As You Wish by Cary Elwes and Joe Layden (2014, Simon & Schuster)
Subtitled “inconceivable tales from the making of The Princess Bride”, this book is a rare behind-the-scenes work which is likely to be appealing even to those who have not seen the movie. Part of this is due to Elwes’ attitude; even after a career spanning decades and key parts in box office successes, he has nothing but appreciation for his star-making turn and the fans that love the movie. The rest is due to the format of the book.
Elwes’ anecdotes focus on the movie. He provides a very basic introduction to his career prior to the film, then proceeds to give detailed and good-humored, self-effacing commentary about his hiring. He tells of his introduction to the other cast members. He spends an entire chapter explaining the effort that went into teaching him to swordfight in preparation of the cliff scene with Mandy Patinkin. Through it all the reader is treated both to a sense of how a movie is made and the enjoyment that can come from making it.
Meanwhile, the structure of the book is designed to allow for the insertion of commentaries from other cast and crew members. The result is a literary version of a movie commentary track, but with more than a dozen people joining the discussion where appropriate.
As such, the book can be successful as a single, directional read from beginning to end; as a series of chapters to be addressed in order of interest; or as a sequence of anecdotes gathered from the asides. Unless a person actively dislikes the film, they’re likely to enjoy this book.
The Princess Bride by William Goldman (1973, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich)
Goldman’s book existed for more than a decade before it was turned into a movie, earning a reputation as a beloved minor classic. Although the basic storyline and key scenes from the movie remain, the novel fleshes out the tale to give both the style and the story more depth.
A simple example for the style is found within the opening pages. While the movie presents the book as being read to a bedridden boy by his visiting grandfather, the novel presents the book as being recalled by an adult William Goldman who has memories of his father reading it to him while he was bedridden. The book can provide multiple layers of framing; the movie only provides one, for fear of confusing the viewer. Goldman is enough of a skilled author to successfully work the multiple framing layers.
An example of the story can be found in the history of Fizzik, the giant. While he plays both a key role in the action of the film and is a sympathetic character, the novel provides his background. The result is not merely a sympathetic character but one with depth.
The book plays with convention, “skipping” parts of the story in order to focus on key scenes. There are some satirical jabs at then-current events and recent history. Through it all Goldman retains the attention of the reader, to his significant credit.
For any fan of the comedy/fantasy/action/romance film, or for anyone who might enjoy such a combination of genres, the book is a pleasure to read.