A Hot Fairy-TaleA 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 now the most beautiful woman in the world. 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.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.The even newer edition for the 30th anniversary contains additional commentary about the film, as well as everything contained in the 25th anniversary edition, resulting in three forewords. One more foreword and the 'Good Parts' version will be thicker than Morgenstern's original version!
Adaptation Distillation: In-universe. Thenote non-existent 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.
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 thenagain...).
Author Filibuster: Parodied; the original versionnote which does not in fact exist 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.
The alleged edits are usually just as funny as the rest of the book. Such as the editorial on the removal of chapter 3: 56 and a half pages of Buttercup packing her luggage.
Bad News in a Good Way: How Westly tried to present their unavoidable escape into the Fire Swamp to Buttercup. It didn't quite work.
Best Served Cold: Inigo's quest for vengeance against six-fingered man Count Rugen, which began when he was eleven.
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.
Big Guy Rodeo: The Man in Black does this to Fezzik. It works, too; according to Fezzik, it's because he's got used to fighting crowds (battling gangs for local charities—that kind of thing) and is out of practice with one-on-one duels.
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.
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.
Conservation of Ninjutsu: Played straight, but it only works for Fezzik, and with a caveat. In his past, Fezzik used to fight people one-on-one for money. Audiences got bored of the CurbStompBattles so Fezzik started taking on more and more people, and found that if he changed his strategy a little bit, it wasn't much harder than fighting single people. During his fight with the Man in Black, Fezzik realizes that his years of fighting groups have left him confused as to how to fight one person. He adjusts his strategy, but by that point, it's too late.
Contemptible Cover: There exists a mass-market paperback edition that came out about two years after the book's first release in 1973. The cover art◊ depicts a dark-haired woman with very few clothes surrounded by skulls, snakes, tentacles and other horrifying objects. Apparently, not only did the artist not read the book beforehand, he must not have even seen a plot summary.
Cool Horse: Four of them, in fact, the white horses Prince Humperdinck breeds.
Cool Mask: The Man in Black. It's just terribly comfortable!
Deadpan Snarker: When he isn't professing his undying love to Buttercup, Westly is probably being very sarcastic with her. Especially in regards to her (lack of) intelligence. (Well, she's blonde in the movie, anyway.)
Determinator: Inigo in his fight with Count Rugen. Stabbed repeatedly and still keeps coming.
Empty Room Psych: The fifth level of Count Rugen's Zoo of Death, which is bereft of any of the horrific monsters of the previous two levels, just to lull invaders into a false sense of security so that they fall prey to the deadly spider in the door handle. This backfires, though, by just freaking Inigo and Fezzik out even more and allowing them to evade the danger.
Even Evil Has Standards: Even Count Rugen is aghast when Humperdinck gets his hands on the machine to torture Westley.
Pragmatic Villainy: The narration reveals the Count is upset because you can't torture a dead body (he is an expert on pain, after all).
Everything's Better with Princesses: Buttercup actually gets promoted to princess, because she was born a commoner but Humperdinck wants to marry her. The book even explains how she had to attend royalty school for three years, and was given the title of Princess of Hammersmith (which was part of the Florinese property but nobody ever paid attention to it) because the Prince couldn't marry a commoner.
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.
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 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: "...so 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!..."
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 father's 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.
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."
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 venomous spider hidden in the doorknob at the end. Inigo 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 touching the handle, and squashing the spider in the process.
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.
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.
Slave to PR: The Dread Pirate Roberts works hard to maintain his reputation as a murderous bastard. You don't have to fight as often if people surrender their valuables in order to avoid certain death.
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.
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?note Westley recommends piracy, suggesting that Inigo would make a great Dread Pirate Roberts.
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.
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 ˇThree 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.
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.
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).
To wit: Narrator Goldman talks about a wife and kid he doesn't have in real life (not to mention as saying the story is actually satirical non-fiction). Narrator Morgenstern says that the story happened before Europe but after America. Narrator Father never informed his son that the story came from a historical text and he skipped over all the (lengthy) boring parts)
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.
"As you wish!" as Roberts tumbles down the hillside.
Humperdinck is presented as a Jerk Ass 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.
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.
It's also played with, in that Goldman's removal of these in The Princess Bride is said to be a point of contention with Morgenstern's estate about letting him 'abridge' Buttercup's Baby; apparently, the estate considers these the most important parts of the book.