First, the names. They’re terrible. They’re stupid. They’re simple.
And yet…I love each and every one.
Princess Buttercup. The Dread Pirate Roberts. Prince Humperdinck. Pit of Despair. The names of the towns are European money. But it all works. Beautifully. Maybe it has to do with the absurd child-like charm of it. Maybe it’s because the characters and locations transcend their ridiculous names by being so strong and memorable in a top notch (but simple!) story. It just goes to show that coming up with unique, extraordinary monikers is not always necessary. I find this both a relief and disheartening. Sometimes my character names have hidden meanings, are derived from ancient languages or some such tooled creation process. It’s nice to know that it is possible to “get away with” simplicity. But then it also makes me wonder why I labor. Probably because the techniques each work favorably in different situations.
I should also mention the Star Wars Saga of George Lucas. Ever think about some of the names in there? Death Star. Han Solo (he’s independent, kid!). Skywalker. The Mon Calamari (who are fish and squid-like). Lightsaber. It’s a little silly, no? But again, their strength is their straightforwardness, supported by an amazing tale. And then there is Charles Dickens, who somehow managed to have characters like Mr. McChoakumchild, a strict school master in Hard Times. Not so subtle. Conversely, I often found myself in the thick of Tolkien, trying to recall if some of the names I encountered are a character, town, building, sword or a river. The trick, I suppose, is figuring out when and where to use complexity and simplicity.
The other aspect of The Princess Bride I found masterful is how he interpreted his own story for the film adaptation. For those of you who don’t know, the book is an abridged version of a novel by S. Morgenstern. Morgenstern pontificates and details way too much about the history of the towns and such, satiring the excesses of European royalty. It’s too cumbersome. But the underlying story is fantastic. There’s just one thing. S. Morgenstern doesn’t really exist. Goldman made up the whole ordeal, using a not so uncommon literary device of pretending to have found a work or abridged it. Who cares if it’s been done before? Goldman does it to perfection. In the movie, you might recall, Fred Savage plays a sick child in bed being read to by his Grandfather (Peter Falk). The boy is not so happy with the “kissing parts” so Grandfather kindly skips ahead to adventure for him. This echoes William Goldman claiming that this or that part of S. Morgenstern’s script is too dense and not very interesting at a particular point, so he goes on to the better bits. What a concept! Completely the same and yet altogether different for the new medium of telling the tale. Bravo!
Not bad for asking each daughter what he should write about.
“A princess,” said one. “A bride,” said the other.
And so Goldman wrote: The Princess Bride. The rest is history.
Update: I've now read the book. Post is here.