Thursday, March 6, 2008

The reunion scene from The Princess Bride

My first copy of The Princess Bride, published in 1973, is subtitled "A Hot Fairy Tale." In 1988, when I assigned the book for my "Fantasy Literature" class at the University of Maryland, College Park, I sent away for the reunion scene, just to make sure we weren't missing anything.

This was before the movie came out, so no one had seen Goldman change Buttercup and Westley's exchange from
Westley: Were you sorry? Did you feel pain? Admit that you felt nothing--"
Buttercup: Do not mock my grief! I died that day.
to the movie version:
Buttercup: Do not mock my pain!
Westley: Life is pain, highness. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.

The movie did a nice job of framing the story to emphasize that this is "the good parts version." What you miss if you haven't read the book, though, are the pervasive references to Morgenstern and how Goldman is editing the original text. The missing reunion scene, when Buttercup has been engaged to Prince Humperdick and Westley has been the Dread Pirate Roberts, is missing in both versions, only Goldman claims to have written one and gives an address so you can send in for it. This is a small sample of what you get if you write to that address:

Dear Reader,
Thank you for sending in, and no, this is not the reunion scene, because of a certain roadblock named Kermit Shog.
As soon as bound books were ready I got a call from my lawyer Charley---(you may not remember, but Charley's the one I called from California to go down in the blizzard and buy The Princess Bride from the used-book dealer). Anyway, he usually begins with Talmudic humor, wisdom jokes, only this time he just says, "Bill, I think you better get down here," and before I'm even allowed a 'why?' he adds, "Right away if you can."
Panicked, I zoom down, wondering who could have died, did I flunk my tax audit, what? His secretary lets me into his office and Charley says, "This is Mr. Shog, Bill."
And there he is, sitting in the corner, hands on his briefcase, looking exactly like an oily version of Peter Lorre. I really expected him to say, "Give me the Falcon, you must, or I'll be forced to keeel you."
"Mr. Shog is a lawyer," Charley goes on. And this next was said underlined: "He represents the Morgenstern estate."

The letter goes on for four pages, saying nothing in the most entertaining way possible, and ends with a May, 1987 P.P.S. that says "But at least the movie got made."

If you like the movie and you haven't read the book, you should know that you're really missing something. And it's not the unabridged Morgenstern version, complete with long descriptions of the scenery in Florin. I was 13 in 1973, and when I first read The Princess Bride, I remember being a little puzzled about why William Goldman keeps pretending that he is editing a longer book when clearly he's just making it up. I was also a little puzzled about the song "You're so vain" about that time. I remember thinking "but the song IS about you." Clearly, I was already destined to study irony, being slow to catch on.

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