Revising The Princess Bride

Last week, Twitter was aghast at the proposal to remake The Princess Bride into a musical.

Now, I love The Princess Bride. It’s delightful, irreverent and full of adventure.

That said, there’s just one teeny tiny element I’m not a fan of, which a remake (if it were ever to happen) might take the opportunity to address.

I’m talking, of course, about Buttercup.

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Buttercup is the title character: the princess bride in question. Technically, she’s central to the story. The problem is, she doesn’t really do anything. All around her, pirates and swordsmen duel, villains plot, rodents of unusual size attack, and she… well… she’s just kind of there. Not getting to join in the fun.

Don’t get me wrong, she has a sort of character arc, but since it’s about overcoming her doubt that Westley loves her and will rescue her no matter what, the arc isn’t really about her, it’s about her becoming worthy of him.

Maybe it’s not her fault. Maybe the problem is that the trope of a princess who waits to be rescued is just getting a bit boring.

I could go on, exploring this in a thoughtful, nuanced essay that critiques centuries of storytelling, from fairy tales through to Disney movies. But I’ve always believed it’s better to fix something than to criticise it.

You can tell where I’m going with this by now, right? Especially after the whole Merlin episode.

That’s right, I’ve fixed it! I’m not saying we throw out the old one, but if anyone does get round to remaking it, here are some ideas.

SCENE ONE

A farm in rural Florin

BUTTERCUP: Farm boy, we need to talk.

WESTLEY: As you wish.

BUTTERCUP: You know I’ve been reading a lot more lately?

WESTLEY: You made me carry all those books up the hill to your house, yes.

B: Well, it’s got me thinking. About all sorts of things. What I want from life, the kind of person I want to be, whether it’s possible to overcome the patriarchy in a feudal society… Anyway, I’ve realised that I’ve been treating you really badly, making you do all these chores and never saying thank you. So I want you to know that all that stops today.

W: That’s great. Will you start calling me by my real name now?

B: Sure!

W:…

B:…

W:…You don’t know what it is, do you?

B: Pretty sure it begins with an R.

W: rolls eyes.

Narrator: Over time, Buttercup’s self-awareness grew, and these two fell in love. Of course, this meant Westley had to give up his job as a farm boy before he could ask Buttercup to marry him, or it would have breached guidelines for appropriate employer-employee relationships.

W: Bother, now I have no source of income. And you don’t have enough workers for the farm to earn money for us to live on. I’ll have to go out and seek my fortune.

B: I love your resourcefulness, but how about we both do that? Waiting at home for you to come back sounds boring and/or stressful.

W: Sure! Adventures with my fiancee sounds like all kinds of fun. Let’s pack our bags and go!

Narrator: They set out that very day, and went to sea in search of treasure. Alas, before long, their ship was attacked by none other than the Dread Pirate Roberts. Buttercup was thrown overboard, since pirates believe women to be bad luck on a ship. Luckily for her, she was a strong swimmer, and managed to stay afloat until she was picked up by another ship, captained by none other than Prince Humperdink.

SCENE TWO

Aboard Prince Humperdinck’s ship

BUTTERCUP: Hey, thanks for the rescue! Since you’re in the business of heroics, could we steer this boat that way and go after the Dread Pirate Roberts? He’s kidnapped my fiance.

PRINCE HUMPERDINCK: The Dread Pirate Roberts? He never takes prisoners. I’m afraid your fiance is definitely dead.

B: sobs

PH: Gosh, you’re very pretty, even when crying.

B: Bit inappropriate to say to someone in mourning, but I’ll accept the compliment.

PH: tries to look impressive and princely Would you do me the honour of marrying me and becoming queen of Florin?

B: Erm, no thanks. Still getting over the death of my one true love and all that.

PH: But I’m the Prince! Also, I need a common-born woman to marry me so that the other common people will love her and support my decision to declare war on Guilder when she die- err, when she declares she’ll be queen.

B: raises a single eyebrow You want to take this country to war? Please tell me you have a non-selfish motive, that has nothing to do with siezing foreign assets or making a show of power?

