Top Books of 1973, #1: The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

The Princess Bride came out as the top book of 1973 among Goodreads and LibraryThing readers, by quite a convincing margin. This is no doubt due not so much to its popularity in 1973 as to the success of the 1987 film. It is only two and a half years since I last read The Princess Bride, whereas it had been decades since I read A Wind in the Door and Breakfast of Champions, so I did not read it again for this exercise.

The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

Queen Bella was shaped like a gumdrop. And colored like a raspberry. She was easily the most beloved person in the kingdom, and had been married to the King long before he began mumbling. Prince Humperdinck was but a child then, and since the only stepmothers he knew were the evil ones from stories, he always called Bella that or “E. S.” for short.

The first time I reviewed it, in 2012, I wrote:

Well, this is very entertaining! While The Princess Brideis at its core a rollicking fairy tale that does nothing at all to challenge racial or sexual stereotypes, what saves it is the witty and occasionally self-mocking tone of the text, the framing narrative of an author reclaiming a story he loved in childhood for his grandson, and also the sub-plot about the process of editing down and publishing a story written by another person in another time for another audience. I’m also impressed by the ambiguity of the ending (I understand that the film doesn’t dare to replicate that). So, despite its flaws, some of which are acknowledged in the text, strongly recommended.

In 2021, comparing it with the 1987 film, I wrote:

[T]his time around I read the 25th anniversary edition, which goes even further into the joke of the film and book being edited versions of an original Florinian novel and the difficulties of adaptation and location filming, and moving about his memories of Andre the Giant, but also frankly doubles down on the sexism of the first edition. Goldman is also disturbingly emotional about the meaning of it all for him. It’s fair to say that it’s quite a step from his other films (the only one I have seen is, again, All the President’s Men). So I’m not sure I can recommend it as whole-heartedly now. Maybe I’m just in a grumpy mood.

I think I was in a grumpy mood. It’s a decent enough skewering of fantasy tropes, if not as adventurous as the author perhaps thought. Anyway, you can get it here.

Looking at it now in the context of Vonnegut and L’Engle, it’s striking that the three books are all somewhere along the speculative fiction spectrum, and that they are all rather nostalgic – The Princess Bride overtly so, Breakfast of Champions and A Wind in the Door both reminiscent of the early 60s or late 50s rather than the mid 70s. I guess that in the aftermath of Vietnam and the oil crisis, people were reaching for old comforts.

I think I will repeat this exercise for future years. Just to note that the top books of 1873 could be Anna Karenina (first part first published that year) or Around the World in Eighty Days (first book publication that year). For 1823, the poem “The Night Before Christmas” is far ahead of the field.