I can't tell you what this book has come to mean to me.
That seems a strange thing to say about a fantasy adventure. Most people would say it about The Alchemist or something equally deep and philosophical. The Princess Bride is not deep and philosophical - you wouldn't pick it up when you want to ponder the mysteries of life - but what it is, my friends, is wondrous.
My first introduction to this story was, like so many others, through the film adaptation. This was a fixture in our house, a pillar of our childhood. The movie is fantastic - thrilling, funny, touching, scary and deeply satisfying for every member of the family. Reenactments of the classic sword-fighting scene between Inigo and the Man in Black would be closely followed by a heated debate about whether Buttercup looked better in the blue or the pink dress. Wonderful stuff. It was an instant favourite.
My introduction to the book was a little rockier. I first discovered the book at my grandmother's house when I was about eight. It was a hardback with a red dust jacket, and a picture of a castle on a hill on the front with curly writing for the title. It looked impressive and I felt very pleased and grown-up to be picking up such a book, and excited to know that it was a story I knew and loved.
Two minutes later I put it down again. It didn't start with "Buttercup was raised on a small farm in the country of Florin." It was just some guff about this guy I didn't know and didn't care for talking about foreign politics. "Nope," my eight-year-old self said. "Clearly this is not the right book. I was expecting wondrousness and instead I got rubbish."
I didn't pick the book up again for ten years.
Then I bought my own copy. Or someone gave it to me. Or I stole my sister's. Anyway, I acquired one.
It was brilliant.
The political guff was still there, but it was kind of funny, and half-way relevant, and wasn't really political anyway, and didn't go on for fifty pages as I had been thinking it did for all those years. I was still eager, though, to get to the actual Princess Bride story.
Then I got to the actual Princess Bride story. Sublime. It was the movie and then some. There was more of it; it was funnier; it was more exciting. It poked fun at the characters and genre tropes, and yet showed more fondness for them than the movie could do. It was sharper. It was softer. It was a romping work of art.
That first copy, though - the one I bought/was given/stole - looked a bit daggy. So when I spotted a clean, exciting black-and-white covered copy at my local bookstore several years later, I bought it. Two copies. One for me and one to lend. Perfect.
At my wedding, one of the readings was from The Princess Bride. And when I say reading, I don't mean one paragraph. I mean five and a half pages.
The following Christmas, my sister gave me a wall poster with the entirety of The Princess Bride printed onto it in tiny font. Best present ever.
Six months ago, on the day my grandfather died, my father and I retreated to a bookshop for comfort. I found a hardcover, illustrated copy in less than a minute. I bought it and carried it around with me for days, like a security blanket. It's a thing of beauty. Which brings the total in our house up to four copies, plus the movie.
I have come back to this book again and again, in times of celebration and sadness. I reread a line, or a few pages, or the whole thing for comfort, for inspiration, and most certainly for entertainment. I understand people's criticisms of it - that they don't like the format, or they can't stand some of the characters, or they can't tolerate even the smallest variance from the beloved movie - but I joyfully don't hold them. This is my book. Of all the books in all the world, this one is mine.
And, no, I haven't told you what the book is about. If you truly haven't come across The Princess Bride in print or film, I have several copies you can borrow.