Round 1 - The Princess Bride vs. 50 Shades of Grey

Round 1 - The Princess Bride vs. 50 Shades of Grey

Blog post by Kathleen
Saturday, February 4, 2017

As a reader, when I first hear the term “romance” associated with books, I definitely think bare-chested Fabio-covered paperback novels, meant to be consumed in mass quantities under cover of night (or, in modern times, through the privacy of eReaders). But that does such an injustice to this genre that has been around since novels were first invented (hello Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded).  Think of all the great stories about love out there! Shakespeare’s Romeo & JulietEmma! Gone With the Wind! The smoldering adolescent love of Anne and Gilbert in Anne of Green Gables.  Having made peace with the genre, I was delighted to see what my draw was for the Book Battle of the Broken Hearts!

And then I drew 50 Shades of Grey and The Princess Bride.

I bet you think you know which one is gonna win, right? Ha! Predictable you.

Have you read those two books? Yeah, I thought not. Well, luckily for you, I have! Twice! And I’m ready to dish the dirt, pick up my riding crop, and let them battle it out like Inigo and Wesley on the Cliffs of Insanity.

When you think about The Princess Bride you probably think fondly of the memorable one-liners from the movie:

“Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

“Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.”

“There’s a shortage of perfect breasts in this world. It would be a pity to destroy yours.”

And of course….

“As you wish.”

And when you think of 50 Shades of Grey (if you think of it at all – does anyone?) you probably think of whips, chains, leather, and bondage.  If you’ve read it, you might even remember some of these lines:

“I’m fifty shades of f*cked up, Anastasia”

“We aim to please Miss Steele.”

“I’m not a hearts and flowers kind of man, I don’t do romance.”

“Oh f*ck the paperwork.”

And naturally…

“Laters, baby”

So when you put the two of these head to head in a battle of the books – who do you think is going to come out on top (see what I just did there)?

Well, slow your roll… it might surprise you to know that these books have more in common than you might think.

First of all – can you remember even ONE line from Buttercup in TPB? No? Here’s a few for you from the book (some of which are slightly different than the movie):

                “I have loved more deeply than a killer like you can possibly imagine.”

                “Do not mock my grief! I died that day

                “You can die too for all I care”

Here’s some less well known lines from the book

“Enough about my beauty,” Buttercup said. “Everybody always talks about how beautiful I am. I’ve got a mind, Westley. Talk about that.”

W: “When was the last time you read a book? The truth now. And picture books don’t count – I mean something with print in it”

B: “There’re other things to read than print…and the Princess of Hammersmith is displeased with you and is thinking seriously of going home… Oh, Westley, I didn’t mean that, I didn’t, I didn’t, not a single syllabub of it.”

For those of you who haven’t indulged, The Princess Bride is a mock abridgement of a mock historical novel, written by a fictional author from the fictional country of Florin (the S. Morgenstern in the full title of the book). This (fictional!) abridgement was written by the famous author and screenwriter, William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Valley of the Dolls, Misery… yeah, that guy). The 30th anniversary edition contains extensive introductions (the original, the one for the 25th anniversary edition, and the new one for the 30th) in which Goldman, tongue in cheek, goes on and on about his legal troubles with the estate of S. Morgenstern and these creepy lawyers from Florin who are trying to sue him for doing the abridgement without permission of the (fictional!!) Morgenstern estate, and for writing a fan-fiction first chapter of a sequel (Buttercup’s Baby -- which you no longer have to write away for, as it’s included at the end of this edition!).

I first read The Princess Bride when I was 14, and I found it astoundingly funny and witty – I even wrote in for the first chapter of Buttercup’s Baby promised to readers in my 1992 edition, and received the ridiculous letter detailing the legal troubles of the author and the status of the litigation about Buttercup’s Baby.  I was almost afraid to pick it back up – would it be as funny as it was when I was 14? Could it be as perfect as the movie, which – apart from the quickly aging special effects for the ROUS – is pretty darn near perfect?

Well, yes and no.

