Ossus Library Index
Fantasy Index


A novel by William Goldman
(1973, Harcourt Brace & Company)

A beautiful young woman is kidnapped from her fiancÚ, but is rescued by her true love, who also tries to rescue her from her fiancÚ.


-- First reading (hardcover)
June 8th to 16th, 2006


Fairly dull in most places, though I enjoyed most of the action sequences. I remembered very little of the movie that I saw once many, many years ago. It turns out that what I did remember about the movie consists of the best parts of the book, so it is no wonder.

Spoiler review:

Actually, the best part of the book, in terms of being funny, which is how this book is billed, is the introduction. I like Goldman's writing style a lot better than that of the original author, Morgenstern. For he explains how his father read him this book when he was sick in bed with pneumonia (which forms the bookends to the movie), but only told him the "good parts", ignoring the satirical exposition about the royalty of the country of Florin. He was appalled to learn how boring most of the book actually was, and decided to rectify the matter by abridging it. Although the story is about true love, it is apparent that Goldman has not experienced this emotion. He is cynical, which makes for some funny writing, but also some depressing and - well - cynical comments.

The story itself is concerned with Buttercup, who became the most beautiful woman in the world when she came of age. The farm hand Westley is secretly in love with her, and when she finally discovers that she is in love with him, he takes off to find his fortune, so that they can live happily after ever. The only problem is that his ship to the New World is attacked by the Dread Pirate Roberts, and he is reported killed. Buttercup achieves her utmost beauty after experiencing this loss, and getting through it.

So when Prince Humperdinck sees her, he immediately decides that he wants her for his wife. The chapter that follows is the only really memorable part of the book. When Buttercup is riding out alone, she is kidnapped by a quick-witted Sicilian, a fencing-master Spaniard, and a Giant Turk. As they scale the cliffs of insanity, they are followed by a Man in Black, who defeats each in turn. This is really the only part of the movie that I recalled, and will probably be the only part of the book that I remember into the future, as well. The Man in Black turns out to be, of course, Westley, who became apprenticed to the Dread Pirate Roberts instead of being killed, and who gave him the title when the present Dread Pirate Roberts wanted to retire. I liked the description of each of the kidnappers in turn, with their long backstories, the most important of which was the Spaniard.

Making their way through the fire swamp, they survive lightning sand and Rodents of Unusual Size (R.O.U.S.), only to be captured by the Prince when they exit. Buttercup does the only thing that she can do to save them: she re-offers herself to the Prince, a master hunter, who promises safe passage to Westley.

The Prince is of course lying, and has Westley brought to a cell at the bottom of his Zoo of Death, which contains all sorts of the most dangerous creatures on the planet. Here Westley is healed of his wounds from the Fire Swamp and then tortured by the Count.

It is also revealed to us that the kidnappers were hired by the Prince, in order to start a war with a neighboring country. From the way he was described as needing an heir, this doesn't really make sense to me. It is not convincing because of his Royal needs. He stormed off because he refused to marry a bald Princess. He wanted the most beautiful of all for his Queen. So when he found Buttercup, she was ideal. The narrative gets us inside his head at these points, so we know that he wants a really beautiful wife to give him an heir. So when did he decide to have her killed? It would make more sense to pretend to marry somebody else, do the killing, then the war, and then finally marry for beauty and an heir.

Regardless, the rest of the story has Buttercup whining away for Westley to come rescue her, Westley being tortured, and Humperdinck plotting again to have her killed. There are some feelings present, though, for he goes into a jealous rage when she tries to break off the marriage, and he ends up literally sucking the rest of the life from Westley's body.

Fortunately, Fezzik the giant has found out that Inigo the Spaniard's nemesis is none other than the Count who is torturing Westley. They go through the zoo of death, countering all of the creatures designed to guard the passages, which is another of my favorite passages of this book. When they discover Westley dead on the fifth level underground, they go to a miracle man to have him resurrected. This comes out of nowhere, and way too much time is spent there.

Westley comes alive again for forty five minutes (instead of the hour he was promised, of which we are reminded over and over and over), and helps Fezzik and Inigo enter the castle. By then, the Prince has fast-forwarded the wedding, which reminds me too much of the similar scene in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. I don't think anybody would contest that they were not in fact married. Westley can't know this, but he says it anyway. I suppose it didn't matter regardless, since the Prince planned to murder her immediately afterwards. Westley bluffs the Prince into letting Buttercup tie him up, which is the least believable part of the book (even less than bringing Westley back to life). Everyone (including the narrator) keeps saying that Fezzik is stupid, but he does a lot of smart things in this book, especially stealing the horses so that they could escape, after he gets lost and comes across the stables.

Inigo actually gets some closure, though his wounds could use some as well, by the end. He chases the Count, who turns into a coward: instead of dueling Inigo, he throws a knife at the man. But Inigo hears all of the voices from his past, which encourages him to get up despite all his lost blood, and fight the Count until the other man drops dead. The duel was rewarding, though I could have done without all the voices. Somehow, with holes all through his body, including a fist-sized hole in his stomach, Inigo also manages to get up to the Prince's bedroom, jump from a window, and ride a horse out the gates.

The story actually ends right there. The cynical Goldman suggests that Buttercup lost her beauty, that she and Westley bickered, Inigo fell dead from all of his wounds, Fezzik lost his strength eventually, and that Westley could never sleep because Prince Humperdinck was still alive and hunting him. Frankly, I think both endings could use improvement.

If my review is lackluster, it is because I found most of the book to be lackluster as well. My notebook through this novel is almost empty, because I couldn't find many things that interested me enough to comment about, good or bad. There were two sequences that I really enjoyed: the long kidnapping, which included lots of background on the characters, and the battle through the zoo of death. Other than that, I couldn't wait to get on with the story. But it turned out that there was little more to get on with. The stuff I was passing through was the story. Perhaps some of this is due to expectations. I didn't remember laughing through the movie too much, but I did enjoy it, I think. The book was described as being even funnier. That may be so, but everything is relative.


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