The Princess Bride is a classic movie most people — well, girls, anyway — are familiar with, at least if they’re under thirty. Over the years the movie has become a huge favorite for all ages, though, and for good reason. It has everything a romantic adventure could ever want: a beautiful princess, of course, and a brave hero, an evil prince, even a giant. Throw in a touch of humor and excellent performances and it’s little wonder the movie has grown to classic status.
The story is framed as a fairy tale, a grandfather reading to his stuck-in-bed-but-not-so-sick-with-pneumonia grandson. Basic ingredients necessary to keep the pages turning are quickly introduced: sympathetic characters like Buttercup and the “farm-boy” whose only response to her bossing him about is a devoted “As you wish.” But once she realizes his love for her but also her own in return, he must leave to earn a fortune worthy of what he feels she deserves. The next thing you know, dear, sweet Buttercup is now a Princess, forced to become the bride of a handsome yet evil Prince Humperdink. You can’t help but notice the over-the-top names—perfect for a fairy tale, yet played so wonderfully straight.
As you can see just by that brief glimpse into the beginning of the story, it captures the viewers attention early on. Between a kidnapping, a rescue, a journey through the Fireswamp and the expected sword fight the storyteller rarely gives the viewer a chance to sit back and relax—or to get bored. That’s the sign of a truly successful story! The characters cling to goals everyone can identify with: all the basics like true love, revenge, power. We all want true love to win, but we know it won’t be easy. The humor in this story works partly because the performances are so wonderful and partly because the writing is so witty. But even when events stretch reality (such as when our hero Westley is “mostly dead” all day . . .) we’re more than willing to suspend disbelief in order to be entertained, because the circumstances are set up in such a way that within the context of the story it could have happened.
That’s the lesson from The Princess Bride. As readers, we’re willing to accept just about anything if it’s placed logically within a carefully designed setting. It wouldn’t be logical for a character to survive being “mostly dead” in any story but a fairy tale, but in this context it works because the story world is properly set up.
I for one needed an escape from all of the recent tragic news and was so glad this movie provided such a thing. It was a visual fairy tale for any age, compacted into a couple of hours of refreshment. I hope you can find the time this holiday season to enjoy an escape of your own!