Rewind book: The Princess Bride, by William Goldman (1973)
The Princess Bride
by William Goldman
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
Great fantasy often acts as a means to escape the boredom of everyday life. Particularly in literature, where nothing more than faded text on yellowed paper can spur the imagination and evoke realms far beyond the mundane and the ordinary. A tale well told can change a story from simple fiction into the stuff of legend.
The Princess Bride is often better recognised in its big-screen incarnation, with non-stop repeats on HBO and bargain-basket DVDs making it an endlessly quotable cult classic. But it was a book first - and a far superior one at that: a swashbuckling fairy tale of pure genius that cleverly plays with fantasy conventions and questions our own attraction to the genre, all the while being a rousing story in its own right.
Author William Goldman frames the book as part memoir, part exercise in abridgement. Early on, he reveals that The Princess Bride is a lost classic by the now-forgotten writer S. Morgenstern and that his father would read him the tale as a child.
Wanting to create a similar experience for his own distant son, Goldman seeks out the book, only to find it plagued by long, boring passages on historic and political context. His goal: to cut out all the unnecessary parts and bring back the tale he loves.
Of course, it's all a brilliant lie and Goldman plays with the overused, often tired conventions of fantasy and the romance novel: the imprisoned bride and dashing hero, the wicked prince and gentle giant. Fencing, fighting, revenge, true love.
But this isn't some cynic sending things up for a laugh: Goldman has a deep love for the genre, and that's best seen in his frequent interruptions throughout the tale. Most are explanations of editorial changes, but they're often coupled with gloomy, darkly humorous asides on his failing marriage and his aloof son.
The Princess Bride isn't really a fantasy novel. It's literature that borrows what's best about the genre - the incredible worlds, thrilling characters and innocent pleasures - and inventively applies them to a tale that's as shrewd as it is exciting.
Even in this modern world of iPads and Kindles, I have two copies of the physical book on my shelf: one to lend and one to keep, safe in the knowledge that I can always remind myself in its rough, yellowing pages, that our mundane reality is often best when supplanted by a dose of good fantasy.