Open Fan Letter: Princess Buttercup

Dear Princess Buttercup,

Your movie, The Princess Bride, is one of my favorites. I think that may go without saying: who doesn’t love that movie? I see it’s been in the press lately because there was a rumor swirling that someone was going to remake it. This led to articles and tweets both praising and excoriating the decision. Obviously, I’m against it. But one article I found struck me because it addressed you personally:

In the original film, Buttercup is largely a passive character. The story may be titled after her—or at least what Humperdinck wants to make of her—but the plot tends to happen around Buttercup; it’s not advanced by her. Buttercup is a goal, a pawn, a means to an end. She’s carted about for a good portion of the movie like so much treasure to be won or lost, and then spends the second half moping drearily around the castle. The only bold action she gets to take (other than pushing Westley down a hill) is when she decides to take her own life to escape marrying Humperdinck.

The Mary Sue

I’m sorry if this is the first time you’re reading it, but I want you to know I think that’s completely unfair. Yes, sure, it’s unfortunate that you get treated like a trophy by Prince Humperdinck, who is a jerk. And it would have been nice, in the Fire Swamp, if you had picked up that branch and smacked the R.O.U.S. in the head while it was munching on your true love, rather than just standing there.

But you are brave. You are passionate. And while Inigo has his steel, Fezzik his strength, and Westley is basically Batman, you also have a superpower: You talk smack better and more consistently than anyone in the movie.

Smack talk is a skill, and I love watching you develop it during the movie. In the beginning, you’re lobbing softballs. When you warn Vizzini that the Prince will see him hanged and he replies, “Of all the necks on this boat, Highness, the one you should be worrying about is your own,” that’s disappointing. But you get him back. “I suppose you think you’re brave, don’t you?” he taunts, and you shut him down with, “Only compared to some.”

You tell the Dread Pirate Roberts he can “die slowly, cut into a thousand pieces,” and by the end of the movie, when you call Humperdinck the “slimiest weakling ever to crawl the earth,” it hits him hard. It leads him to make the rash decision to kill Westley, which ultimately ends in his defeat.

Here’s why I say smack talk is a superpower: you can’t do it well unless you really know your target. When you tell these men (and they’re all men, sigh) off, you show them that you see them clearly, all their strengths and weaknesses, and you know how to hurt them.

What sucks, though? For all your perception and focus, it’s ultimately the man who gets to win. In a climactic scene, Westley delivers his “To the Pain” speech. This is his only foray into real trash-talk; for most of the movie he relies on his skill and dry wit. It disturbs Humperdinck, just as your words did. But because Westley has a sword, it’s the clincher. In a perfect world, your skill would be the one to work. Yes, it’s just words. But your story is about Story, and the power of words to move us and show us the truth.

Wherever you are, I hope you’re leading a happy life, speaking truth and believing in true love. You are an inspiration. Thank you for reading my letter.


Jessica Lévai

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