Many of you will be familiar with The Princess Bride from the almost perfect cult classic movie produced by Rob Reiner in 1987. But the movie was based on an equally fabulous book, and if you’ve never read it you are really missing out, because the book has all the humour, joy and romance of the movie and more besides. So today’s article and video cover some of the most wonderful editions of The Princess Bride book for your enjoyment.
The central conceit of the book is that the author, William Goldman, is presenting an abridged version of the fictional “S. Morgenstern’s” longer so-called classic book. So the story is constantly being interrupted by author’s notes on the abridgements he is making, and asides about his memories of his father reading the book, and his discussions with the publishers.
The first hardcover edition of the Princess Bride was published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in 1973. It’s most easily identifiable by the cover, which was designed by Wendell Minor, but what makes this edition hugely desirable is that the author’s notes on his supposed abridgements are presented in glorious bright red text. This technique of using coloured type in a novel is still uncommon even today, so it was extremely striking at the time. Unfortunately this has resulted in this volume commanding huge prices in the secondhand market. There was also a similar Macmillan edition released in the UK in 1975.
Another very sought after edition is the first paperback edition published by Ballantine in 1974, which is actually even more scarce than the very expensive hardcover edition. This paperback also has the striking red passages, but what really sets this one apart is the cover. Please, take a moment to appreciate how truly inappropriate this design is. The art is by Tom Coconis. Apart from the rather confronting naked lady gracing this cover, we have snakes, skulls, that bird on her head… It’s rather more appropriate for The Princess Bride of Cthulu than the fairy tale it contains. It was so controversial that the publishers stopped the press run after little more than a week, and less than a thousand copies were printed. The second paperback edition changed the cover and replaced the internal red text standard black italic. Being paperbacks, they were also easily damaged which makes them even more rare.
After this a variety of anniversary editions and leather-bound copies were released over the next thirty years or so, particularly peaking in the late 1980s when the movie was released. I won’t cover all of those different bindings in detail, but I would highlight the 1977 Ballantine paperback edition which has a sweet cover by Norman Green and contains a really gorgeous foldout map of Florin and Guilder. You can usually find a copy of these pretty cheaply if you keep an eye out.
A lovely illustrated 30th anniversary edition of The Princess Bride was released in 2013, and it contains 50 really beautiful sepia illustrations by Michael Manomivibul. The hardbacks have a glued binding with textured paper boards.
These are the same illustrations that are included in the much more expensive leather-bound Easton Press edition released later that same year. This one has gilded page ends, ribbon bookmark and a custom slipcase.
In 2014 the Folio Society also released an illustrated edition, bound in olive green cloth with gold accents that features illustrations by Mark Thomas in a more graphic style.
To be honest I was a little dubious about this one when looking at the images online, but in person it is gorgeous.
And 2017 saw the release of a very hefty beauty, the Deluxe Gift Edition.
This features the same illustrations as the 2013 edition, but they have been enlarged to fit in this oversized volume, along with full-colour chapter openers and a new colour map printed on the endpapers. The paper used also has a pleasing ‘aged’ parchment design.
Before I finish I have two more books to share with you. First is the fabulous anti-fairy tale The Silent Gondoliers, written by Goldman ten years after The Princess Bride under the pseudonym of ‘S. Morgenstern’ purely to keep the mythology of his fictitious author alive.
It even includes a note to the publisher with some requests for updates to The Princess Bride. It’s very funny, and its very existence just makes me so happy!
And the last book is Cary Elwes’ very enjoyable 2014 memoir As You Wish, about the making of the movie.
Cary played Westley in the film, and his book of stories, photographs and interviews with cast and crew is a wonderful treat for fans of the movie.
A special treat is hidden on the back of the dust jacket (at least for the first edition books) – the lovely ‘As You Wish’ poster that you can see above!
I do hope that you have a chance to read The Princess Bride – it’s wonderful in any edition. Let me know your favourite scene in the comments – my favourite movie scene is the sword fight between Inigo and the Dread Pirate Roberts, while my favourite part of the book are all of Goldman’s childhood reminiscences.