I’m not your typical 80s kid. I was raised in a mostly t.v. free home. I had no idea what the “Wonder Years” t.v. show was until I got to college and everybody was watching it on rerun. I had no idea who Billy Crystal was or why I should care. And I certainly had no idea who Andre the Giant was. Strangely, however, I knew who Carey Elwes was. My Anglophile mother absolutely loves period films and t.v. series’ about European monarchy as well as just about anything “Masterpiece Theatre” was producing. So, when I was in my teens and saw a movie poster with “the guy from Lady Jane” on it, I was totally intrigued. The 1986 film starring a very young Helena Bonham Carter and Carey Elwes was a favorite of mine growing up. It was romantic, the costumes were beautiful, and it was about a period of English history that I found deeply intriguing. So, when someone suggested we rent the VHS of The Princess Bride, I was not opposed.
The first time I watched The Princess Bride, I was very confused. Remember, I didn’t have much exposure to t.v. or movies, so I couldn’t figure out what the movie really was about. And yet, I liked it. And later, when I got to college and studied theater, I realized that part of what I appreciated in The Princess Bride was the excellent stagecraft. Most importantly, however, like almost everybody who allows themselves to be won over by the film, I realized that it would always be a movie that felt like comfort to me. It was funny, it was pretty, it was smart, and it was an excellent representation of quality production.
Just a few years ago, I was shocked to discover that the film was based on a book by the same name. I read the book and was a little bit confused. It started differently from the movie and was layered with jokes that I didn’t understand. Specifically, I had to ask friends to clarify whether or not this was an abridgment! (The author asserts that this is an abridgment. It’s really just a joke. But it’s very confusing for those of us who are not initiated in the legend.)
Once I got through the confusing bits, the book ended up being almost exactly the movie. That was exciting and a relief, so I fell in love with the story anew. When I heard that there was a new book out about the making of the film, I wasn’t certain if I was interested or not. I really wasn’t sure why I would care – loved the movie, loved the book, what would I care to know beyond that? So I put it off for many months.
As You Wish was raved about by so many readers that this summer I finally decided to make it a priority. I spent an Audible credit on the audio version instead of just getting the book from the library because it was read by Carey Elwes as well as much of the movie cast and production crew. I figured that at the very least it would be interesting to hear people speak in their own voices and their own words about something that clearly meant something to all of them so many years ago.
In the heat of July, my husband and I had to repaint our kitchen. It was a long and tedious job and I knew that I was going to need a very entertaining book to see me through the task. My husband is not auditory at all. He does not care about audiobooks in the least and, more often than not, if an audiobook is on, he is completely inside his head ignoring it. Not this time. Together we were laughing our way through a dreaded task. We were laughing at Carey’s impressions of Rob Reiner, Bill Goldman, and Andre. We were laughing at Carey’s jokes about himself. We were laughing at every story about Andre. And we were just caught up in the tale because we had the sense that these people really did care about this project and each other.
I think that what makes this book so interesting is that Elwes does a really beautiful job of telling a story that people actually want to hear. Little stories that may seem insignificant but reveal the passion that was involved in the production. More than just another movie, this was a labor of love that was magical.
According to everybody in the book, Rob Reiner is a truly wonderful soul, someone who grew up on t.v. and movie sets and who genuinely cares about his entire crew. All of the cast told stories about Reiner’s passion for the work and his love and respect for the people involved in it. They credit him with bringing the intangible magic that helped everyone do their very best work and do it joyfully. I was just so glad to know that about him. It was so gratifying to know that one of the reasons why I love this film is because it was so respected and well cared for by all of its handlers.
You can purchase this book in print, but the audiobook is so fantastic that I think it is not to be missed. Since most of the cast is recorded in their own voices, the sincerity and emotion they bring to their own storytelling helps the listener access more meaning and understanding than if it were just read. The lion’s share of the book is narrated by Carey, and he delights us with his impressions of nearly everyone’s voices. It’s pretty funny to listen to his imitation of some of these guys and then hear them in their own voices.
This book and audiobook are just slightly less family friendly than The Princess Bride itself. Of course, the often quoted line about “perfect breasts” is present. But there are also a number of stories about Andres’s drinking that parents may not want to have to explain to their children. Because of his condition and his pain, he was self-medicating with superhuman volumes of alcohol. That may not be appropriate for little ears. There is also a drawn out recollection of flatulence which I could have done without. Other than that, Carey does a good job of keeping it clean and avoiding being crass.
For any fan of the film, this is a treat. Next to being a fly on the wall at a reunion dinner, this is about as close as we can come to seeing the magic that made The Princess Bride the wild and lasting success that it is.
For Catholics, there is a particular nugget of fun. In 2005, in cooperation with the Vatican, Carey Elwes starred in a made for t.v. movie Pope John Paul II. In it, he plays the title role up through the conclave (Jon Voight shocked me with his beautiful portrayal of post-conclave JPII.) I mention this because Carey mentions in As You Wish that he met Pope John Paul II at the Vatican and JPII knew him as “Westley”. It thrilled him that JPII, an actor in his youth and a lifelong lover of the arts, would know him and would love The Princess Bride.