First Lines: The Princess Bride – William Goldman

This is my favourite book in all the world, though I have never read it.

There is a huge amount of debate about which line is actually the first in William Goldman’s The Princess Bride. Some believe that the start of the actual tale – which begins, ‘The year that Buttercup was born, the most beautiful woman in the world was a French scullery maid named Annette,’ – marks the start of the book.

However, The Princess Bride is an odd book in the first instance – it purports to be a direct translation of a fairy tale when in fact it is entirely a creation from Goldman’s own mind. The fact that the introduction introduces the idea that he actually acting as translator, rather than writer, is as important to me as the actual story itself. In fact, much of the comedic and whimsical nature of the story derives from this narrative conceit so it is the first line of the introduction that marks the start of the story…

For me at least.

And what a great first line it is.

Already in this first line, Goldman sets up the stage for the rest of the novel. As a reader, we read this line and a couple of questions pop into our minds:

What book?

Why hasn’t he read it?

Is it boring or cumbersome?

Straight away we are intrigued. We want to know what he is talking about and, as a result of this, we are instantly drawn into his story long before it ever gets going.

On a more stylistic point, the first line gives the reader a great indication of what to expect from the rest of the book. The slightly whimsy way in which he addresses his failure to read the book that – presumably – he is about to talk about, instantly sets the tone for the rest of the story. So much so that it doesn’t surprise the reader when, later in the story, the narrator quite happily cuts massive chunks out of the tale because he considers them too boring or long, or that he frequently jumps back to his own personal narrative about how his father used to pretend to read the story to him.

Right from the off, the reader is prepared for whatever wackiness the narrator is about to inflict on them and, no matter how bizarre it gets, they stick with it throughout the rest of the story.

A fantastic first line – much better than the Buttercup one – sets up The Princess Bride beautifully. A good case for anyone looking to inject a little bit of whimsy into their writing.

Nick R B Tingley is a crime writer from the UK. After several years working as a ghostwriter, Nick released his debut novel The Bluebell Informant – the first in his DS Evelyn Giles series. He is currently working on the second in the series – The Court of Obsessions – as well as a Victorian-era mystery novella called The Butcher of Barclay’s Hollow. 

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