Whose Who In The Princess Bride
For most people the terms main character, protagonist and hero are interchangeable and belong to the same character. However there are intricacies to the terms that do cause them to be different. In fact, in The Princess Bride, a story about Westley fighting to be with his true love Buttercup, the terms belong to different characters.
The term ‘Main Character’ usually refers to who the story is mainly about. By this definition it is possible to have over thirty main characters in a story. In this case, however, the true main character would be Westley.
Westley is who drives home the plot, the character who the story circles around. He gives Princess Buttercup hope and a reason to stand up for herself. He gives Prince Humperdinck someone to fear and ruins his plans. Westley is the reason Inigo Montoya gets revenge on Count Rugen for his father. Without Westley, we would have a different story. However, if you removed a different character, the story would change but multiple plot lines would remain the same. Although Westley is the spider that weaves the story together, he is not the hero.
According to John August, the hero “is the character who you hope to see ‘win.’” As noble as Westley’s goal is—fighting for true love—audience members already know that Buttercup loves Westley, so half his battle is already won. All he needs is to defeat the bad guy and with the level of skill he demonstrates throughout the movie, we know it’ll be inevitable that he will. This leaves Inigo to fill the role of hero.
Early on, Inigo reveals he studied sword fighting until he believed himself skilled enough to defeat the six-fingered man that killed his father. In the book, Inigo comes to believe that he obtains the skill level of wizard, which is the level above a master swordsman. After acquiring that level of skill and believing himself the only living wizard in existence, he searched for his Father’s , murderer. Eventually he works for Vizzini ‘to pay the bills.’ It’s while working for Vizzini that he meets the ‘man in black,’ later to be revealed as Westley.
Westley beats Inigo in a swordfight which makes the audience wonder if Inigo truly has the skill to defeat the six-fingered man, especially since Westley has had significantly less time to study fencing than Inigo. This question is juxtaposed with another when Inigo finally learns that the six-fingered man is Count Rugen: How would he be able to get close enough to his father’s killer?
The uncertainty raised in the audiences minds make the audience more invested in Inigo’s goals than in the certainty that Westley will succeed.
Despite the importance of their roles in the story, neither Inigo nor Westley can technically be called a protagonist. According to John August the protagonist is “The character who changes over the course of the story.”
There really is no such character in the book The Princess Bride. None of the characters really change or learn anything new. However, a protagonist can be found in the movie/screenplay. The protagonist is never named, but in the screenplay he’s identified as The Kid.
Although the kid has very little screen time, his presence is felt throughout the movie. The story, Princess Bride, is interrupted by the grandfather telling the story or the boy himself. Sections of the story are skipped at the boys insistence. The grandfather also narrates part of the story, reminding the audience that the story is being told to the boy. The boys persistent presence and the fact he is the reason the story is being told, makes him a lead character.
The boy also changes. At the beginning of the movie he dreads his grandfather’s arrival. He asks his mother: “Mom, can't you tell him that I'm sick? (p.1).” And he’s not too interested in the book his grandfather gives him as a get well gift. However he grows more interested in the book as his grandfather reads it. By the end of the movie, however, he appreciates the book and asks his grandfather, “Maybe you could come over and read it again to me tomorrow (p. 124).” As such, he fits the protagonist role best.
In The Princess Bride, Westley is the main character, Inigo is the hero, and the kid is the protagonist. Not one character in the book or movie fits the definition of all three terms. But the terminology that one may use doesn’t affect the quality of the story. It simply brings better understanding to the characters roles.
August, John. "Johnaugust.com." Johnaugustcom RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 June 2013.
Goldman, William. The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure. Orlando: Harcourt, 2007. 37-358. Print.
Goldman, William. "Princess Bride, The (1987) Movie Script." - Screenplays for You. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 June 2013.
The Princess Bride. Dir. Rob Reiner. ACT III Communications, 25 September 1987. DVD