I saw and loved the movie long before I even knew there was a book. The farcical escapades of Inigo Montoya and the mighty Fezzik (played so aptly by Andre the Giant), the breathtaking romance of Westley/Dread Pirate Roberts and Buttercup, the peripheral characters like the six-fingered Count Rugen (who is attempting to become the authority on pain, in a very educational sense), the crafty Sicilian Vizzini, and the hunt-loving, woman-hating Prince Humperdinck.
The author, William Goldman, is perhaps better known as a screenwriter, and while I don’t know offhand, I can only assume that it was he who adapted the novel to the screen, so it’s fairly faithful. Noticeably, however, Goldman had to cut out a lot of what made the book funny, as it wouldn’t have made the jump to a visual, rather than narrative, medium. For instance, the premise of the book is that Goldman never wrote it, but merely abridged a thousand-paged political satire written by “S. Morgenstern,” in the imaginary country of Florin (between Germany and Switzerland), shortly after World War I. There’s a lengthy preface where Goldman goes to great pains to describe his history with the book and the process whereby he came to abridge it. He was so convincing, in fact, that I was, for a moment, wondering if in fact it was a real text, from a country whose existence was hitherto unknown to me.
Another facet that was tragically cut is the back-story for most of the characters. Unbeknownst to people only familiar with the movie, Inigo and Fezzik (and Vizzini, to a lesser extent) have lengthy histories which give more depth to their characters. Even Buttercup is given more of a history than in the movie. Furthermore, the fantasy satire that Goldman intended comes out a bit more in the book than it did in the movie. Little gems like Miracle Max saying “[T]rue love is the best thing in the world, except for cough drops. Everybody knows that,” didn’t make it into the movie, either. In short, the movie may succeed on the level of a funny fantasy, but the actual satire seems confined to the book, which is a shame, because it is one of the more estimable parts of the novel.
It’s an easy read, truth be told. I finished the bulk of it in two relatively short sessions, even though it runs just short of 400 (mass market paperback) pages. My uncle says the book is so much better than the movie it is not even worthy of comparison.” While I do like what the actors did with their characters (Billy Crystal as Miracle Max, for instance), I have to agree that the book simply has more substance than the movie was able to capture. Despite your thoughts on the movie, read the book. It might change your mind.