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Princess Bride Discussion questions

Hey all! windandtherain gave me permission to post up some discussion questions for one of this month's selection, the Princess Bride. She'll be posting the discussion questions for Inkheart later this week she said.

So... onto the discussion!

(just a note for credit-some questions were adapted and/or paraphrased and/or directly borrowed from the Random House Reader's Circle)

1. This story is told in an unusual way, with the premise that it's really an abridgment of a novel by a Florinese author. Why do you think William Goldman chose to frame the story that way, and did this technique work for you? Why or why not?

2. On the subject of the story within a story, what did you think of the story of William Goldman (the fictionalized character inserted into the book) and how do you think it ties in with the story of The Princess Bride? You could also consider the information given about S. Morgenstern as yet another story within the story-how does that parallel with the themes of the Princess Bride?

3. Goldman states that the Princess Bride is a satire. According to Webster's Dictionary, a satire is: “a usually topical literary composition holding up human or individual vices, folly, abuses, or shortcomings to censure by means of ridicule, derision, burlesque, irony, or other method sometimes with an intent to bring about improvement.” Do you think the story of the Princess Bride is a successful satire? What parts do you think were satiric?

4. Which character is your favorite and why? Which character is your least favorite and why?

5. Is Westley’s initial anger at Buttercup for agreeing to marry Humperdinck fair? Based on his actions and words, including, at one point, striking her, might Westley be considered an abuser? Are his demonstrated attitudes toward women reinforced or undermined by the text, both in his own story and in Goldman’s comments? (note-completely took the wording of this question from Random House's Reader's Circle)

6. The Princess Bride is touted as a story of 'true love' and 'high adventure.' Does it live up to this billing? Why or why not?

7. Is Goldman’s portrayal of Buttercup misogynistic? Is there a pattern in the way that women are portrayed in The Princess Bride, from the starlet Sandy Sterling to Goldman’s psychoanalyst wife, Helen, to the lawyer Karloff Shogg, who appears in the Buttercup’s Baby addendum? (another excellently worded question that I took from the Reader's Circle)

8. If you have seen the movie, compare the book to the movie. Have you read the book before seeing the movie or vice versa? What was your reaction to both? How do you feel about the film adaptation? Goldman wrote both the novel and the script for the movie-what do you think about the changes he made and the things he kept the same? Why do you think he chose to handle the story the way he did in the film adaptation?

9. Wild card. Discuss whatever else you would like to about the novel.

I'm going to put my thoughts in a comment to this entry, so as not to color anyone else's answers to the questions :)


May. 2nd, 2009 02:45 pm (UTC)
My thoughts
Well, I think before I get into what I thought of the novel, I think it's fair to talk about my experience with it going in. I'm a pretty big fan of the movie. I've seen it several times, particularly since I introduced my husband to it. His reaction when I came home with the PB DVD and wanted to watch it was: "really? do we have to?" He went from that reaction to having it become his favorite movie. He literally puts it in almost every time he needs a 'comfort' movie or anytime he wants a laugh and we are forever quoting it to each other.

So, I have a soft spot in my heart for the Princess Bride, particularly because of how much joy it brings my husband.

Going into reading the novel, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I'm often disappointed by movies based on books if I read the book first. I knew that Goldman wrote both the book and the movie, so I was pretty sure reading the book wouldn't ruin the movie for me (as has sometimes happened to me!) As I was reading the book, many of the scenes in the movie came to life in my head. So, it's tough to judge the book's merit all on its own as I went in with a strong visual in my head of the story already.

But I'm going to take time to answer my own questions and then I'll get into the bottom line of it all :)

1. I'm not a huge fan of this plot element. For one, I didn't find the fictionalized William Goldman a sympathetic character so I didn't find his story about his experience with his wife and son particularly interesting. I did enjoy the way he discussed the emotional importance of his father reading the story to him and I enjoyed the portrayal of a father and son bonding over something as magical as a story (abridged by aforementioned father, which was also very adorable) I found some of William's asides and notes inserted into the narrative amusing, but mostly I found them intrusive. I think that he chose to tell the story in this way for a few reasons-to make sure the readers didn't take it too seriously (since it is meant to be a farce), to layer in a story about a father bonding with a son and about the magic of a story and its power to change a person's life. So, I have sort of a love-hate relationship with this approach to framing the story of the Princess Bride in that I'm not sure if the story would be better or worse for removing that framing of the fictional William Goldman's life and the fictional S. Morgenstern.

More answers in the next comment.
May. 2nd, 2009 03:13 pm (UTC)
2. I think the story of William Goldman and his relationship with his father underlines the theme of 'true love' in a big way. I think that it's not in the least heavy-handed, but the story makes the point that there are many types of love and romantic love is just one of them. We see the love William's father shows for him in reading to him, we see the love between the two unlikely friends, Fezzik and Inigo and the love between Buttercup and Westley. There's also some information in the story about S. Morgenstern's wife and how supportive she is of him and this shows that S. Morgenstern most likely had true love in his life as well.

3. I think I'm going to have to come back to this question. I'm not really sure about the satiric elements and so need to give this some thought.

