44 pages 1 hour read

William Goldman

The Princess Bride

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 1973

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Summary and Study Guide


The Princess Bride is a 1973 adventure novel by American author and screenwriter William Goldman. It uses a unique framing narrative to tell two interwoven stories and claims to be a retelling of an older novel (one that does not actually exist). The Princess Bride was adapted into a film in 1987. Critics regard the film as one of the greatest cinematic accomplishments of all time, and it appears on numerous “best of” lists, including The American Film Institute’s 2002 list of the 100 greatest love stories on film.

This study guide refers to the 1973 hardcover edition.

Content Warning: The source material contains suicidal ideation, alcoholism, sexual exploitation, and domestic violence.

Plot Summary

A fictionalized version of the author William Goldman introduces S. Morgenstern’s The Princess Bride, a novel that his father read to him when he was young. The book introduced young Goldman to the adventure genre and had a major impact on his life, so he wants to get a copy for his own son’s birthday. Once he does, however, he realizes that the novel is dense and overwritten and that his father only read him the “good parts.” He decides to release an abridged version focusing only on the adventure and romance of the story. Throughout the novel, the fictional Goldman interjects his own observations, experiences, and choices made regarding his abridgement.

In The Princess Bride, Buttercup is the most beautiful woman in the world. She falls in love with her family’s farmhand, Westley, who goes off to make his fortune. Pirates kill him along the way, and a heartbroken Buttercup agrees to marry Prince Humperdinck of Florin instead.

As Buttercup prepares for her wedding, three men, hired to start a war with the neighboring country of Guilder, kidnap her. These men—a giant named Fezzik, a swordsman named Inigo, and a self-proclaimed genius named Vizzini—bring Buttercup by boat to the Cliffs of Insanity. They’re pursued up the cliff by a man dressed in black, so Vizzini instructs Inigo to duel the pursuer while he, Buttercup, and Fezzik travel on. Though Inigo is a master at his craft—he has trained since a young age in order to avenge the murder of his father by a mysterious six-fingered man—the man in black defeats him. Next, the man in black confronts Fezzik, whose parents recognized his tremendous strength and pushed him into a wrestling career. However, Fezzik has forgotten how to fight one-on-one, and the man in black emerges victorious. Catching up to Vizzini, the man in black once again triumphs, tricking Vizzini into swallowing poison.

The man in black then leaves with Buttercup, upbraiding her for her lack of loyalty. She soon realizes that the man in black is Westley, who was not killed but rather became a pirate himself. They reaffirm their love for one another and successfully make their way through the dangerous Fire Swamp. As they exit, however, Prince Humperdinck catches them both. Buttercup agrees to return with the prince if he agrees not to harm Westley, but the prince immediately reneges on his promise and takes Westley to his private Zoo of Death to torture him. Unbeknownst to Buttercup, Prince Humperdinck is also planning to murder her on their wedding night; he will frame Guilder for the crime to justify going to war.

Fezzik and Inigo reunite so that Inigo can take revenge on the prince’s friend Count Rugen, who they now know is the six-fingered man who slaughtered Inigo’s father. Inigo and Fezzik go to rescue Westley and solicit his help, but Prince Humperdinck has already killed Westley using Count Rugen’s “Machine”—an instrument of extreme torture that is the result of the Count’s fascination with and exhaustive study of pain. However, Fezzik and Inigo purchase a miracle that revives Westley. The three men then break into the palace.

While Inigo duels with Count Rugen and kills him, Westley goes to find Buttercup. He succeeds but also encounters Prince Humperdinck; as he lacks the strength to fight him, he must bluff and stall for time until Inigo and Fezzik show up. The latter has stolen the prince’s horses, enabling the four friends to flee from the palace to begin new lives. Goldman notes that while his father ended the story here, the actual novel ends on a cliffhanger as various circumstances threaten the friends’ escape. He leaves it to readers to decide which ending they prefer.

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