him to box in order to defend himself against his mean schoolmates, Fezzik accidentally broke his jaw.
  • Bits of Me Keep Passing Out: Inverted and Played for Laughs as it takes a while for Miracle Max's cure to fully take effect on Westley, and Inigo and Fezzik have to carry him around while Storming the Castle as bits of him are "waking up" one at a time.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: The book ends this way. Seriously. They make it though.
  • The Brute: Subverted. Fezzik is really quite a nice guy.
  • Buy Them Off
  • Catch Phrase: "Hello, My Name Is Inigo Montoya. You Killed My Father. Prepare to Die." Also, "As You Wish" and "Inconceivable!"
    • Only in the book: "True love is the greatest thing in the world, except for cough drops." It's repeated multiple times by characters at multiple levels of reality, as if everyone knows this is self-evidently true.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture
  • Confession Deferred:
    • Inigo trying to convince Miracle Max to work cheap:

Inigo: This is noble, sir. His wife is... crippled. His children are on the brink of starvation.
Miracle Max: Are you a rotten liar.
Inigo: I need him to help avenge my father, murdered these twenty years.
Miracle Max: Your first story was better.

    • When Yellin tries to resign because he can't find the rumored saboteurs from Guilder, Humperdinck (who needs a regent in Guilder after the war, only trusts Yellin and Rugen, and knows Rugen is too busy with "his stupid Pain Primer") promptly tells him what's really going on and what planted evidence he should find later.

Humperdinck: I do not accept your resignation, you are doing a capable job, there is no plot, I shall slaughter the Queen myself this very evening, you shall run Guilder for me after the war, now get back on your feet.

Man in Black: What you do not smell is called Iocaine powder. It is odorless, tasteless, dissolves instantly in liquid and is among the more deadly poisons known to man.
Humperdinck (sniffing the vial, later): Iocaine! I'd bet my life on it.

  • Five-Bad Band: (At least before the kidnapping)
  • Fractured Fairy Tale: Interruptions in between and the occasional Rodents of Unusual Size.
  • Framing Device
  • Genre Savvy: The entire story.
  • Gentle Giant: Fezzik, who is happiest when he's just making up rhymes with his buddy Inigo.
  • Get It Over With: Inigo to the man in black.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Inigo has Good Scars.
    • And Count Rugen gets Evil Scars! (And dies ten seconds later.)
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Buttercup realizes she's in love with Westley because Countess Rugen has the visible hots for him.
  • Hair of Gold: Both Buttercup and Westley.
  • Hairstyle Malfunction: A potential bride for Humperdink visits, bringing along her hugely famous collection of hats. Unfortunately for her, a breeze blows through the castle while she's there, her hat comes off to reveal her (heretofore hidden) baldness, and Humperdink is ready to go to war with her country because of the embarrassment he suffered seeing her.
  • Happily Ever After: The version his father told him ends with a happily-ever-after. As an adult, he learns that the actual book leaves it a bit more open-ended.
  • Heel Face Turn: Inigo and Fezzik, technically.
  • Henpecked Husband:
    • Buttercup's father.
    • And the fictional version of William Goldman himself.
    • Also Miracle Max, to an extent.

Valerie: Liar! Liar! LIIIAAAAAR!

  • Heroic Second Wind: Inigo isn't going down that easily.
  • Heterosexual Life Partners: Inigo and Fezzik seem to be this. Also, in Inigo's Backstory, this is the kind of relationship between his father, Domingo Montoya, and Domingo's best friend Yeste.
  • Home, Sweet Home: Westley wants to settle down with Buttercup.
  • Hypocritical Humor: The novel mentions removing sections of the original text that were boring and unsuitable for children... in the midst of a section of text that is boring and unsuitable for children.
  • Ice Queen/Defrosting Ice Queen: Buttercup goes from one to the other and back again throughout the story. She starts out cold, then defrosts when she realizes she's in love with Westley, then freezes up again after he's murdered by pirates, then defrosts again when he shows up. When Humperdinck catches them coming out of the Fire Swamp, she agrees to leave with him to save her own life, freezing up once more, but later thaws when she realizes she made a huge mistake.
  • I Don't Pay You to Think: Vizzini tells Fezzik "You were not hired for your brains!"
  • The Igor: The Albino.
  • I Gave My Word: Played straight by Inigo as Westley is trying to climb the Cliffs of Insanity. Twisted around when Prince Humperdinck promises not to hurt Westley if Buttercup goes quietly ("You (meaning Count Rugen) will do the actual tormenting; I will only spectate"), but ultimately subverted when Humperdinck mostly kills Westley himself.
  • I Know You Know I Know: " I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me! But you would have counted on my thinking that, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you!..."
  • Incendiary Exponent: Fezzik during the storming of the castle.
  • Instant Plunder, Just Add Pirates: The Dread Pirate Roberts, to be precise.
  • Inter Class Romance: Buttercup gets made princess of a tiny area so that Prince Humperdinck can marry her. This also puts her socially above Westley, who used to work as her farmhand before becoming a pirate.
  • Ironic Echo: "I swear it will be done." (Prince Humperdinck and Count Rugen)
    • Inigo swearing on his father's soul not to attack the Man in Black until he finishes climbing, versus Yellin swearing on his mother's soul that he didn't have any gate key.
  • Karma Houdini: Prince Humperdinck.
  • King on His Deathbed: Prince Humperdinck's father
  • Last of His Kind: Inigo is the only living swordsman who holds (or would hold if there were anyone to give it to him) the rank of Wizard.
  • Legacy Character: The Dread Pirate Roberts.
  • Life Isn't Fair: A major theme of the book, and the subject of at least one plot-interrupting Author Filibuster. As the very last lines of the book state, "Life isn't fair. It's just fairer than death, that's all."
    • A similar sentiment is the line in both book and movie (though in very different contexts):