4. I would have to say my favorite character is a tie between Fezzik and Inigo. I'm not sure how much of this is tied up in my love for the portrayals of them in the movie by Andre the Giant and Mandy Patinkin though. But for Fezzik, I love that he is a 'gentle' giant. He never wanted to be the fighting champion or to cause harm to people, but he was pushed into it. He is a loyal friend to Inigo and even Vizzini and eventually Westley and he is not the brightest, but he makes up for it with his big heart and his sense of honor. As for my love of Inigo... I'll admit-the movie version is what got me. "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." That scene gets me every time. And reading it in the book was no different. It makes me laugh and swell for pride with Inigo. Inigo also shows a great loyalty in his friendship with Fezzik and his desire to avenge his father. Would I have loved the character just the same if I read the book first? I think so, but I can't be sure. As for my least favorite character, I would have to say Buttercup. To me, she seems the most one dimensional character. I wasn't a huge fan of her treatment of Westley in the beginning and I didn't like her suddenly realizing she loved him and I felt like there were a few times when she was portrayed as less than intelligent and that kind of bugged me. But she has her good points too, so eh... least favorite character, but by far not a hated character for me.
May. 2nd, 2009 03:13 pm (UTC)
5 & 7. I personally think his initial anger at Buttercup agreeing to marry Humperdinck was unfair in the highest. For one-she was given a choice to marry Humperdinck or face death so it's not as though she went out and found the first guy and made out with him on Westley's grave (assuming Westley had a grave) I also really hated him striking her. Hated that in the movie version too. Overall, I wasn't too fond of the portrayal of women in the story at all. Buttercup is portrayed as unintelligent and a helpless female far too often whereas Westley is a master at EVERYTHING-he beats Vizzini in a battle of the wits, Inigo who has trained his whole life as a fencer at fencing, and Fezzik the GIANT and prize fighter at a one on fight. And then we have Buttercup who comes off as slightly ditzy and nearly loses her head in the fire swamp and they really overemphasize her beauty. But, perhaps this is all part of the intended satire... I'll have to think that over. I also really hated the portrayal of Helen and the scene with the starlet. The way the fictionalized William Goldman acted towards his wife and was so casual about a potential affair really took away my respect for the character and I'm honestly not sure why it was left in there.

(also, if anyone has read the 25th anniversary edition with the first chapter of Buttercup's baby-I really hated that it was alluded to that Westley had slept with other women while away as the Dread Pirate Roberts. I hated that because it's so very hypocritical of him to expect Buttercup to just wait for him when she thinks he's dead but he can go sleeping around when he KNOWS she's alive. grrr)

and I totally went off on a tangent that answered question 7. whoops.

6. I think the 'true love' of the story that was accurately represented was not the romantic love shown between Westley and Buttercup. Honestly, I didn't buy their love. It seemed like there was a lot of focus on both parts of how they specifically felt for an idealized version of the other person. I didn't see a good enough demonstration of the depth of their love and felt that we were more told they were in love and expected to swallow it. That said, I mentioned above that I think the real 'true love' showed in the story was the love between father and son, and the love of brothers in arms who have become best friends. No idea if that was the intention or not.

As for adventure, you have the cliffs of insanity, fencing, the fire swamp, the zoo of death, storming a castle, shark-infested waters... yes, there's definitely adventure. I think this story has a great sense of adventure in the way it's told and Goldman is effective at even portraying the struggle to get the (fictional) abridgment done and published as an adventure in and of itself.

8. I've done a lot of comparisons to the movie already. Sorry. When you grow up with something, it's hard not to. I was personally impressed in reading by realizing how faithful the movie script was to the dialogue and action in many scenes. I can understand why certain things were cut or shortened and changed around (like the beginning with Westley and Buttercup, which was one of the slower parts of the book for me) but I think on the whole, the movie was a truly faithful adaptation. I think it's clear that Goldman was and still is passionate about this story and I think that shone through in his script for the movie.

Personally, I liked the simplicity of the story of the Grandfather reading to his grandson in the movie. The end scene where the grandson asks the grandfather to come back tomorrow and read the book to him and he says "as you wish" is one of my favorite parts of the movie. The book had something very similar (or vice versa, since the book came first) and that ran deeper in some ways with the father-son relationship and particularly the discussion of the things the father cut out or didn't want to read to his son. (like the ending. ending it with happily ever after when there were a few more lines that ended it without happily ever after)

Whew. I will probably come back and add more thoughts, especially as the discussion gets going.
May. 2nd, 2009 09:33 pm (UTC)
I read the 25th anniversary version before seeing the movie some years ago. When I read the book the first time, I really enjoyed the inner story and the comedy, such as the ratings of the best kiss, etc. I hated the author's commentary, however. And then I saw the movie, loved it, and promptly forgot how much I disliked the author intrusions in the book.

So, rereading it now, I didn't dislike the commentary as much. I read somewhere that his part of the story is supposed to be a satire of the publishing industry (and hollywood?), and it works to a degree (e.g. calling your story one of "true love and high adventure" as a way of overt praise so the readers will buy the book).