The story itself is a resounding “yes, YES, YES.” Between the covers lies all the little extra bits that wouldn’t fit into the movie – you’ll learn why Inigo became a drunkard… the back story on Fezzig, and why Buttercup is such an idiot.

Unfortunately for me, to get to that, I had to read THREE introductions AND an appendix, none of which really lends that much to the story. So, readers be warned, if you want action, skip right to Chapter 1 and don’t even bother with the overly excessive introductions and protracted navel gazing. You might be slightly startled when Goldman jumps into the text with his italics to periodically tell you some trivial back story or another about the supposed abridgement of the story, but power through and you should be fine and will have a delightful time reading it.  If you like satirical humor, don’t mind objectification of women, and think it’s funny for a guy to make fun of his overweight kid, and enjoy stream of consciousness writing, then by all means, please indulge in the 60 pages of introduction by Goldman. Seriously – were these written by the same guy?

Well, as I re-read the story, I realized that – yep, these are written by the same guy! Objectification while demeaning women is kind of a thing in the Princess Bride. Buttercup is pure, beautiful, perfect… but dumb as a bag of rocks. She’s malleable, gullible, and pretty darn witless.  She’s plucked from poverty and obscurity by a handsome, wealthy man – with a penchant for torture. All the guy characters are infinitely more interesting and really what make the book worth reading.  You don’t spend too much time thinking about Buttercup because really – she’s just an empty vessel… a foil for all the magnificent dudes in the story.

And that’s a perfect segue to 50 Shades of Grey which, while written by a woman, also contains a modern day princess – similarly plucked from a life of obscurity by a dashing, handsome, wealthy man with a penchant for torture!

If you haven’t read 50 Shades here’s a quick summary: Girl meets guy, girl falls in love with guy, girl finds out that guy is into an inaccurately portrayed version of the BDSM lifestyle, girl freaks out, guy isolates her and makes her feel dependent on him, girl relents and comes back to guy, only to flee again when things get serious. You have to read the trilogy to really get the whole storyline, but we’ll just leave it there.

So, how do they compare?

It will surprise absolutely no one to learn that 50 Shades started life as a Twilight Fanfiction. Insert “Bella” for Anastasia and “Edward” for Christian and re-read it. You’ll have a totally different experience! You’ll also start nodding your head and go “Oh, yeah, I recognize that girl…” It’s hard to blame Anastasia/Bella for her behavior, because the guy she’s with is kind of a master manipulator and textbook “bad boyfriend” material. But does she have to be so lame?

If you’ve had any experience with Fanfiction, you’ll know that they are often a pale copy of the original deliciousness of the characters. And even though I could do a whole ‘nother post about the failings of Twilight, the fact of the matter is that E.L. James is kind of a terrible writer. She is shameless in her use of tired metaphors and clichés, and not only that -- totally random. Like, really really random. And convoluted. And clumsy. Here are some of my favorite examples:

"I'm all deer/headlights, moth/flame, bird/snake - and he knows exactly what he's doing to me."

What, could she not pick a metaphor? Was she planning on going back and choosing one? Who knows!

"The orange juice tastes divine. It's thirst-quenching and refreshing."

"My very small inner goddess sways in a gentle victorious samba."

(if you read the book, you’ll become well acquainted with this goddess, as she’s always popping up with cringe-worthy activities)

Oh, and I love her random “sciency” moments where she tries to spend all her 50-cent words:

"And from a very tiny, underused part of my brain – probably located at the base of my medulla oblongata near where my subconscious dwells – comes the thought: He's here to see you."

"His lips part, like he's taking a sharp intake of breath, and he blinks. For a fraction of a second, he looks lost somehow, and the Earth shifts slightly on its axis, the tectonic plates sliding into a new position."

It’s actually kind of a delight to read just to find all those terrible lines! Ooh, game idea! 50 Shades Drunken Bingo! You’re welcome.

So, to summarize:

Both books kind of treat women like crap.

One is written well, and the other poorly (although it did spawn a beautiful compliation classical album).

It’s no contest: The Princess Bride triumphs over 50 Shades.