"Life is pain. Anyone who says differently is selling something."

  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: See Author Filibuster -- the supposed original version of the book is, in fact, nonexistent.
  • Living Legend: The Dread Pirate Roberts is a mythical pirate. Fezzik earns a reputation as a brawler whose arms can never be stopped.
  • Look Behind You!
  • Marry for Love
  • Metafictional Device: Used, lampshaded and parodied everywhere.
  • Mexican Standoff: Between Vizzini and the Man in Black, leading up to the battle of wits.
  • Minion with an F In Evil: Inigo and Fezzik. They follow Vizzini's orders, but they can't hide the fact that they're really pretty nice guys.
  • The Napoleon: Vizzini.
  • Neutral Female: Buttercup is hilariously useless.
    • But, in the end, she manages to drive off the entire Brute Squad by standing up in the saddle and declaring, " I - am - the - queeeeeeeeeeeen!!!!!"
      • Which she wasn't, but she knew that "I am the princess!" just wouldn't have the same effect.
  • Never Say That Again: Humperdinck! Humperdinck! Humperdinck!
    • Also, Count Rugen: "Stop saying that!"
  • No Ending: Heavily Lampshaded.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The last level of the Zoo of Death is a long, dark hallway, entirely devoid of the horrific beasts of the other levels. The idea is to lure the intruders into a false sense of security so that they are bitten by the extremely poisonous spider hidden in the doorknob at the end. Inigo actually finds the apparent lack of beasts and traps even more worrisome than the previous two levels, and Fezzik is so terrified of what's going on that he bursts through the door at the end (without even touching the handle).
  • Our Hero Is Dead
  • Out-Gambitted: Go ahead and go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line if you are immune to a poison you are using.
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: The Dread Pirate Roberts, when he's present anyway. Justified, as he spends a good deal of the time either not being the Dread Pirate Roberts, in the fire swamp, in the fifth level of the Zoo of Death, mostly dead, or trying to rescue Buttercup.
  • Person with the Clothing: The Man in Black.
  • Pet Rat: The goons hired by Prince Humperdinck, whose job is to clear out the Thieves' Quarter. Not to mention Vizzini and his crew.
  • Pistol-Whipping: Sword whipping, actually.
  • Plot Hole: Lampshaded repeatedly, to the point where the amount of events that don't make any practical sense other than to drive S. Morgenstern's plot becomes something of a running joke.
  • Plot-Powered Stamina: Fezzik's arms never get tired.
  • Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo: Part of Vizzini's Batman Gambit that revolves around the aforementioned I Know You Know I Know.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: "I want my father back, you son-of-a-bitch!"
  • Prepositional Phrase Equals Coolness: The Cliffs of Insanity, the Man in Black, the Rodents of Unusual Size, and the Zoo of Death, just to name a few.
  • Pressure Point: Vizzini uses a Vulcan Neck Pinch on Buttercup.
  • Pretext for War: The plot behind Buttercup's kidnapping.
  • Prince Charmless: And Murderous!
  • Psycho for Hire: Count Tyrone Rugen
  • Physical Scars, Psychological Scars: Inigo Montoya has a scar on each cheek given to him by the man who killed his father which serves to strengthen his drive for revenge.
  • Punch Clock Villain: Inigo and Fezzik; the Albino.
  • Punch-Punch-Punch Uh-Oh
  • Quicksand Sucks: Except it's not quicksand. The stuff Buttercup falls into in the book is called 'snow sand,' and is rather like baby powder in consistency. As the narrative explains, quicksand is wet and kills by drowning, while snow sand is dry and powdery and kills by suffocation.
  • Rags to Royalty: Buttercup.
  • "Reading Is Cool" Aesop
  • Red Right Hand: It has six fingers.
  • Remembered Too Late: Max remembers after the heroes leave that the potion will only make Westley fully fit for 40 minutes.
  • Resurrection Sickness
  • Revenge
  • Rhymes on a Dime: Fezzik, much to Vizzini's annoyance.
  • Robotic Torture Device
  • Scarecrow Solution: "The Dread Pirate Roberts" rig that Fezzik wore.
  • Scarily Competent Tracker: Prince Humperdinck!
  • Scheherazade Gambit: Westley's relationship with the previous Dread Pirate Roberts.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules: "I want my father back, you son of a bitch!"
  • Secret Test: When Westley rescues Buttercup, his True Love, from her kidnappers, he doesn't reveal his true identity, in the hope of finding out whether she still loves him or not.
  • Slave to PR: The Dread Pirate Roberts works hard to maintain his reputation as a murderous bastard.
  • So Beautiful It's a Curse: Buttercup. Her beauty is enough to get her promoted to future queen, except the Prince threatens to kill her if she refuses. And he's planning to kill her anyway. In fact, if she were slightly less beautiful, the whole conflict wouldn't have happened.
