The Dread Pirate Westley?

Don’t get me wrong—I love William Goldman and I love The Princess Bride. 

But—and it hurts to say this—I agree with Buttercup here. 

Nowhere in either the book or the movie does Westley say that his version of the Dread Pirate Roberts didn’t really kill anyone—that he let all his captives free on the understanding that they would tell the folks back home how he’d thrown them into shrieking eel-infested waters to die, instead of loaning them a skiff, some rations, and a navigational chart. 

Or even that he skipped the killing people part of his apprenticeship and beat feet for Florin as soon as possible to see Buttercup.  That would have gone down well.

Nope.  He clearly states that he established his credentials as the Pirate Who Leaves No Survivors, gained some useful skills, and then came home to punish the woman he loved for moving on—sort of—after hearing the news of his death.

There are three ways (at least) to explain this:

One, Westley did what he had to do to survive and return to his True Love—in order to mete out punishment for her accidental betrayal, which was apparently an acceptable way of expressing one’s true love  in 1973*—and redeemed himself later by not killing Fezzik and Inigo and by putting the psychological smackdown on Prince Humperdinck.

Or, two, Mr. Goldman was making a point that no good guy** is completely good.  Westley has his pirating and patronizing bossiness, Inigo is an alcoholic consumed by revenge, Fezzik is a thug who fights for charities, and none of them has any problems hurting people who are just doing their jobs.***  And we love them anyway—maybe the things that  make them less perfect make them more sympathetic.

Or, three, Mr. Goldman—who is invited to suspend my disbelief any time he wants—didn’t catch the pirate thing either.   

Writers suspend their disbelief, too.  In fact, they’d better be experts at it.

But, honestly, what’s the big deal?  The pirating thing happened off-page, Westley is obviously the Good Guy, Buttercup isn’t much given to critical analysis, anyway, and the whole thing is a fairy tale.  It works, okay?   Why bring it up now?

Because not every writer is William Goldman, not every pirate is the fairytale kind, and not every corpse is made of nameless cardboard.

Or should be.

But I’ll always have a soft spot for Inigo.


*A quick browse of the romance shelves at any used book store would bear this out.

** Buttercup is a brat who grows up to be an ineffective pawn, so the less said about her the better.

*** Which, come to think, is Fezzik and Inigo’s excuse, right?