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Did William Goldman or S. Morgenstern write THE PRINCESS BRIDE?

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Leah Rachel von Essen

Senior Contributor

Leah Rachel von Essen reviews genre-bending fiction for Booklist, and writes regularly as a senior contributor at Book Riot. Her blog While Reading and Walking has over 10,000 dedicated followers over several social media outlets, including Instagram. She writes passionately about books in translation, chronic illness and bias in healthcare, queer books, twisty SFF, and magical realism and folklore. She was one of a select few bookstagrammers named to NewCity’s Chicago Lit50 in 2022. She is an avid traveler, a passionate fan of women’s basketball and soccer, and a lifelong learner. Twitter: @reading_while

On my first read of The Princess Bride at age 13, I was amused and enchanted by the thought that S. Morgenstern had written a boring royal history that William Goldman had abridged into a masterpiece. I told my father so, and he looked at me, thought for a moment, and said that he didn’t think that was true. I realized my mistake. Of course it wasn’t. There was no Florin. There was no actual Inigo Montoya. But it was a rather depressing thought.

So several years later, when I read the 25th anniversary version, and it had all of this compelling, real-sounding information (wait, there’s a museum? they’re all real? the entire story is based on a true royal history! it is true!), I simply chose to believe it.

That’s how talented an author William Goldman was. After his passing in mid-November, countless readers have posted about believing: yes, his grandfather read him the “best parts” version of an old dusty classic by S. Morgenstern when he was young, and yes, this led him to take an actual book and abridge it into the classic The Princess Bride we hold in our hands today. Framing devices can be awkward, weak, but so many of us were fooled, or allowed ourselves to be fooled. Even now, as I write this, there’s a small voice in the back of my heart telling me that I’m wrong, and that Morgenstern did write an original.

I’m not the only one who had this experience, as evidenced by these many wonderful tweets:

Part of the brilliance of the framing is that Goldman never once wavered. An account of historical letters posted the letter that Goldman would send to his many readers begging for the reunion scene or asking about the original book. He claimed in these letters that he was being sued by the Morgenstern estate, and that this was keeping him from releasing any further works from that world:

I think it says a lot about Goldman, and the man and writer he was, that he never let the magic die, never let it fall. It says a lot about the success of his stories that even now, readers are sitting wondering if it’s all a true story, and if I’m telling them an untruth at this very moment. It says a lot about his sheer writing talent, because how many authors could have pulled this off?

Even as I write this, I still sort of believe. And I won’t tell you what to believe either, dear reader. Because, in the end, as in all good writing, Morgenstern’s work is real enough. The original The Princess Bride, William Goldman’s story about his grandfather, Fezzik’s size and Montoya’s quest for revenge, Westley and Buttercup’s love story—those are real in all the ways that matter.