As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, by Cary Elwes

Like so many others, I have fond childhood memories of The Princess Bride. I remember the first time I tried to watch it: I was around 7 or 8 and my uncle brought the movie over to my grandma’s house for me to watch. I remember him gushing about the movie but I was overwhelmed with a sense of foreboding. I had recently been terrified out of my mind trying to watch Willy Wonka and was worried that I’d get too scared again. But my uncle kept insisting that it was a great movie, full of adventure and fantasy, with daring duels, kind hearted giants and true love. And so, steeling myself to be brave, I made it past the shrieking eels, any time Fezzik was on screen, even the R.O.U.Ss, all the way up to the Pits of Despair. It was at this point that 8 year old Jen’s resolve broke. I took one look at the Albino torturer on screen and dissolved into a fit of tears, unable to watch any more.

Thankfully, a few years later my father convinced me to give it another go and both my brother and I adored it. It quite quickly became one of our family’s favorite movies, with my brother and I reciting lines ad nauseum (an exercise that no doubt drove our parents crazy). We had the poisoned cup sequence completely memorized, with him and I frequently arguing over who got to recite Vizzini’s lines, by far the funniest of the sequence. To this day, shouts of INCONCEIVABLE! will sound within our family, with one of us inevitably following up with the oft forgotten but equally as funny line “ keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means…”

And so, when I heard last year that Cary Elwes, the actor who so brilliantly played the role of Westley, had written a memoir about the filming and production of the making of the Princess Bride, and furthermore, that nearly everyone in the cast and crew contributed excerpts, I was ecstatic.

The book was everything I had hoped for. Documenting from getting cast all the way to the 25th anniversary event that happened several years ago, Cary Elwes does a fantastic job capturing the experience he went through in this iconic film. Some of the stories I already knew, having watched the dvd extras of the special edition too many times to count, but it was wonderful to hear them again.

I should mention at this point, that part of the reason I think I adored this book so much was the fact that I did listen to it. The audiobook is performed by Elwes and nearly every excerpt from cast and crew (excluding a few people like Mandy Patinkin who could not narrate their bits for some reason) is also narrated by them. It was such a delight to hear Robin Wright or Billy Crystal cut into Elwes’ narration to tell small versions of their part of the story. And on top of that, Elwes is an excellent auditory performer. When retelling stories, he’d often imitate the voices of the people involved, to the point that I’d forget that it was him doing the narration. In particular, his stories about Andre the Giant made me smile. He did a great job capturing Andre’s voice and I could easily picture him saying the things Elwes documented and laughing in that great booming voice he had.

A coworker asked me if reading this book would destroy the magic of the film and I will wholeheartedly say no, it will not. But then again, I am the type of person who loves learning behind the scenes things about movies, the kind that gets annoyed when commentaries aren’t included in dvd extras. So for me, learning about the intensive steps Elwes and Patinkin went through to train for the fencing sequence was exciting. Learning what lines Billy Crystal improvised made me laugh. And hearing about Cary Elwes and Robin Wright not wanting to end the last shot of production made me tear up a little.

If you are a fan of The Princess Bride, I would recommend this book, ESPECIALLY the audiobook. Probably moreso the audiobook than the print edition. There’s something special about hearing Elwes tell these stories rather than reading the printed word, although that might be my inclination towards audio commentaries shining through again. And just like the grandson at the end of the film, when I reached the end of the book I was filled with the desire to rewatch The Princess Bride over again. The Princess Bride will always be one of my favorite films and one that I hope to share with my children one day, although maybe when they’re old enough not to be scared by strange albino torturers and rodents of unusual size.