It’s been over 30 years since The Princess Bride was first released and almost 50 since the book that it was adapted from was published. What is it about this story that continues to resonate with people in this era of CGI, explosions, and overly complex and secretive plots?
My knee-jerk response is that it’s earnest and simple and true. It’s warm and inviting, comforting in its familiarity even if it’s your first time watching it. I don’t say familiarity to mean you recognize the bits and pieces that have been memefied or a part of the cultural vernacular that you know without knowing the context. By familiarity I refer to the actual feeling. When you’re in the story, be it on the screen or on the page, though you don’t know the particulars you know the story. It follows the classic fairy tale romance as well as hero’s journey. Girl meets boy, boy meets girl, they fall in love, boy disappears, girl is devastated and set to marry a gross nobleman, boy unexpectedly reappears and saves the day, they live happily ever after. At the same time we get the action of a hero’s journey as a mysterious pirate of renown appears, battles his adversaries, storms a castle, almost dies, and is revealed to be the boy from before. There the two story lines merge together.
More than following the beats of a fairy tale, it also follows the script of a fairy tale in real life. The Princess Bride is the story within the story, framed by the relationship of between a grandfather and his grandson. There’s familiarity in that too, of being a child being read a story by someone you love. Many a person can recall listening in awe as a loved one told them a story before bed, or when the bad dreams came, or, as in the movie, when we were too sick to do much else. Fairy tales are such an innate part of childhood, and The Princess Bride is fortunate in that it is a fairy tale that so easily slips between childhood and adulthood. Where something like Cinderella might get dismissed as childish and garner judgement for being enjoyed past a certain age, The Princess Bride can transition seamlessly between age groups. It’s a bit of joy that you can carry with you at all times without need of explanation or justification.
No where is this more apparent than in it’s quotability. Even if you’ve never seen it, certain lines ring out in our memories and eventually draw in new fans. From Inigo’s famous speech – “My name in Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die.”- to Westley’s wistful “As you wish” there’s so many moments that keep the story in conversation. They even get referenced by other shows. How I Met Your Mother has their characters sword fighting and quoting Inigo’s speech more than once.
Which to be fair, might be the most quoted bit of the movie, I’m sure others have done the same. The Princess Bride’s witty banter has led to memes, gifs, and the like to flood the internet. Aside from Inigo, Vizzini’s cries of “Inconcieveable!” is one that I see most often used, especially on Twitter which should really come as no surprise. As well, Inigo’s response of “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” is another that I see being used often. In writing all of this, I can’t help but wonder if perhaps Inigo might be one of the most quoted characters in fiction. Or at least, he has the best lines in The Princess Bride. Take for instance, this meme:
Enemies to Friends
Rather than the opposite, we see the Dread Pirate Roberts aka Westley, befriend Inigo and Fezzik after defeating them in battle. There’s never any real animosity between them as you’re wont to see between adversaries now, the kind that must get overcome on order to establish a tentative friendship/alliance. From the get go, none of the three seem very inclined to fight and do so only because it’s what’s expected. When they’re bested Inigo and Fezzik have no qualms about searching out Westley, resurrecting him, and working with him to storm the castle. Indeed, we’re all thrilled to see these characters we’ve come to love work together to defeat a common set of villains before riding off into the sunset. The friendships formed are as near and dear to our hearts as the ones we hold in real life. Or maybe it’s because of them that we want for these characters to experience the same.
Fairy Tale Romance
I would be remiss if I didn’t cite the love story at the center of The Princess Bride as a reason for it’s continued popularity. The level of devotion from both Buttercup and Westley is truly the stuff of fairy tales. The entire time you’re rooting for the two to be together, booing whenever Humperdink insists upon sharing the scene with them. Westley’s utterances of “As you wish” are enough to have you swooning at just the thought, that you wonder how Buttercup could have ever resisted him even if it was just for a moment. The fact that he comes back as a pirate only elevates the romance. The Dread Pirate Roberts and the Princess Buttercup, what an epic love story if there ever was one. It’s not over the top either, much to the grandson’s relief I’m sure. Their initial reunion is just as ridiculous as it is sweet, with Westley throwing himself down a hill to prove his identity to Buttercup as he cries out his catchphrase. Then Buttercup immediately following suit upon realizing that Westley has indeed returned and rescued her. The two are constantly losing and finding each other, and you get so caught up in it that in the end you don’t mind that they’re kissing again, as the grandson begrudgingly admits. We all love Buttercup and Westley.