The Princess Bride is such a fantastic story; I don't want to ruin it for anyone. So, for those whom have not read the book and wish to do so, do not read this. For those whom have read the book and love it but think the unmasking of an allegory might ruin the story, do not read this. For those whom love the book and wish to know Goldman's motivations behind this classic tale yet believe they can continue to enjoy this novel after the fact, please read on.
"Oh, this is just like the Oz books."
A fantastic fairy tale, The Princess Bride, originally published in 1973 by the Ballantine Publishing Group, has a brilliantly hidden allegory for the history of international economics, specifically, the migration from hard currency, or gold and silver, to soft currency, or paper money. A riddle wrapped in an enigma, William Goldman's story, which he claims is an abridgement of S. Morgenstern's historical account, is packed with metaphors and double meanings.
Unlike how L. Frank Baum beats his readers over the head with this same allegory in his novel The Wizard of Oz, Goldman's approach is much more subtle and is invisible to most anyone who isn't looking for it yet undeniable once revealed if the reader is learned in the history of economics. Of course, this is not a true story. There is no such person as the Florinese historian Simon Morgenstern, nor were there ever countries named Florin or Guilder. Did Goldman simply pull these names out of a hat or was there a deeper meaning? And other than being a great story telling technique why is this fictional chronicle told as an historical account?
It is impossible to know for certain, as Goldman has never formally addressed this subject, but the story of the Princess Bride has too many coincidences with the story of Central Banking to be anything but fable. A dreary subject to say the least, I will refrain from expounding too much and keep to the story. And though it would be impossible to explain every metaphor and double meaning, I hope to show the main players of the allegory, which can act as a base for further exploration.
This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it. ...here's the "good parts" version. S. Morgenstern wrote it. And my father read it to me. And now I give it to you. What you do with it will be of more than passing interest to us all.
Throughout the book, claming he is but a humble abridger, Goldman gives authoring credit to the fictional historian Simon Morgenstern. Nonetheless why does he use the name Simon Morgenstern? Goldman liked puns. It is obvious that an "S" looks remarkably like a "$". But Simon could be a pun on the word simoleon, a slang term for dollar. Further more, Oskar Morgenstern was an economist and professor at Princeton who, with John von Neumann, co-wrote The Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, the leading theory of economic systems when the Princess Bride was written. This abridgment of S. Morgenstern historical account is truly Goldman relating the story of international economics. Though normally a dull subject, with his "good parts" version, it is told in such a way that makes anyone want to listen.
Florin and Gilder
At 8:23 there seemed every chance of a lasting alliance starting between Florin and Guilder. At 8:24 the two nations were very close to war.
A florin was originally a silver coin of the city of Florence. The name has been used for currency by several different countries including England and Australia. In England, it was a gold coin and the first decimal denomination, being one tenth of a pound. As a coin of two world-dominating empires, Rome and Britain, the florin has namesakes throughout the world and today is used for several paper denominations.
A guilder was a Dutch denomination. Though it has since been replaced with the euro, when this book was written the guilder was still in circulation and one of Europe's oldest currencies. Like the florin, the guilder has also spanned the ages from silver to gold to paper. One could deduce that Florin and Guilder, the setting of Morgenstern's historical account, are Goldman's metaphor for money in his allegory for the history of currency.
The year that Buttercup was born, the most beautiful woman in the world was a French scullery maid named Annette.
Goldman begins the book by listing the most beautiful women in the world throughout Buttercups life; in addition to the French maid Annettte, Aluthra, a tea merchant's daughter from Bengal, and Adela, a woman from Sussex on the Thames. These women represent the gold that backed a paper currency. In these short interludes men obsess over, lust after, and admire the women until, in time, each quickly loses her beauty. At which point the next most desirable woman becomes the men's obsession. The French maid Annette was fed chocolates until she became very inflated. The Indian's beauty was ruined by the pox. The English Adela simply worried her beauty away.
Currencies throughout the ages don't have a very long life time. They seem to lose their popularity and simply fade away in less than a century. They can lose value to inflation or to famine or disease as their backing economy fails. But this story isn't about these women; the story is about Buttercup, the golden flower, and the most beautiful woman in the world. The man that obsessed over her is not whom one might think, Prince Humperdink, but his only confidant, the Count.
His last name was Rugen, but no one needed to use it – he was the only Count in the country.... The Countess was considerably younger than her husband. All of her clothes came from Paris and she had superb taste.... In sum, the Rugens were Couple of the Week in Florin and had been for many years....
Rugen is an anagram of greun, the German word for green. Abstractly the couple represents the greenback, the American dollar. Specifically, they represent the Federal Reserve. The Count, who has the ear of the Prince, is the power of the dollar. The Countess, who has the fear and admiration of the people, is the appeal. In the book, Rugen and his wife are the ones to discover Buttercup. It must be Goldman's opinion that Central Banking and printing money isn't the best thing for the capitalist. It is the Count that created the machine, a device that literally sucks the life from the Westley, the farm boy turn swashbuckler.
The Dread Pirate Roberts
"I am not the Dread Pirate Roberts," he said, "My name is Ryan. I inherited this ship from the previous Dread Pirate Roberts, just as you will inherit it from me. The man I inherited it from was not the real Dread Pirate Roberts either - his name was Cumberbun. The real Roberts had been retired 15 years and was living like a king in Patagonia."
Westley and his alter-ego the Dread Pirate Roberts is the prime example of a laissez-faire capitalist. His love for Buttercup is beyond all others. He goes out into the world to seek his fortune and became a cut-throat pirate. He was content with amassing piles of cash apart from his beloved, until he learns of Buttercup's pending nuptials. He must fight the Count and Prince to win back what is his. Though they nearly kill him ("He's only mostly dead") Westley, with help from Spanish steel and Turkish might, ultimately saves Buttercup and lives happily ever after?
And They All Didn't Live Happily Ever After
"And they all lived happily every after," my father said. ...The truth is, my father was fibbing.
The story does not have a happy ending. Each of our heroes is trapped by fate and we are left with a feeling that nothing of their plight was of any significance. Although Inigo did kill Rugan, Humperdink is left alive and well able to pursue them until the end of their days. He remains and no doubt takes on another count, and the story starts all over again. This can only be because no one has been able to conquer Central Banks. They are an ominous juggernaut, or so Goldman would have you believe, which lingers over the working man, sucking the life from him with every transaction.
Personally, I believe allegory is fun. However, if this detracts from the story, it is not worth keeping in mind. One must be able to enjoy the treasures of the novel, feel excitement during the swordfight atop the Cliffs of Insanity, terror at the mention of the Fire Swamp and the Zoo of Death, or the unconditional love between Westley and Buttercup. If so, for one who's willing to review a little history in order to grasp the depths of the work, a hidden reward awaits as one reads, not as Goldman's abridgement of S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and Heigh Adventure, but as the "good parts" version of the history of economics.
Quotes from William Goldman's The Princes Bride were used fairly without permission.