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The Princess Bride, Page 2

William Goldman

  No place card with my name on it.

  I zoom to the second table, make my circuit.

  No me.

  Now as I began the third and last table, my paranoia set in, because I knew there would be no place card with my name on it. I can still see myself breaking into a light sweat as I realized my name would not be there.

  Can you imagine anyone so nuts?

  Guess what--there was no place card with my name on it at the third table either. Turned out to be a hostess screwup. That is a true story.)

  OK, I started to go to pieces. Had I imagined that King would write the letter? No, I had not imagined it, he told me he wanted a really authentic Buttercup's Baby. It was why I had come all this way.

  But then I thought, why didn't he just give me the damn note and let me present it personally? (I am now into madness thinking that if I did have the damn note from King and if I had handed it over, the Curator would have handed it back and said that he was not an expert on Stephen King's handwriting, so no, I could not be allowed into the Sanctuary, thank you very much.)

  I felt so helpless standing there in front of my beloved I actually started to turn and leave.

  Which was when he said it: "Grandpa, it's a mistake, call him up"

  I hate cell phones but I'd gotten an international job for the trip, we had called Jason and Peggy on it last night when we got to the hotel.

  So I dialed King in Maine, got through, explained the situation. He was great. "Jesus, Bill, I am so sorry, I should have given you the damn note--Florin has the worst mail service in Europe, it'll probably get there next week." (It actually arrived the week after that.) "Is Vonya working today? Let me speak to him."

  I think the curator heard his name because he nodded, reached out for the phone. I handed it over and he got up from his desk, walked to the hallway, paced a little where I could hear him saying, "Of course, Mister King" and "I'll do anything to help, Mister King, you may rest assured."

  Willy glanced up at me during this, circled his thumb and finger (discreetly, I might add) and in a moment Vonya was back.

  He indicated for us to follow him, muttering, "What can I tell you? The mails, you know."

  I told him I was just happy it was straightened out.

  "It's so embarrassing to me, Mister Goldman. Stephen King told me who you were."

  I should have been braced for what was coming, the "were" should have gotten me ready.

  Then the killer sentence: "You know, I've read several of your books, I used to be something of a fan, you were a wonderful writer...once."

  It shouldn't have hit me so hard. But I know why it did. Because I was afraid it was true. I had done some decent stuff. But that was in the long ago, another country. It's one of the reasons I was so looking forward to immersing myself in Buttercup's Baby. The Princess Bride had made me want to be a novelist. I was hoping that this Morgenstern would help me become a novelist again.

  Then Willy was shouting: "He's still wonderful."

  "Shh, it's OK," I told him. "It really is." He looked at me and I tried to hide but I know he saw what was behind my eyes.

  The evil Vonya led us a few more steps, swung open a door, gestured inside, left us,

  Then we were alone in the Sanctuary.

  Willy was still steaming. "I hate that guy."

  You think I didn't want to hug him for that? But I restrained myself, just muttered, "Time for a little work," started studying the room.

  Not particularly big. Thousands of letters, all categorized, family photo albums, each picture with writing beneath, explaining the meaning behind the shots.

  The notebooks were what I had hoped for. Morgenstern was known for his meticulous nature but while I was getting my bearings, I studied the photo albums, trying to get a sense of what his life was like while he was in his writing prime.

  Then I heard Willy say the most remarkable thing: "Did you know Count Rugen killed Inigo?"

  I turned to him. "What are you talking about?"

  He pointed to the notebook he had pulled down from a shelf and started reading. "'This morning I woke with the thought that Rugen should indeed kill Inigo. I realize that I lose the "Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya" and I would miss that, but if Inigo did die here, then Westley would have to conquer both Humperdinck and Rugen, all this while so recently murdered, and remember please that Westley is your main hero.'"

  By this time we were seated at a table, looking at The Princess Bride diary.

  Who knew such a thing existed?