PH: mumbles incoherently

B: I bet you’ve not given a thought to the civilian resulting casualties? Right, here’s the deal. I’m not promising, or even implying, that I’ll marry you – just so we’re completely clear – but if I agree to come back to the palace with you, will you hear me out on why your war is a terrible plan?

Narrator: Prince Humperdink agreed. And so Buttercup drew on everything she had learned from all those books she read, and began the greatest political speech Florin had ever witnessed. She explained the economic and diplomatic ramifications of war with Guilder, laid bare the immorality of the prince’s plan, and even proposed setting up a union between Florin and all its neighbouring lands to work together for a secure future. Everyone who heard her was impressed. Except for Prince Humpedkink, who was still holding stubbornly to his original plan. He persuaded Buttercup to stay at the castle as Special Adviser to the Royal Family.

Buttercup agreed to this, since helping her country was a distraction from her grief. But she did not enjoy life in the castle. The only time she ever felt happy was when she went out riding every morning.

SCENE THREE

Buttercup rides through the woods until she finds her path blocked by Vizzini, Inigo Montoya and Fezzik.

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VIZZINI: Excuse me, we are but poor lost circus performers. Do you know if there is a village nearby?

BUTTERCUP: There is nothing for miles.

V: Then there will be no one to hear you scream.

B: Ah, I see this is a kidnapping. A shame, since I was due to speak to the king and queen today about the benefts of lowering taxes for the very poorest in Florin. Still, for all that I am a well-rounded and interesting character, I’m sadly not enough of a Mary-Sue to have acquired combat skills from nowhere. So it doesn’t look like I can escape you three just yet. I suppose I’ll have to go along with this for now!

She cheerfully dismounts and accompanies them to their boat

V: She’s much more talkative than the Prin- err, our client warned us.

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SCENE FIVE

On the boat

VIZZINI: No more rhyming now, I mean it!

FEZZIK: Anybody want a peanut?

BUTTERCUP: So let me see if I’ve got this right, the plan is to sail to Guilder, kill me and leave my body there, thus starting a war between the two countries?

INIGO: That’s right.

BUTTERCUP: Hmm, whose nefarious scheme does that sound like, I wonder?

VIZZINI: What are you doing with that sharp piece of metal?

BUTTERCUP: What? Nothing. Definitely not cutting through these ropes and planning my escape.

They moor the boat and scale the Cliffs of Insanity, followed by a mysterious man in black. Vizzini says ‘inconceivable’ a few too many times. There are absolutely no scathing comments about the Spanish, because if we’re fixing the lack of feminism here, there’s no reason why we can’t take care of the racist jokes too.

SCENE SIX

OK guys, I’m not changing a thing about this scene between Inigo Montoya and the man in black, because it is PERFECT and I will fight left handed with anyone who says otherwise. The dialogue is witty, the characters are wonderful, and the swordfight is amazing fun. Just watch the original and we’ll regroup after the Iocane Powder incident.

SCENE SEVEN

Buttercup and the man in black on the run

BUTTERCUP: Who are you?

MAN IN BLACK: I am no one to be trifled with.

B: Not a very helpful answer, but you get points for being enigmatic. Now look, I’m not sure if you’re planning on killing me like the last three guys, but if you are, can we negotiate?

They see riders in the distance following them

B: That’ll be Prince Humperdinck chasing us. You know, he’s set on convincing me to marry him. Although I’m beginning to suspect his motives for that are less than romantic.

MiB: Oh really? You think? And exactly how long after you abandoned your previous betrothed did you let him start chasing after you? You, who are incapable of love.

B: Wait, you’re getting angry with me for not forever mourning a dead man? That feels… totally unreasonable.

(NB: in the film the man in black moves as if to hit Buttercup but doesn’t, saying “Where I come from there are penalties when a woman lies” which always bothered me. But in the book he actually slaps her. And is still supposed to be the good guy! No wonder she pushed him into the ravine.)

MiB: You know what, you’re right. I’m sorry. I don’t know where I got the idea that you weren’t allowed to move on with your life after a bereavement. Please don’t push me into the ravine.

B: Fine, but stop criticising me, and take off that stupid mask.

MiB: As you wish. He removes his mask.

B: Whoa, PLOT TWIST! You were Westley all along? I did not see that coming.