    • Slightly averted in that he originally had every intention of going through with the marriage, until he came up with the plot to frame Guilder. He specifically says to Count Rugen that he wants a wife who is so insanely beautiful that the whole world will be jealous, which is why Rugen shows him Buttercup in the first place.
  • Something Only They Would Say: Roberts saying "As you wish", reveals himself to be Westley.
  • So What Do We Do Now?: Inigo gets his revenge, but he spent all his adult life in pursuit of it. What should he do?
  • Sparing the Aces: The Man in Black would no sooner kill a genius than shatter a stained glass window.
  • Spin-Off: The Silent Gondoliers, another Goldman novel supposedly adapted from an original by S. Morgenstern.
  • Stop Saying That: Count Rugen, verbatim, to Inigo Montoya.
  • Storming the Castle[3]
  • Succession Crisis: The whole thing gets started when Prince Humperdinck learns that his father is dying and he has to marry to produce an heir. FALSE.
  • Sword Fight: The duel between Inigo and the Man in Black.
  • Tap on the Head: The Dread Pirate Roberts to Inigo (swordhilt) and Fezzik (stranglehold), Count Rugen to Westley (swordhilt), and Fezzik to the albino (fist).
  • Terrible Trio: Vizzini, Inigo, and Fezzik are either an example of this or Three Amigos. Because Vizzini is a cad, but Fezzik and Inigo are mostly good, but on the other hand Inigo and Fezzik both help to kidnap Buttercup and, oh never mind! Later becomes heroic when someone gets slapped with iocaine powder.
  • Theme Naming: Florin and Guilder are different names for the same medieval European coin. Currency with those names is still in use today.
  • Thicker Than Water
  • Try and Follow: The Fire Swamp and the Cliffs of Insanity.
  • Un Installment: The "reunion scene". When Buttercup and Westley are reunited, there's an editor's note explaining that for one reason and another the book doesn't include a detailed depiction of their reunion, but you can write in to the publisher to be sent a copy. People who did write in instead received a letter explaining that the Morgenstern estate had frowned on this, and the publisher needed to keep in good with the Morgenstern estate to avoid messing up the film rights/the US's trade ties with Florin/Goldman's chances of being allowed to "adapt" the sequel (the letter was updated from time to time with a new excuse). The then-current text of the letter was included in the 25th Anniversary Edition.
  • Undead Author: The Dread Pirate Roberts leaves no survivors.
    • Then how do other people know who perpetrated the attack?
  • Unreliable Narrator: Goldman portrays himself as one in the book's foreword. He then sets out to prove it, quite successfully. He also portrays Morgenstern as an unreliable narrator. And his father (who read him the book as a child).
  • Villainous Breakdown: As Inigo refuses to die, and slowly gains the upper hand on Rugen in their duel, Rugen first becomes shaken, then demands that Inigo "Stop saying that!"
  • Wall Slump: Inigo has a famous one after Rugen stabs him... several times.
  • Wham! Line:
    • "As you wish!" as Roberts tumbles down the hillside.
    • Humperdinck is presented as a Jerkass for claiming Buttercup as a trophy wife - though he seems sincerely concerned that Guilder kidnapped her and plans to kill her - and later imprisoning Westley to get him out of the way. Then he reveals that he was behind Buttercup's abduction all along, and was trying to frame Guilder for it, and will instead murder her on the wedding night and frame Guilder for that instead.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Fezzik is terrified of being alone.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Utterly averted with Queen Bella, who has an excellent relationship with her stepson the Prince. Humperdinck calls her "Evil Stepmother" (or E.S. for short), but entirely in jest.
  • World's Most Beautiful Woman: Buttercup. At first she's only in the top twenty, but when she begins to take more care in her appearance she rapidly climbs the ranks.
  • Your Eyes Can Deceive You: Part of Inigo's training.
The released portion of Buttercup's Baby provides examples of:
  • Affectionate Nickname: Buttercup and Westley's daughter Waverly refers to Fezzik as "Shade".
  • Author Filibuster: Parodied, as in The Princess Bride, with S. Morgenstern's digressions. After a huge buildup to a fight, the conclusion is a perfunctory few sentences mixed in with several pages about the positive qualities of a certain type of tree. Goldman explains that Morgenstern had a large monetary stake involving these trees, and used the book as an opportunity to make them more popular.
  • Belated Happy Ending: Buttercup's Baby resolves the open ending of The Princess Bride.
  • Big Guy Fatality Syndrome: It's Big Guy Fezzik who throws himself over an enormous cliff to save Waverly, who is Buttercup and Westley's daughter.
  1. non-existent
  2. which does not in fact exist
  3. "Think it'll work?" "It'll take a miracle."