Monday, July 16, 2007

William Goldman: The Princess Bride (Discussion)

Well, here we are in mid-July and it's time to have our Book Club discussion. This month we read The Princess Bride by William Goldman. One of the reasons we chose this book is because of the very popular movie adaptation, which we will discuss tomorrow. I found some lovely discussion questions online which we'll use to guide our discussion. Please feel free to comment with your own thoughts or responses to the questions.

1. William Goldman states that he is adapting The Princess Bride from a novel written by the great Florinese writer, S. Morgenstern. Do you believe that there really is such a person? Why or why not? And why do you think Goldman might want to confuse readers about this point? Is that confusion necessary for the kind of story he is trying to tell?

I think it has been pretty well established that Goldman invented Morgenstern. For a long time I thought the whole abridgement was real, but when I heard that there was a good possibility Goldman made him up, it put the book in a whole new light. With that in mind while I read the book this time, I realized what a great tool Goldman made use of. By setting up his story as a re-telling someone else's story, he opens up the opportunity for the humor and entertaining tone that he employs throughout the book. It makes the little interruptions possible which add to the humor, although they are a little distracting. This also allows Goldman to set the story as a childhood favorite which draws the reader in and helps us relate to the love Goldman has for this book.

2. Why do you think that Goldman inserts himself as a character in his own novel? What other books have you read where the author adopts this narrative strategy?

I think Goldman inserts himself so he can add the mood of humor and draw the reader in. Goldman's little insets are great and just set the tone for the whole novel. Because we think this was a story he first heard and loved as a child, we find it easier to relate because we all probably had a story we loved as a child. This also removes him a step from his story, almost like he passes responsibility for it to another person. On one hand, this makes him just another reader, like us. On the other, it makes me wonder why he doesn't want to take credit for his story.

3. Should writers draw a firm line between fact and fiction? If a writer puts himself into his story, does he have a moral obligation to be truthful about himself, or is he free to treat himself (and any other real-life person similarly inserted) as a fictional character?

When I read the parts about Goldman I kind of take what he says with a grain of salt. When I read a story where a writer puts himself in his story I realize that the lines between fact and fiction are blurred. I don't think that the writer is obligated morally to be truthful about himself because when he presents himself as a character, he escapes real-life and can become just another fictional character.

4. When we first meet Inigo and Fezzik, they are working with Vizzini to kidnap Buttercup. Later, they become allies of Westley in his efforts to rescue her. What causes Inigo and Fezzik to change . . . or do they really change at all over the course of the novel?

I think Inigo and Fezzik change only at the very end. They start as simple followers doing whatever Vizzini asks of them because they have nothing better to do. Fezzik just doesn't want to be alone and useless, so working for Vizzini is better than nothing. Inigo still has his life's mission to find the six-fingered man, but after so much failure he just needs to keep busy. They both lose direction for a while after Vizzini dies and they are forced to take some initiative and be a little more independent. When they find Westley they temporarily fall back into their respective roles of strongman and sword hand. The change happens when Inigo finally faces the six-fingered man and kills him. For Fezzik, it's when he finally does something write without any instruction and finds the horses. They may be just little changes, and I'm sure that they will never be totally independent, but their little accomplishments show how they grow.

5. Is Goldman laughing with his readers . . . or laughing at them?

I think a little of both. Of course, I prefer to think he's laughing with me rather than at me, but there are moments when I feel like I don't quite get the joke. It's an interesting question in light of the fact that Goldman places himself as a reader, too. So in some ways he's laughing with his readers. But I can't help feeling like he's laughing at us all at the same time.

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