WESTLEY: I feel like you’re mocking me.

B: No, no, the mask was a very effective disguise to prevent me recognising the only man I’ve ever loved.

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W: I probably deserve that.

B: Yep. Now, shall we move on?

W: Forgive each other and look to the future, you mean?

B: I meant more like run very fast away from those approaching horses. Prince Humperdink is a) trying to kill me for political reasons, and b) not likely to be too keen on you either.

They run into the cover of the Fire Swamp.

SCENE EIGHT

Westley and Buttercup make their way through the perilous Fire Swamp. Westley explains how he was not killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts.

B: I’m very glad you’re not dead, but I do wish you’d thought to write to me and let me know. I’d have commandeered one of Humperdinck’s boats and sailed out to find you.

W: I suppose that would have been a considerate thing to do. You know, this Fire Swamp isn’t so bad. Once you figure out how to avoid the jets of flame and the snow sand.

B: Don’t forget the Rodents of Unusual Size.

W: I don’t think they exist.

A R.O.U.S attacks them. Buttercup, seeing Westley is about to be eaten by a giant rat, finds a large fallen branch and hits the R.O.U.S. with it a couple of times. Westley gets to his feet and skewers the rat with his sword.

B: Great team work! They high five.

SCENE NINE

Escaping the fire swamp, they are immediately surrounded by Humperdinck and his men

B: Oh good, you’re here. We could use some horses, and maybe food and a change of clothes.

PH: Sure, just come back to the castle and marry me, and you can have all those things.

B: This again? I’d really rather not.

W: We can always go back into the Fire Swamp and wait for them to go away…

B: That’s your great plan?

PH: Surrender!

W: Death first!

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B: OK guys, chill out. No one needs to die. Let’s take a look at the situation. You want to marry me, I want to marry him. This is nothing more than a good old fashioned Love Triangle. Sure, it’s a bit of an overdone trope these days, but Goldman wasn’t to know that at the time –

GUARD to Prince Humperdink: What’s she talking about?

PH: I’m not sure, but I think she’s warming up to one of her big debate speeches. We mustn’t let her continue, or she’ll negotiate her way into stealing my crown. Quick, arrest them both!

The guards sieze Westley and Buttercup. Westley is taken to the Pit of Despair (or, if we’re referring back to the book, to the brilliantly named Zoo of Death) and Buttercup to the castle.

SCENE TEN

PRINCE HUMPERDINCK: What have you got there?

BUTTERCUP: Nothing.

PH: You’re hiding a piece of parchment behind your back.

B: It’s definitely not a decree signed by your father the king appointing me as Ambassador to Guilder if that’s what you’re thinking.

PH: Well I wasn’t thinking it before… Why would you even do that?

B: One, so that I have a chance of preventing this war you want to stir up. And two, I need a way to escape from you, and diplomatic immunity in another country seems like a good shout.

PH: You can’t leave. Not if you want to see Westley again.

B: Yeah, I’ll have to go and rescue him first. Which reminds me, how did you go about hiring those henchmen? Inigo, Fezzik, and the annoying one. Is there like an agency you go to?

The Prince marches her to the chapel where everyone is ready for the wedding.

MINISTER: Mawwiage.

B: you know he’s going to murder me after this, right?

MINISTER:…is what brings us together today.

B: Sorry if your invitations were last minute, everyone, it’s just that I haven’t actually agreed to any of this.

MINISTER: Do you, Buttercup, take –

B: NOPE

PH: You’re so unco-operative. That’s going to be the topic of our first fight as a married couple.

Guard runs in to the chapel

GUARD: Sorry to interrupt, your highness, but it appears that the castle is under attack from a giant, a swordsman and a man in black.

PH: Oh no! That must be Guilder assassins, here to murder my bride.

B: Everyone, it’s not Guilder. That’s the rescue mission, here to stop THIS GUY from killing me. Which is more than I can say for you lot.

Prince Humperdink marches Buttercup out of the chapel before she can persuade the guests to side with her. He locks her in his room.

PH: I’ll be back to murder you once the intruders are taken care of.

B: No rush, take your time, I’ll just sit here passively and hope to be rescued.