  What a miracle--I sat there, in Morgenstern's Sanctuary, with my grandson, while memories of my father flooded back, reading to me with his limited English, changing my life forever.

  Willy turned the page, started reading again. "'I have decided Inigo must not die. I was up half the night and finally I tried to write the scene where he kills Rugen, saying that line over and over until finally he cries "I want my father back you son of a bitch"--

  --and when I wrote those words I realized what I wanted most on earth that I cannot have is my own father back--

  --so Inigo will triumph and live and Westley will have to be content in just besting Humperdinck."'

  Willy looked up from the diary. "Wow--he almost screwed up his own book."

  I nodded, thinking back, wondering if I had ever had those kinds of thoughts. I remember I hated killing Butch and Sundance, but I had to, because in real life they had gone the way I wrote it, and I couldn't change history, just for a happy ending.

  But now here he was, Morgenstern, the man who had so much to do with my life, doing the first thing I ever disapproved of--he was contemplating changing history--and that bothered me.

  Look, it has been hundreds of years since Florin was a European power. But it mattered once, as all truth matters. If you read books on their history, as I have, you know that yes, there was a Vizzini, though it has never been proved to most academicians' satisfaction that he was a hunchback. One leg shorter, yes, that we know. Sicilian, yes, that we know.

  And yes, he hired Fezzik and Inigo. And Fezzik set records, some of them still remarkable, in the world of Turkish wrestling. And Inigo Montoya is still thought of as being the greatest fencer in history. Read any book on the art of the steel.

  OK. Vizzini hired them, you know why, they didn't succeed, the man in black stopped them, Buttercup lived. Now to the crucial point--Inigo killed Count Rugen. That is Florinese history. I was in the room where the evil noble died. (There is, again, dispute among experts, on just where in the room the death took place. I don't care personally if he was near the billiard table in a distant corner.)

  But you cannot reverse history for the sake of your story and have Inigo die like that, die a failure, after all he had gone through to revenge his father.

  "Skip around," I said to my companion. "What's the next main thing he talks about?"

  Willy went on another couple of pages, stopped, groaned. "Shakespeare," he said. "Do I have to?"

  I gestured for him to continue with Morgenstern.

  "'I was pacing most of the night. Thinking of when I was a child and my father took me to Denmark, to Elsinore Castle. And told me that right here, within these walls, was where the greatest drama of all took place. Hamlet. (In the Icelandic saga, his name was Amleth.) And went on to explain how his uncle murdered his father by poison, later married his mother, and how I would love to read that when I was a bit more wise.

  "And Shakespeare used that bit of history, made it great, but he did not basically alter it for his needs. He did not, for example, have Hamlet die a failure.

  "As I almost did having Inigo lose to the evil Rugen.

  "'Shame on me for almost doing that. Inigo deserves his place in our history. Westley is the greatest hero we have. I must not cheapen his triumphs.

  "'I pledge to take greater care in the future.'"

  YOU WILL NEVER know how much better I felt at that moment.

  THEN SUDDENLY, AMAZINGLY, it was lunchtime. We'd been si
tting there for over two hours, slowly turning the pages of the journal, didn't get even a tenth of the way through.

  "I wish we could take it to the hotel," Willy said. But he knew that was impossible--there were signs on the walls saying sternly in any number of languages that nothing could be removed from the room, and there were no exceptions.

  "You didn't see a Buttercup's Baby journal?" I asked. "I didn't."

  He shook his head. "There weren't that many journals. Maybe he didn't write one." He went to the Journal shelf, put The Princess Bride back.

  "Maybe I'll ask Vonya, he could have it in his desk or something."

  "Grandpa, I don't think that's very smart."

  "One little question, how can that hurt?"

  Now he gave me a look, Willy the Kid did.


  "Don't talk to that guy, don't give him a chance to say anything else to you."

  He was right. We left the Sanctuary, left the Museum, started to find a place to eat but it was chilly and Willy had worn a jacket, but he'd left his heaviest coat back in the room and he wanted to go there, so we did.

