The Princess Bride begins with an introduction in which Goldman explains the (fictional) origin of the book. At ten years old, William is lying in bed recuperating from pneumonia, and his immigrant father reads to him from a book called The Princess Bride, written by S. Morgenstern, a great author. Like Goldman’s father, Morgenstern came from a country called Florin. Young William is too sleepy to take much of it in, but the story sticks in his mind and for the first time in his life he becomes interested in a book. His father reads the entire book to him twice over a month. William then develops a keen interest in adventure stories of all kinds, to the surprise of Miss Roginski, his schoolteacher. Looking back as an adult, Goldman identifies this encounter with The Princess Bride to be the best thing that ever happened to him. While in California working on a screenplay, he arranges with a bookstore to deliver a copy of the The Princess Bride, in the original Florinese and in an English translation, to his home in New York. He wants Jason, his ten-year-old son, to read it. He returns in two weeks, and when he is having dinner with his wife, Helen, and Jason, the boy says he loved the book, but Goldman soon finds out that Jason read only the first chapter and did not like it. Goldman consults the book himself and finds that it is long and much of it tedious. He realizes that his father only read him the good parts, the sections with all the action. He decides to abridge the book and republish it, the text of which follows.
Chapter 1: The Bride
In Florin, a country between what would later become Sweden and Germany, a beautiful young woman named Buttercup is growing up on the family farm. She is so attractive that all the village boys follow her around, but she is not interested in them. Nor is she interested in the hired hand, whom she simply calls Farm Boy, who lives in a hovel on the farm. She orders him around and he does what he is told.
One day, Buttercup’s parents, who are always quarreling, see Count and Countess Rugen passing by with an entourage of servants. To the surprise of the farm couple, the procession enters the farm. The Count tells Buttercup’s parents that he wants to consult them about their cows, since he has heard they are the best in the land. Buttercup’s father is astonished, because he knows their cows are nothing of the kind. In truth, the Count has come just to see the seventeen-year-old Buttercup, since he has heard how beautiful she is. When he sees her, he cannot stop looking at her. Meanwhile, the Countess is quite taken by the appearance of Farm Boy, whose name turns out to be Westley, and she watches him milk the cows as if the secret of how great they are must be in his milking technique. That night, Buttercup reflects on the strange incident. She realizes that the Countess was interested in Westley, and he was interested in her. Then Buttercup realizes that she is jealous. Before dawn she goes to Westley’s hovel and declares her eternal love for him. He shuts the door on her without saying a word. Buttercup runs away weeping, but at dusk, Westley comes to her door. She pretends that what she said earlier was a joke, but he cuts her off and says he is leaving for America to make his fortune. He declares his love for Buttercup and wants her to join him when he is rich. Buttercup can hardly believe it, but they soon fall into each other’s arms. Over the next few weeks she receives letters from Westley, but then the letters stop. One day her parents tell her that Westley has been killed by pirates off the Carolina coast. Buttercup swears never to love again.
Chapter 2: The Groom
The chapter opens with a section by Goldman explaining that he has cut most of Morgenstern’s original chapter because it was mostly about Florinese history. He takes up the story only when it becomes interesting.
Prince Humperdinck, the son of King Lotharon, loves war but loves hunting even more. He likes to kill something every day and has built an underground Zoo of Death, stocked with all kinds of beasts that he can kill. One day he is about to finish off a monkey when Count Rugen brings him the news that his father, King Lotharon, is dying. The Prince is displeased. The death of his father means that he will have to get married so he can produce an heir.
Chapter 3: The Courtship
Humperdinck, Count Rugen, the King, and Queen Bella (Humperdinck’s stepmother) agree that Princess Noreena from the neighboring country of Guilder would be a good choice of a bride, and arrangements are made for the Princess to visit. (In one of Goldman’s explanatory passages, he notes that he has cut the details of how the visit was arranged because it consisted of over fifty pages detailing the packing and unpacking of clothes and hats). The state dinner for Princess Noreena is a disaster. A fire breaks out, and because the doors are open, there are huge gusts of wind, one of which blows the Princess’s hat off, revealing her to be bald. This ensures that the wedding is called off. Prince Humperdinck says he would not mind a commoner as a bride as long as she is beautiful. The Count suggests Buttercup, and the two men go to see her. Humperdinck proposes but she only agrees to marry him when he assures her she will not be required to love him.
Chapter 4: The Preparations
This chapter consists of a half-page note by Goldman saying that the original chapter by Morgenstern goes on at great length about how Buttercup is made a princess and trained to behave like one, and the King’s health improves. This all takes three years, but nothing really happens.