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Humperdink closes the door. Buttercup immediately goes to the wardrobe and takes out a long rope, a set of lock picks, a sword and some more official papers bearing the king’s seal.

B: OK, time to put my escape plan into action. I just need to – oh, hi Westley! You’re here, that’s fun!

W: Never fear, I’m hear to rescue you!

B: Aw, thanks, that’s so nice of you. But why are you lying sprawled out there? Is that part of your rescue plan?

W: Unfortunately, I can’t walk. I was dead earlier today –

B: You’re looking very well, all things considered. What happened?

W: All sorts of exciting drama and celebrity cameos, but I’m afraid you weren’t in those scenes, so I’ll catch you up later. First, to our daring escape! We need to find a way out of this room –

The door springs open.

B: Just finished picking the lock while you were talking! Right, put your arm round my shoulder and I’ll carry you out of the castle. The guard said something about a giant and a swordsman being here?

W: That’ll be Fezzik and Inigo.

B: I feel like they’ve become central to this narrative, and yet I’ve barely had any interaction with them, which seems a waste. Let’s go and help them!

Buttercup and Westley follow the sounds of shouting and fighting through the castle, until they find Inigo and the six-fingered man engaged in a duel.

B: Oh yay, you’re getting your revenge at last. OK folks, all together now. I’m in this story and it’s still my favourite line to quote.

Buttercup, Westley, Inigo, the guards, and various castle dwellers in earshot: HELLO, MY NAME IS INIGO MONTOYA. YOU KILLED MY FATHER. PREPARE TO DIE!

Inigo kills the six-fingered man.

Inigo: Thank you, everyone.

B: No worries. Let’s find Fezzik and get out of here –

Prince Humperdinck enters with his guards

PH: Not so fast!

B: Epic showdown time, yay!

Everyone draws their swords

PH: To the death!

W: To the pain!

EVERYONE: Huh?

Westley explains what he means by ‘to the pain’. 

PH: In that case, I surrender. Drops his sword.

W: Hurrah! Let’s go!

B: One more thing. What’s to stop him, when we’re gone, from going to war with Guilder like he always wanted?

W: I love how invested you are in international politics. I’m seeing a whole different side to you now you have a life beyond our relationship.

B: Which doesn’t make our relationship any less important to me, I promise. But surely we can find a resolution that wraps up all these story threads nicely?

Inigo: I could kill him. Brandishes the sword of his father, Domingo Montoya

B: Efficient and effective, I like it. But given that we’re the good guys, I was thinking something a bit less murder-y.

W: If only he wasn’t destined to become king.

B: That’s it! Humperdinck, I want you to abdicate.

PH: I’m not even on the throne yet.

B: It’s a pre-emptive move. Give up your throne and hand over the right to inherit the crown… to me!

PH: You’re a commoner. The people will never accept it.

B: The people think you married me and made me future queen in that sham of a ceremony earlier today. Besides, if you don’t agree, I’ll tell everyone about how you tried to kill me, multiple times. And then there’ll probably be an uprising, peasants’ revolt kind of thing. So it’s a choice between retiring into obscurity or being killed by an angry mob. Your decision though.

She produces the relevant papers, and Humperdinck reluctantly signs them. She calls Inigo and Westley over to sign as witnesses, and Humperdinck siezes the opportunity to steal Westley’s sword.

PH: Aha! You may have forced me to sign those papers, but they’re no use if you’re dead!

He moves to strike. The door behind him bursts open, flattening him against the wall. Fezzik stands in the doorway.

F: Hello everyone! Did we win?

B: Yes Fezzik, we did!

F: Hooray!

And that is the story of how Buttercup became queen of Florin. Humperdinck lived out the rest of his days in a small house on the edge of the Fire Swamp, where no one could hear him grumble about how unfair it all was. Inigo and Fezzik stayed living in the palace, since there was far less work to be had in the line of revenge and kidnapping now that the country was enjoying stability and peace. Westley became Prince Consort when he married Buttercup, and they of course lived happily ever after, making a point of taking sailing holidays every few years to have pirate adventures on the high seas. 

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3 thoughts on “Revising The Princess Bride

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