  I lay down on my bed while Willy, still with his jacket on, went to the bathroom, came out after a long while, went into the living room part of the suite, puttered around a minute, then called out to me.


  "Whoever could you be referring to?" He never liked it when I was childish.

  "Hyuk hyuk hyuk."

  "Grandpa what?"

  "What would you think of a giant bird?" Then he was in the doorway. "Remember at the end of that chapter in Buttercup's Baby when Fezzik is falling to his doom holding Waverly? Well, what would you think if a giant talking bird flew underneath and saved them?"

  "A talking bird? Oh please. Maybe historians aren't sure how Fezzik survived, but I know Morgenstern would never stoop to something that idiotic. I mean, why don't the rocks at the bottom turn out to be rubber so Fezzik could just bounce around awhile and save them that way? That would make just as much sense."

  "Yeah, Mister Smart Guy?" He darted out of sight for a moment, then was back, reading. "'I wish I had thought about how I was going to save Fezzik before he dove off the cliff. He could have just reached out and grabbed Waverly at the last minute. Why do I get myself in these situations? It's my Hamlet problem all over again. How much can the truth be manipulated in the name of art?'" Now Willy turned the page. "'I think my basic problem with Fezzik's rescue is I personally have trouble dealing with the existence of the giant bird. Even though I have seen the skeleton, even though our greatest scientists assure me that it did patrol our skies, still I feel the legendary rescue smacks of coincidence. Who knows how I will eventually solve the problem.'"

  I was out of bed before he finished, stared at what he was reading from. I knew at that moment what he had done, tucked it inside his jacket, and I knew why he had done it, so I could have this gift and not get insulted again, and I knew we would return it in a few hours and no one would know it had been gone.

  I carefully took it from him, glanced through, saw I would learn about Westley's childhood before he became the Farm Boy, and Fezzik's great love affair, and Inigo's heartbreak and Buttercup's nightmares that started coming true and Miracle Max's memory problems, and the hungriest monster in the sea who discovers that humans, tasty humans are living on One Tree Island.

  I held Buttercup's Journal in my hands. What a thing.

  Now all I had to do was turn the page....


  AND IF YOU, dear reader, as we used to say, turn the page, what befalls you?

  Only the introduction to the 25 th Anniversary edition, which you've hopefully glanced at already. Followed by my "good parts" version of The Princess Bride and the one and only finished, abridged chapter of Buttercup's Baby. But do not, please, despair.

  I have never worked harder than I have these past days, sometimes alone, sometimes with the wonder child who is nuttier for me to complete my research and finish the book than you are.

  I don't make promises anymore. But I make this promise to you (the same one I made to Willy when I took him to Fezzik's grave. Andre had gone years before. More work on his char, he told me): before the (ugh) 50th Anniversary edition comes into existence, Buttercup's Baby will be yours.

  Hoping, in advance, that you like it ... and if you don't, don't tell me....

  Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition

  IT'S STILL MY favorite book in all the world.

  And more than ever, I wish I had written it. Sometimes I like to fantasize that I did, that I came up with Fezzik (my favorite character), that my imagination summoned the iocane sequence, the ensuing battle of wits to the death.

  Alas, Morgenstern invented it all, and I must be contented with the fact that my abridgement (though killed by all Florinese experts back in '73--the reviews in the learned journals brutalized me; in my book-writing career, only Boys and Girls Together got a worse savaging) at least brought Morgenstern to a wider American audience.

  What is stronger than childhood memory? Nothing, at least for me. I still have a recurring dream of my poor, sad father reading the book out loud--only in the dream he wasn't poor and sad; he'd had a wonderful life, a life equal to his decency, and as he read, his English, so painful in truth, was splendid. And he was happy. And my mother so proud....

