July 30, 2012

back to basics: the princess bride (propp's functions)

The final example of how Propp’s Fairy Tale Functions serve a story. Here is a summary of The Princess Bride with the correlating functions in parenthesis:

The film is an enactment of the following story read by the grandfather of a sick boy as the boy sits in bed listening, framed and occasionally interrupted by scenes of the reading.

A beautiful young woman named Buttercup lives on a farm in the fictional country of Florin. Whenever she gives her farmhand Westley an order, he answers "as you wish," and happily complies (0. Initial Situation). Eventually she realizes he loves her and admits her love for him. Westley leaves to seek his fortune so they can marry (11. Departure), but his ship is attacked by the Dread Pirate Roberts, who has a reputation for never leaving anyone alive (1. Absentation).

Five years later, believing Westley dead, Buttercup reluctantly agrees to marry Prince Humperdinck, heir to the throne of Florin (2. Interdiction). Before the wedding, she is kidnapped (3. Violation of Interdiction and 8. Villainy or Lack) by three outlaws: an extremely short Sicilian boss named Vizzini, a giant from Greenland named Fezzik, and a Spanish fencing master named Inigo Montoya, who seeks revenge against the six-fingered man who killed his father. The outlaws are pursued most readily by the masked man in black, and also by Prince Humperdinck with a complement of soldiers (4. Reconnaissance, 5. Delivery, and 21. Pursuit).

The man in black catches up to the outlaws at the top of the Cliffs of Insanity, where he defeats Inigo in a duel and knocks him unconscious, chokes Fezzik until he blacks out, and kills Vizzini by tricking him into drinking poison (25. Difficult Task, 12. First Function of the Donor, 13. Hero’s Reaction, 14. Receipt of a Magical Agent, and 26. Solution). 

When he tells Buttercup he is Roberts (23. Unrecognized Arrival and 29. Transfiguration), she becomes enraged at him for killing Westley and shoves him into a gorge after telling him that he should die too, but she realizes he is Westley himself when he replies "As you wish!" (27. Recognition). She dives into the gorge after him (15. Guidance), and they flee through the dangerous Fire Swamp where they navigate past the R.O.U.S. (Rodents of Unusual Size), fire spouts, and lightning sand. When they are captured on the other side by Humperdinck and his sadistic six-fingered vizier Count Rugen (6. Trickery), Buttercup agrees to return with Humperdinck in exchange for Westley's release, but Humperdinck secretly has Rugen imprison and torture Westley (7. Complicity).
When Buttercup expresses unhappiness at marrying Humperdinck, he promises to search for Westley, but his real plan is to start a war with the neighboring country of Guilder by killing Buttercup and framing them for her death. After Buttercup realizes that Humperdinck has no intention of finding Westley, she taunts his cowardice and feelings of inferiority towards his romantic rival. Enraged, Humperdinck tortures Westley to his apparent death (16. Struggle). 

Meanwhile, Inigo and Fezzik meet when Humperdinck orders a gang of goons to arrest the thieves in a nearby forest, and Fezzik informs Inigo of Rugen's existence. Inigo decides that they need the man in black's help to get into the castle, and when he hears cries of anguish (from Westley's torture) he decides that they must be from the man in black and follows them. Inigo and Fezzik arrive in Rugen's torture chamber to find Westley dead, but bring him to a miracle man named Miracle Max who explains that Westley is "only mostly dead", reviving him to a state of heavy paralysis (17. Branding and 22. Rescue). Inigo and Fezzik ask for Westley’s help (9. Mediation, the Connective Incident). Westley agrees, despite his condition (10. Beginning Counter-Action).

Westley, Inigo, and Fezzik invade the castle (20. Return), prompting Humperdinck to order a drastically-abridged version of the wedding ceremony, rushing Buttercup to her chambers (24. Unfounded Claims). Inigo finds and duels Rugen, and despite incurring heavy blood loss from a stab wound in the opening moments of the battle, he is able to maintain his focus by repeatedly reciting his long-rehearsed greeting of vengeance ("Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die") and eventually manages to slay his nemesis.

Westley finds Buttercup, who is about to commit suicide, and assures her that her marriage is invalid because she never said "I do." When confronted by Humperdinck, Westley bluffs his way out of a duel (due to his temporary paralysis) and manages to have Humperdinck tied to a chair, left to contemplate his cowardice (18. Victory, 28. Exposure, and 30. Punishment). Triumphant, he then rides away with Buttercup, Inigo, and Fezzik on four white horses that Fezzik conveniently discovers (19. Liquidation). Westley and Buttercup kiss and live happily ever after (31. Wedding)

Back in the boy's bedroom, the boy asks his grandfather to read the story to him again the next day, to which the grandfather replies, "As you wish."


  1. I love that movie (and book) so much. :)

  2. Wow!! I've been looking through your blog and so far, all of you reviews have been well written and in good taste. :) Both the book and the movie were incredible.

  3. Hello Brooke! I don't know you, but I've heard reference of your book (The Clockwork Giant) and would actually be interested in reading it. Your tips on writing were very well detailed as are all of your movie reviews.

    I, too, love to write and I'm currently writing a novel called 'Chasing the Sun'. It's slow going and I'm still in school. It's about a boy (Gavri), who grew up in a impoverished country and nearly starved to death, but was saved by an old man with a large fortune. Gavri grew to be a selfish man, having inherited the old's man's fortune, but because of his past experiences with death, he promised himself to find a way in which he would never die.

    I feel confident that I can trust your advise. If I were to send you the prologue through facebook, E-mail, blog...whatever works...would you read it and give a few pointers? It would certainly not have to be anywhere near as long or detailed as your movie reviews, I'd just like to know if you'd honestly read a book like it. I understand that for a book to do well, the reader's interest should be at a peak throughout the book (primarily the beginning), this is something I need a second opinion on.

    Thank you for your time. Please get back to me. :D

    1. Hi! Thanks for reading my blog and taking the time to comment on everything :)

      Feel free to send me your prologue to my email (you can find it on the contact page and the sidebar). The idea is interesting, and I'd be happy to help. Hope to hear from you soon. :)