The silly wording (e.g. Cliffs of Insanity) and ridiculous scenarios like Miracle Max help to make satire out of the traditional fairy tale. However, since this is a fairy tale, I accepted the misogyny in it, even though I didn't particularly like that. I really didn't like the excerpt of the "sequel." It absolutely ruins hope of a fairy tell happy ending. Though I can see how Goldman was trying to make a point by adding it in.

To sum up, there were parts of the book I didn't like, but overall I enjoyed it both the first and more so the second time that I read it. I like the additional components in the story that the movie leaves out (such as Fezzik and Inigo going through the Zoo of Death...those two and Miracle Max are my favorite characters), though I think the movie does well by staying with the main action. That's all I've got for now. :-)
May. 3rd, 2009 02:42 am (UTC)
Oh Mad Max is a classic character! Love him!

And seeing/loving the movie beforehand really enhanced the book for me!

I think you're right about it satirizing the publishing industry and Hollywood. That's something I hadn't thought of but it fits well!

I actually liked the excerpt of the sequel, but only if he were to continue it. Apparently Goldman is trying to work on a sequel and has been for awhile now, but so far he hasn't finished it. Which is a shame.

Anyway, thanks for your comment! It's interesting to hear from someone who read the book first, then saw the movie, then reread the book :)
May. 4th, 2009 04:47 pm (UTC)
1. Goldman truly makes the reader believe he is writing about an authentic book. That worked for me.

2. I hated the intrusion of Goldman into the story. He may have fictionalized himself, but I can't help but identify him with his supposed fictional character, and I come away really disliking the author as a person! He has issues with women.

3. The book takes a number of jointed jabs at several issues, but the satire falls flat in my view.

4. In the book, Buttercup is an imbecile. I prefer the movie version. She may not be intelligent or proactive there, but she is loyal and sweet. How I wish her character had been given something besides beauty in the book!

5. No. What did he expect her to do? Someone in love with a person would have found a way to contact her during the years he was away to let her know he was still alive. I don't approve of domestic violence in any way, shape, or form, but the overwhelming disappointment of finding your true love betrothed to another is something that doesn't happen frequently. I'm willing to believe this was an aberration and not a sign of a future wife batterer. Buttercup was emotionally abusive to Westley in the beginning of the story. Frankly, I think they both need some counseling if their marriage is to work!

6. It seems very apparent that Goldman doesn't believe in true love--at least, not the romantic kind. However, there is plenty of familial and brotherly love in the book. As for adventure, that abounds!

7. I get the distinct feeling that Goldman doesn't like women very much at all. He may consider his book a satire on the Hollywood view of women, and I can see that; however, I can't get over the feeling that it isn't all satire with the author: I really think Goldman does view women as second class citizens. I Googled him and was not surprised to find that he was divorced.

8. Finally, a movie I like better than the book! I liked Buttercup much better in the movie. She wasn't Einstein, but she wasn't an insipid idiot either. And what perfect casting for each character! Goldman removed most of the ugliness from his book for the movie. Instead of being a book that would appeal mostly to erudite adults, Goldman made the movie have a much broader appeal. He may have thought he was dumbing it down for the banal movie-going audience, but I think he improved the story by streamlining it. I liked the grandfather reading the story to his grandson. It was very sweet.

9. I was disappointed that Mad Max didn't say, "Have fun storming the castle" in the book, unless I missed it!
May. 5th, 2009 02:10 am (UTC)
1. I liked most of the asides about the "abridgement." Occasionally, it was intrusive but most of the time I thought it was humorous. But if it wasn't there, I probably would not have felt anything was missing from the story.

2. I only skimmed through the introduction, so I missed some of the Goldman story. I did like the parts about the father and son relationship.

3. The story would still work without the publishing satire.

4. Fezzik is my favorite character. I loved his back story. All he ever wanted was to have friends and make rhymes. If I could choose two characters, I'd choose Fezzik and Inigo as a duo.

5. Westley's anger is understandable if he didn't know Buttercup's story; she didn't pursue Humperdink and it was death or marriage. However, striking her was taking his anger too far.

6. Yes, the story does have those elements. The love is reflected in romantic love, friendship, and family.

7. Buttercup in the book does seem to lack the depth-of-character she has in the movie. All her decisions seem to be made for her.

8. I saw the movie first.
Prepare for long story about my childhood... I saw part of the movie on TV when I was five-years-old. I remember there was a commercial showing the torture scene. I must have been watching intently, because my mother turned to me and said that looked too scary for me and I wasn't allowed to watch it. I told her I wasn't interested because it looked really weird. I spent the weekend at my grandmother's house and she turned on “some movie about a princess”. It was probably 10 minutes into the film before I realized it was the "weird movie" I wasn't supposed to be watching. But I was so enthralled, I didn’t tell grandma this. But then grandma said it was bed-time, so I didn't get to see the second half. I lay awake almost all night wondering how and if they ever escaped the fire swamp. I couldn’t remember the title, so the memory haunted me. Finally, someone recommended the movie to me in junior-high. So, that is why it took 10 years for me to see the second-half.
I love the movie. All the actors are brilliant in their parts. And the script improved upon the book for the most part. The only thing missing is the Zoo of Death.


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