Chapter 5: The Announcement
Prince Humperdinck introduces the twenty-one-year old Princess Buttercup to a cheering crowd in the great square of Florin City. Later that day, as Buttercup is riding alone, she is kidnapped by three paid assassins: a humpback Sicilian named Vizzini, a Spaniard named Inigo, and a huge Turk named Fezzik. They plan to kill her at the Guilder frontier and make it look like the Guilders are responsible. The purpose is to start a war between Florin and Guilder. The assassins take Buttercup away in a boat; she jumps overboard and swims but is pulled back into the boat before the sharks get her. They reach huge cliffs that they must cross, and they fear they are being followed by another boat. The Sicilian throws a rope that holds fast at the top of the cliff. Fezzik, sinks the boat and carries the other three up the cliff. They are followed by a masked man in black from the boat that followed them. They reach the top and cut the rope, leaving their pursuer hanging from a rock. However, the man keeps climbing. As the others move on, Inigo remains behind to deal with him, and his back story is revealed.
Inigo’s father Domingo Montoya was a great sword maker in Spain. One day a nobleman came to him who had six fingers, and he asked Domingo to make him a six-fingered sword. It took Domingo a year of hard work to make the sword. When he returned the nobleman did not like the sword, and when Domingo gave the sword instead to ten-year-old Inigo, the nobleman killed Domingo. Inigo challenged the nobleman, who cut Inigo’s face and left. Inigo went to Madrid, Spain, where for two years he was looked after by Yeste, a friend of his father and a famous sword maker. Inigo departed and returned ten years later. He spent the entire time mastering the art of swordsmanship, with the aim of getting revenge on the six-fingered man. He asked Yeste if he was up to the task. Yeste indicated that he was, so Inigo traveled the world for five years in search of his enemy but failed to find him. He started to drink too much and his life went downhill before he was rescued by the Sicilian who recruited him for his criminal activities.
When the man in black reaches the top of the cliff, he and Inigo fight a duel. The advantage swings back and forth but eventually the masked man wins. Because he respects Inigo too much as a swordsman to kill him, the masked man knocks Inigo unconscious and follows the other two assassins. On seeing the man in black coming after them, the Sicilian leaves Fezzik behind to kill him. Fezzik has always been huge, even as a child, but he was also gentle, and his father had to train him to defend himself. He became a fighter and easily defeated all his opponents, even when he was only eleven. When his parents died he joined a traveling circus, but he was too big and too good and the crowds booed him. After he was fired by the circus, Vizzini found him in Greenland and recruited him.
Fezzik and the man in black fight. After a long struggle, the man in black wins, leaves Fezzik exhausted on the ground, and continues the chase. The masked man reaches Vizzini, who is holding a knife at Buttercup’s throat. Vizzini boasts about how smart he is, and the man in black challenges him to a battle of wits. The man in black produces some poisonous powder and, out of Vizzini’s sight, puts it in one of the two goblets of wine Vizzini has laid out. Vizzini has to choose which glass contains the poison. He guesses wrong, drinks the poisoned goblet and dies. The man in black unties Buttercup and tells her that both glasses were poisoned; he spent years building up his immunity to the poison.
The mysterious man forces the frightened Buttercup to run behind him across the mountainous terrain. They reach a ravine and see below them, in Florin Channel, an armada that Prince Humperdinck has sent to rescue her. Buttercup pushes the man in black down the ravine, from where he removes his mask, revealing himself to be Westley. She tumbles down after him.
At the head of the armada, Prince Humperdinck gazes at the cliff, plotting his next move. He gives instructions to the Count, and the armada splits up, leaving Humperdinck’s as the sole ship approaching the coastline. In less than an hour the Prince is on horseback at the top of the cliff, where the Count and a hundred men soon join him. The Prince uses his skill as a hunter to interpret the tracks left by the sword fight and the hand-to-hand fight. He comes upon the dead Vizzini and deduces that two people fell down the ravine. He tells the Count that the ravine opens into the fire swamp.
Westley and Buttercup enter the fire swamp. Westley leads the way, but soon Buttercup disappears in the Snow Sand, a kind of quicksand. Westley dives into it and saves her. He explains to Buttercup how he came to survive: the Dread Pirate Roberts spared his life because Westley made himself so useful. He became Roberts’s valet and then second in command. Eventually, Roberts retired and let Westley adopt his name, and Westley is now a feared pirate. His ship is anchored in the bay, and he tells Buttercup that they must reach it. Westley fights off an attack by giant rats, but when they reach the edge of the fire swamp, the Prince and all his forces confront them. Buttercup gets the Prince to promise he will not hurt Westley, and then she leaves Westley behind. Westley accepts his defeat and is captured. He notices that one of the Count’s hands has six fingers.
