Book By Accident And In Reverse

The Princess BrideI’ve talked before about whether films live up to books’ standards, but there’s one much-loved film that many people aren’t even aware is a book. Until recently I was one of them—I came to the book by accident and in reverse long after I’d fallen in love with the film.

I’m talking, of course, about The Princess Bride, William Goldman’s ever-so-brilliant tale of true love, honour, comedy, and adventure.

What most surprised me about the book, when I did realise there was one to read and set about reading it stat, was how close to the film it was. Or how close the film was to it. Right down to the Fred Savage character interrupting the grandfather, asking him to ‘skip the mushy bits’.

Upon closer examination, it kind of makes sense though, as Goldman, who had a hand in the likes of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, A Bridge Too Far, and All The President’s Men, is a screenwriter well used to writing visually. The Princess Bride may be a novel, but it’s written with screen adaptation in mind.

My TPB book discovery wasn’t without confusion though, with someone telling me it was a spoof. Goldman himself inspires this thinking, with his note about how the book is an abridged version of S. Morgenstern’s tale.

So who the hell is S. Morgenstern? Well, it’s likely a reference to the abundantly named Johann Carl Simon Morgenstern who coined the term ‘bildungsroman’. What the hell is ‘bildungsroman’? It’s a fancy term for a formation novel, or one that focuses on a protagonist’s moral and psychological journey.

Confused? Yeah, me too. But it’s a clever nod and tribute to a guy who named the ‘hero’s journey’ genre that includes The Princess Bride. The brilliantly written The Princess Bride. I mean, which girl doesn’t wish she were Buttercup and lust after Westley? And which boy doesn’t wish he were Westley or Dread Pirate Roberts?

Who doesn’t remember the Cliffs of Insanity, the battle of wits with the iocaine-laced wine, the fire swamp, and the ROUSes: Rodents of Unusual Size? And who can’t quote at least a few of the incredibly famous lines from the book and film—both of which are chock full of memorable ones? There’s ‘as you wish’, ‘inconceivable’, and of course the old chestnut, ‘Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.’

The film to book reversal continued recently as, while marvelling about the discovery of the book, I discovered that some friends had neither seen the film nor read the freshly discovered book. So we held an old-school movie night at a friend’s house, with cheese and crackers, chips, and dessert and 10 of us sitting around a big-screen TV. By the end most of them were saying what I said: having come to The Princess Bride via the film, they’re now keen to read the book.

The Movie Curse

Against every sensible bone in my body’s advice, I made a trip to the movies for the 2010 remake of Clash of the Titans, starring that gorgeous Aussie, Sam Worthington. My first mistake. Having adored the 1981 version, I of course had high expectations of this new adaptation. This was my second mistake.

No matter how hard I try, I can’t help but have preconceived notions of how an adaptation should behave. I mean, these people, these ‘director geniuses’ and ‘prodigy scriptwriters’ are taking a perfectly good baby, mixing the DNA up – prettifying it *here* and simplifying it *there* and suddenly you find yourself looking into the face of a stranger. A boringly symmetrical version of someone you once knew, perhaps treasured for its depth, its ‘ugliness’. Now completely ruined.

I fancy myself a bit of a movie critic (though not a great one) – I hang on every word of David and Margaret’s, and throw about such gems as ‘completely amateur scriptwriting!’ and ‘that plot had more holes in it than a boxful of broken sieves’ with the greatest of ease. I’m sure my movie buddies live in terror of the final credits rolling, me blasting the crud out of a movie which ‘was pretty funny, had some romantic bits’, or at least they thought it did until I opened my fat trap.
It’s because of this critical mindset that I’m scared to count how many of my favourite books have, in my oh-so-humble opinion, been ruined by  the silver screen. Dystopian Sci Fi features in particular are (a bit) hit and (mostly) miss for me (why, oh why did they change the ending to I Am Legend?), and it’s why I’m too afraid to watch The Road, despite loving – or perhaps BECAUSE I loved – Cormac McCarthy’s desolate masterpiece. It’s all I can do to stop from getting down on my knees and praying to the movie gods that John Marsden’s Tomorrow series receives proper justice (it’s set for release later this year). Please please PLEASE be good! Please!

I’m resigned to the fact that turning a fantasy book into a movie seems to run a dangerous gauntlet for investors, fans and producers alike. Perhaps it’s because it requires such a suspension of disbelief, that the special effects have to be more than special, the characters have to be more than protagonists, they have to be HEROES. No other genre (besides paperback romance) lusts after its main character as much as fantasy literature does. To be honest, the last time I truly enjoyed some book-to-movie (or movie-to-book) adaptations was back in the 80s, early 90s. True story.

Yet somehow, despite all my whinging and my frenzied vow never to watch anything surrounded by hype ever again, the glittery promise  of the silver screen bringing my favourite characters to life just keeps sucking me back in. Me paying 17 bucks a pop in the vain hope that I’ll feel one tenth of the devastation I felt when Artax drowned in the mud, or the excitement mixed with dread as Westley faces off with Vizzini over the poisoned cup. Such is the mystery, and the poisonous allure, of the movie curse.