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True Love…or not?
Let’s discuss that Fire Swamp scene, shall we? That moment when Buttercup says screw true love! and agrees to give herself up to Prince Humperdinck. In the movie, her “betrayal” is a noble act. She gives herself up to save Westley’s life, but in the book, she’s really saving herself. In that moment, Buttercup decides she’d rather live with Humperdinck than die with her true love. In that moment, she decides she can live without true love after all. And in the very next chapter, she goes and marries the evil prince, and so much for true love.
OR DOES SHE?
This is one of those cases in which Goldman both challenges and upholds the ideals of true love and high adventure. The quick marriage sandwiched between other events is a fake-out, just one of Buttercup’s nightmares that convince her to believe in true love after all. Sure, Goldman-the-narrator interrupts at that point to explain that real life isn’t fair, and sometimes the heroine marries the wrong guy. But the wedding was still a fake-out.
OR WAS IT?
And YET, Buttercup does marry Humperdinck in the end, while waiting for Westley to rescue her. The Archdean says “Man and wife,” and book!Westley gives us no comforting reassurance that Buttercup’s failure to say “I do” makes the “Man and wife” part unofficial. When he and Buttercup escape from the castle and ride off to freedom, she’s technically a married woman cheating on her husband. So much for wholesome fairy tale endings, huh? But just think of those classic tales of Guinevere and Lancelot, or Tristan and Isolde, about married queens going off with young adventurers. Once again, The Princess Bride fits nicely into the canon of ye olde tales of true love and high adventure.
Life’s not fair…is it?
The second time Goldman interrupts the story to remind us that real life isn’t fair is soon before Humperdinck kills Westley. It’s a hard lesson for ten-year-old Goldman when his father informs him that the hero dies and the villain gets away with it, but that’s life, and you can’t sugar coat life.
OR CAN YOU?
You can chocolate-coat it, actually. Although Goldman insists that this is supposed to be an unfair story, he can’t bring himself to keep Westley dead. It’s another fake-out, easily remedied by writing in Miracle Max and his chocolate-coated resurrection pill.
And yet, Goldman/Morgenstern keeps trying. His commitment to satirizing the fairy tale style leads him to end the story with an attack of Murphy’s Law – just as our heroes have escaped the castle, just as they’ve gotten past all the guards and are ready to ride off into the sunset, everything goes wrong:
Inigo’s wound reopened, and Westley relapsed again, and Fezzik took the wrong turn, and Buttercup’s horse threw a shoe. And the night behind them was filled with the crescendoing sound of pursuit…. 
And we’re left wondering, did they make it. Maybe they didn’t. In real life, the heroes don’t always make it.
But of course they do, because Goldman/Morgenstern’s commitment to happy endings is just as strong, and in the 25th anniversary edition, he continues the story in the Buttercup’s Baby chapter, in which he explains that just as Humperdinck and his army are about to catch up to our heroes, Westley’s crewmates from the ship Revenge drop out of the trees and rescue them, and whisk them off to sea.
And even though he names that first chapter “Fezzik Dies,” Goldman can’t really commit to offing his favorite character, because he includes in his 30th anniversary intro the suggestion that a giant talking bird swooped in to save Fezzik and Waverly at the last minute.
So we see, time and again, how The Princess Bride is both a brilliant satire on true-love stories and a brilliant fairy tale in and of itself. Like Peter S. Beagle, Goldman has written one for the ages, a high fantasy classic that belongs on the same shelf with The Lord of the Rings, The Neverending Story, and The Last Unicorn.
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