Watch and Read: The Princess Bride Edition

The Princess Bride is impossible to summarize or place in one genre: a farmboy is hopelessly in love with the most beautiful girl in the world, so goes off to seek his fortune; a princess is captured by a group of criminals-for-hire; a swordsman is sworn to revenge the death of his father by killing a six-fingered man; the Dread Pirate Roberts is terrorizing the seas and capturing ships; a prince wants to start a war with a neighboring nation; etc., etc., etc.

If you haven't read the novel, by William Goldman, that's a good place to start: though the beloved movie remains relatively close to the novel (as movie adaptations go, at any rate), there are some gems in the book that don't make it onto the big screen (Prince Humperdinck's Zoo, for one). Goldman structures the novel as an abridgement of an even older novel by S. Morgenstern, compiling only the good bits; this framing can sometimes be distracting (the "original" novel by S. Morgenstern is an invention of Goldman's imagination), but is mostly entertaining, as Goldman interjects with his own "author's commentary" throughout the story.

Post-novel: the movie. If you somehow have made it through the last 25 years without seeing The Princess Bride, I'm... not even sure where to begin. It's simply inconceivable. But whether you've seen it or not, it's worth watching the movie after reading the novel to see how Goldman adapted the story for the big screen (Goldman wrote the screenplay).

Post-movie viewing: Cary Elwes' memoir, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride. If you're an audiobook fan, I recommend this one on audio (it's narrated by Elwes himself, with guest appearances from Robin Wright, Christopher Guest, Billy Crystal, and others from the cast of the movie). Elwes tells all about the making of the movie, and it's an absolute delight to be treated to "insider" stories of this beloved film.

Some fun facts: 
Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin trained for nearly 40 hours a week in swordplay so they could perform the big duel--noted in the novel to be the greatest swordfight in history--themselves (and, with the exception of a few large gymnastic-esque tricks, they did it, even though Cary had a broken toe at the time).  
Cary Elwes had to be replaced by a dummy of Cary Elwes in the Miracle Max scene (when he's mostly dead on the table), because he couldn't stop laughing during the cuts with Billy Crystal and Carol Kane (all of which were improvised, by the way). Mandy Patinkin had to be on the set for that scene--he has lines there, and isn't mostly dead, after all--and tried so hard to stop laughing on camera that he bruised a rib during the shooting. 
And one more, for good measure: The ROUSes were actually played by men in rat suits. Who knew?
Reading (or listening to) As You Wish is something like attending a cast party rolled into the kindest high-school reunion imaginable. Elwes has nothing but praise and compliments for the cast and crew of the film, and his insider stories are delightful, not scandalous. It's an absolute treat for anyone who's been interested in (or in love with, take your pick) the movie for any period of time.

For good measure, it's worth it to go back and watch the movie again after hearing Elwes' stories of the making of. There are things there you never would have noticed before, and things you'll appreciate more because of his account. Plus, it's the kind of movie made to be watched again and again... and again and again and again, as you wish.


The Princess Bride | William Goldman | Mariner Books | Mass Market Paperback | 511 pages | Buy from an independent bookstore near you

A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review:
As You Wish | Cary Elwes, narrated by Cary Elwes (introduction written and read by Rob Reiner) | Simon & Schuster Audio | ~7 hours | Buy from an independent bookstore near you

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