Chapter 6: The Festivities
Goldman notes that the next section in Morgenstern is boring, since it deals at length with all the festivities leading up to the wedding of Buttercup and the Prince that is to take place in three months. Goldman skips forward a month and returns to the story of Inigo, who regains consciousness and makes his way to the Thieves Quarter in Florin City, hoping to meet up with Vizzini. Meanwhile Fezzik finds Vizzini dead and goes searching for Inigo. He ends up at a village being taunted by the local boys.
Westley awakes in an underground cage in the Zoo of Death, guessing that he will be tortured. Meanwhile, the King dies and the Prince ascends to the throne. He is very busy learning how to conduct affairs of state so the wedding to Buttercup is not as big as planned. As the couple stands on the balcony, an old woman boos the new queen for choosing gold over love. Then Buttercup awakes from a nightmare; she is not in fact married yet. She has a series of nightmares, all related to her choice to walk away from Westley in the fire swamp. She tells the Prince she made a mistake and she really loves Westley. The Prince appears to be sympathetic and says he will allow her to marry Westley if he still wants to marry her. In truth, it is the Prince who hired the assassins and he now plans to kill Buttercup on their wedding night, blame it on the Guilders, and start a war.
Count Rugen tortures Westley while the Prince questions him, trying to get him to say who hired him to kidnap Buttercup. Westley truthfully denies that anyone hired him. He resists the pain by thinking of Buttercup. The Prince helps Buttercup write to Westley, and she lets slip the information that Westley is frightened of Spinning Ticks. That night Westley is tortured by having Spinning Ticks placed on his skin. Next, the Count tortures him with a fiendish device called the Machine.
Meanwhile, the Prince orders the Thieves Quarter to be cleared out by his thugs, the Brute Squad, since he fears the Guilders are there, plotting a covert attack on his kingdom. One of the Brutes turns out to be Fezzik, who was hired for his strength. Fezzik finds Inigo, and together they take refuge in an alehouse in the now empty quarter. Inigo wants to kill the Count to avenge his father, but he needs the help of the man in black, so Inigo and Fezzik seek him out. Meanwhile Buttercup has found out that the Prince never sent her letter to Westley asking if he still wished to marry her. She calls him a coward. Outraged, the Prince goes to the Zoo of Death and murders Westley.
Chapter 7: The Wedding
Fezzik and Inigo enter the Zoo of Death. They go past caged animals down to the third level, where they beat off an attack by snakes. At level four, Fezzik is terrified by bats, but Inigo kills them with his sword. At the fifth level they find Westley’s body, which they take to Miracle Max, a healer who used to be employed by the king. They tell Max they need a miracle. After much argument and negotiation, which also involves Max’s wife Valerie, Max agrees to bring Westley back to life. Inigo and Fezzik gather ingredients for a resurrection pill that will work for only one hour.
It is the day of the wedding, and the Prince is still plotting to murder Buttercup that night and frame the Guilderians for the crime. Fifty minutes before the wedding, Inigo and Fezzik feed Westley the pill and he revives. The wedding ceremony has begun as the three men advance on the castle guard. Fezzik terrifies the guards by claiming to be the Dread Pirate Roberts and appearing to burst into flames, although only his coat is on fire.
Chapter 8: The Honeymoon
Fezzik, Inigo, and Westley enter the castle, although unknown to them they are too late to stop the wedding. Inigo confronts the Count, who runs away. Buttercup goes to the Prince’s chamber, intent on suicide. Fezzik, Inigo, and Westley get separated, and Inigo pursues the Count. When Inigo catches him, the Count stabs him with a dagger. However, Inigo fights on, and eventually the Count dies of fright when he realizes that Inigo will cut his heart out. Meanwhile, Westley has made it to Buttercup, but they are found by the Prince. Westley threatens to mutilate him, which frightens the Prince. Buttercup then ties up Humperdinck. Inigo and Fezzik arrive, and the four make their escape on horseback to the Florin Channel.
Goldman comments that when his father read him the story, he ended it there, but Morgenstern made the ending more ambiguous. The four are pursued by the Prince, and each meets with a setback. The final outcome of their escape is unstated.
Sara Constantakis (Editor), Novels for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Novels, Volume 31, William Goldman, Published by Gale, Cengage Learning, 2010.