  But the movie is the reason we're back together. I doubt that my publishers would have sprung for this edition if the movie hadn't happened. If you're reading this, dollars to donuts you've seen the movie. It was a mild success when it first hit theaters, but word of mouth caught up with it when the videocassette came out. It was a big hit in video stores then, still is. If you have kids, you've probably watched it with them. Robin Wright in the title role began her film career as Buttercup, and I'm sure we all fell in love with her again in Forrest Gump. (Personally, I think she was the reason for that phenomenon. She was so lovely and warm, you just ached for poor dopey Tom Hanks to live happily with someone like that.)

  Most of us love movie stories. Maybe back when Broadway held sway, people loved theater stories, but I don't think anymore. And I'll bet no one begs Julia Louis-Dreyfus to talk about what it was like shooting Seinfeld episode number 89. And novelist stories? Can you imagine cornering Dostoyevsky and begging him for funny stuff about The Idiot?

  Anyway, these are some movie memories pertaining to The Princess Bride I thought you might not know.

  I had taken time off from writing The Stepford Wives screenplay to abridge the Morgenstern. And then someone at Fox heard about it, got hold of a manuscript copy of the book, liked it, was interested in making a movie out of it. This is early '73 we're talking about. The "someone" at Fox was their Greenlight Guy. (Referred to hereinafter as the GG.)

  You will read, in such magazines as Premiere and Entertainment Weekly and Vanity Fair, endless lists about the "100 most powerful" studio figures. These various idiots all have titles: Vice President in charge of this, Chief Executive in charge of that, etc.

  The truth: they are all oil slicks.

  Only one person per studio has anything resembling power, and that is the GG. The GG, you see, can make a picture happen. He (or she) is the one who releases the fifty million bucks--if your movie is aimed for Sundance. Triple that if it's a special effects job.

  Anyway, the GG at Fox liked The Princess Bride.

  Problem: he wasn't sure it was a movie. So we struck a peculiar arrangement--they would buy the book, but they would not buy the screenplay unless they decided to move forward. In other words, we both owned half the pie. So even though I was tired from finishing the abridgement, I went on nervous energy and did the screenplay immediately after.

  My very great agent, Evarts Ziegler, came to town. Ziegler was the one who orchestrated the Butch Cassidy deal, which, along with The Temple of Gold, my first novel, changed my life as much as anything. We went to lunch at Lutece, chatted, enjoyed each other, parted, me to my office on the Upper East Sid
e in a building that had a swimming pool. I used to swim every day because I had a very bad back then, and the swimming eased things. I was heading for the pool when I realized this: I didn't want to swim.

  I didn't want to do anything but get home fast. Because I was shivering terribly now. I made it home, got to bed, the shivering replaced by fire. Helen, my superstar-shrink wife, came in from work, took one look at me, got me to New York Hospital.

  All kinds of doctors came in--everybody knew something was seriously wrong, nobody had a guess as to what it might be.

  I woke at four in the morning. And I knew what was wrong. Somehow, the awful pneumonia that almost killed me when I was ten--the reason my father read The Princess Bride to me in the first place was to get me through those first woeful posthospital days--well, that pneumonia had come back to finish the job.

  And right then, in that hospital (and, yes, I expect this will sound nutty to you) as I woke in pain and delirium, somehow I knew that if I was to live, I had to get back to that place where I was as a child. I started yelling for the night nurse--

  --because somehow my life and The Princess Bride were forever joined.

  The night nurse came in and I told her to read me the Morgenstern.

  "The what, Mr. Goldman?" she said.

  "Start with the Zoo of Death," I told her. Then I said, "No, no, forget that, start with the Cliffs of Insanity."

  She took one close look at me, nodded, said, "Oh, right, that's exactly where I'll start, but I left my Morgenstern at the desk, I'll just go get it."

  The next thing I knew, here came Helen. And several other doctors. "I went to your office, I think I picked up the right pages. Now what is it you want me to read?"

  "I don't want you to read anything, Helen, you never liked the book, you don't want to read to me, you're just humoring me, and besides there's no part for you--"

  "I could be Buttercup--"

  "Oh, come on, she's twenty-one--"