Last night I started reading As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes (who played Westley/The Dread Pirate Roberts) with Joe Layden. I had planned to read just a few chapters—no more than an hour or so—and then go to sleep with the intention of reading the same amount on subsequent nights until I finished the memoir.
I couldn’t put the book down. Each page provided new insights and stirred pleasant memories of a movie (and novel) that is termed a cult classic, but is in reality so much more. Terry Pratchett (2002) writes:
We know what “cult” means. It’s a put-down word. It means “inexplicably popular but unworthy.” It’s a word used by the guardians of the one true flame to dismiss anything that is liked by the wrong kind of people . . .
Much like the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, L. Frank Baum, or Pratchett himself, William Goldman has created a novel that is beloved by readers. Rob Reiner assembled a cast and crew (including Goldman who wrote the screenplay) that brought the story to the screen in the most memorable way possible. As Pratchett (2002) notes, “sometimes things all come together at the right time in the right place” and make magic. The Princess Bride is a classic—plain and simple.
The movie has a bit of everything: fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles, and the kiss that left all others behind. The cast, including Elwes, delivered remarkable performances. Even when reading the following lines from the movie, it is impossible for me not to “hear” the actor’s delivery in my head:
“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
“Have fun storming the castle.”
“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
“Please consider me as an alternative to suicide.”
“Anybody want a peanut?”
“Mawidge. That bwessed awangement!”
“Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!”
And, of course, “as you wish.”
For me, each line has an instantly recognizable connection to the actor’s voice and delivery. I have used these lines in conversation many times (and often try to mimic the actors’ voices with varying results.)
In Elwes’s memoir, many of the cast and crew share their reminiscences, including Andy Scheinman Robin Wright, Billy Crystal, Mandy Patinkin, Christopher Guest, Chris Sarandon, Carol Kane, Wallace Shawn, and Fred Savage. Norman Lear and Rob Reiner also contribute. The sections are blended effectively; Elwes writes from his point of view, includes comments from the other actors or crew on the same scenes/situations, and then comments on what the others had observed. In many instances it seems like he is not only discussing a wonderful, albeit challenging, time in his life, but also learning more about it through his friends’ musings.
At 2 AM I looked at the clock and thought “I have to work tomorrow. I need to get to sleep.” I looked down at my iPad and the open Kindle APP. On the page, Elwes (2014) was describing the atmosphere on the set when they filmed the Miracle Max and Valerie scenes:
For three days straight and ten hours a day, Billy improvised thirteenth-century period jokes, never saying the same thing or the same line twice. Such was the hilarity of his ad-libbing that he actually caused Mandy to injure himself while fighting to suppress the need to laugh. Therefore you can only imagine what it did to me and to Rob, who had to leave the set because his boisterous laugh was ruining too many early takes.
I looked at the clock again. Stop reading now? Inconceivable. (I couldn’t resist!)
I ended up finishing the memoir at 3:45 AM, completely happy and completely satisfied. (Yes I am tired today as I write this.) The stories Elwes and the others share about filming The Princess Bride help bring the people behind the making of this movie to the forefront. As Pratchett (2002) notes, “sometimes things all come together at the right time in the right place” and make magic. For me it is wonderful to have both a copy of The Princess Bride and a literary snapshot of the people involved in creating it on my virtual bookshelves. I can see re-reading As You Wish multiple times and can also see sharing the stories from the memoir with my friends.
If liking this makes me one of the “wrong kind of people,” I will wear that title with honor.
Pratchett, T. (2002). Cult classic. In Meditations on Middle-Earth:
New Writing on the Worlds of J. R. R. Tolkien.
St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition.
Disclaimer: I am not associated with any of the authors, actors, or works discussed in this article.