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The Princess Bride: A Frame Narrative Worth Studying

the-princess-bride_-a-frame-narrative-worth-studyingGrab your black mask, strap on a sword and beware of Iocane powder. Westley, Buttercup and the rest of the Brute Squad are romancing the blogosphere with THE PRINCESS BRIDE Linkup Party. This weekend blogs everywhere will be sharing their favorite bits and bobs about the movie and the book. You’re invited to take part in festivities by adding your related blog post link below.

Or you can just sit back and enjoy the party by following the links and reading along with us.

Either way, you are sure to discover something new about THE PRINCESS BRIDE.

A Frame Narrative Worth Studying

This story is all about Love! Yes, I said Love, with a capital L! Yet it’s not a traditional romance. It follows few of the typical kissing book tropes. And I think there may lie the source of its overwhelming popularity.

I expect most people reading this post know this story by heart, but to sum up:
Buttercup is a lovely young woman who falls in love with Westley, a farm boy who works for her parents. When Westley leaves to seek his fortune, Buttercup receives notification of his death. In her despair, she agrees to marry the ruthless Prince Humperdinck. However, Westley lives. What results is a tale of their repeated efforts to reunite, defeat obstacles and find their happily ever after.

But that is the inner story, THE PRINCESS BRIDE (movie and book) are frame tales. They represent one of the best modern examples of using the frame narrative a writer can study.

A frame story (also known as a nested narrative) is a technique of putting a story within a story. The outer frame creates the introductory or main narrative. At least in part, the outer frame also sets the stage and binds together with the inner narrative to create a single message. If you really have no clue what a frame story is, you might want to start here with our post, Tips for Crafting a Frame Story.

I’ve decided to focus mostly on the outer frame and on what I feel is the main message of the story: generational love, the love of family.

Because it’s a more compact version of the story, I’ll be using examples from the movie. However, it should be noted that the same message is presented in the book. And because the book version gives more attention to the outer frame, it plays an even larger role.

The first indication that generational love is the message of the story is the selection of the protagonist. While the father is the protagonist in the book, the grandson plays this role in the movie. Yes, I expect this to shock most people, but let’s look at the evidence.

The grandson is the only character to experience any form of meaningful character change. While Westley and Buttercup love each other from their first scenes, the boy views his grandfather as his antagonist. He hates that his grandfather has all the power in the relationship. He can force their togetherness with the support of the boy’s mother.

the-pinchThe grandfather confirms the grandson’s perceptions of their combative relationship by pinching the boy’s cheeks and devaluing the boy’s TV watching. When he wants to read to him, the grandson dismisses the plan by saying he will try to stay awake and also by showing his displeasure over the selection of a “kissing” book.

The boy might love his grandfather, but they have no common ground and there is no respect, or appreciation of the older man’s attentions.

Through hearing the inner story the boy is exposed to two contrasting versions of family love: 1) the intense love, portrayed by Inigo Montoya, and 2) the lack of love, represented by Prince Humperdinck.

Inigo expresses his family love in his need to avenge the death of his father. His revenge quest replaces his natural grieving process and gives him a way to memorializing his father. His character gathers strength and determination from this childhood loss. He is willing to forgo his own life goals for the sake of finding justice for the father he loved so dearly.

Humperdinck, whose father is still alive but addled, shows no interested in the man. The old king is a figurehead, someone Humperdinck brings out for events and tucks away out of sight the rest of the time. Humperdinck is unmoved by Buttercup’s love for Westley, or for her affections for his father. The Prince is mostly a loner, and he uses fear, not love, as the only method of enforcing his rule.

When Inigo kills Count Rugen, aka the six fingered man, Humperdinck is left completely alone. The Prince has lost his only friend Count Rugen and also his political tools, Buttercup and Vizzini. Inigo is hurt, but he still has the support and love of his tight-knit family of friends. His side is the victor in every way. Love in all its forms – family, friendship and romantic – has triumphed over adversity in the inner story.

In the outer story the boy has internalized the story and made a change. He relishes the time he just spent with his grandfather and invites the man back the following day to reread the book with him. There is a clear indication the boy now sees the value of his grandfather and their relationship is headed in the right direction.

THE PRINCESS BRIDE is written for the child; it’s all about convincing the child in the outer frame to change his perceptions. The inner story is the device used to achieve that end result. In both the book and the film, the story is about creating common ground for the generations to converge and to remember the value of family.

Come back on Sunday, September 25 when Heather will be talking about gender-swapping characters in The Princess Bride!

Let me know if you agree with my interpretation in the comments.

You can also follow in real-time by using the #PrincessBrideParty hashtag on Twitter.

About the author

Robin Rivera

Robin trained as a professional historian and worked as a museum curator, an educator and historical consultant. She writes dark young adult fiction, with diverse characters. She's currently querying a novel, and working on two new manuscripts that started off as NaNoWriMo projects. You can follow her on Facebook(https://www.facebook.com/robin.rivera.90813) or on Twitter @robinrwrites. However, Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/RRWrites/) is where her inner magpie is happiest of all.

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6 comments

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  1. James Pailly

    It’s been awhile since I’ve seen this movie. I forgot about the grandfather/grandson frame.

    1. Robin Rivera

      Hi James,
      You’re not alone. Most people forget the outer frame. I used the image from the oldest movie poster, because even the marketing team has changed their focus over time. The inner frame is the story everyone talks about and finds the most interesting, but I think the outer frame is the glue. It’s what holds the story together and gives it a greater meaning.

  2. Corina

    I didn’t know the term frame sorry. I’m glad I didn’t read this before writing mine. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t influenced by other blogs. We have some of the same points!

    1. Robin Rivera

      I expected some of the posts to overlap a bit. That’s the nature of a linkup when it’s a highly focused topic. I’m just glad you were able to join in.

  3. noelleg44

    I think I would add Inigo’s love for his father as being almost obsessive, given his long search for the killer.

    1. Robin Rivera

      I agree, it is an obsession. And one that defines Inigo’s whole life. Just as Inigo is taken to the extreme side of father worship, the Prince is one the extreme side of dismissing his father. I think this juxtaposition of characters is geared this way for kids. They don’t enjoy the same level of ambiguity that adults do.

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