There are certain groups of people inextricably bound together by common, harrowing ordeals. Cops, doctors, soldiers, survivors of prep school and sleep-away camp. And readers of William Goldman's "The Princess Bride," who are still wondering just what dashing Westley said to his dearest Buttercup when he rejoined her on the ravine of the deadly Fire Swamp.
For the as-yet uninitiated, "The Princess Bride," now a Rob Reiner film, is the story of how the most beautiful woman in the world is won by her true love, a brilliant, handsome, strong (we could go on) farm boy, despite the efforts of a wildly wicked prince, a mighty giant, a wizard swordsman, a crafty Sicilian and a six-fingered count who has made an extensive study of pain.
Halfway into the book, when the lovers are briefly reunited, William Goldman, who claims to be abridging the work from an original by an S. Morgenstern of Florin, cuts away from the lovers to say that Morgenstern cuts away from the lovers at this point--and anyone who wants to know what the lovers said to each other should write to Goldman's publisher for his version of the reunion scene.
Goldman, in fact, urges his readers to write in even if they don't have the least interest in reading the scene because his publishing houses have agreed to pay for the postage costs for sending out the scene, and "I would love to cost those publishing geniuses a few dollars, because, let's face it, they're not spending much on advertising my books."
So has anybody written in?
Only about 400 to 500 a week since the movie opened. Before then, the book generated about 100 letters a week for Urban del Rey, which published the paperback in 1974, and half a dozen letters a week for Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, which published the book in hardcover the year before.
No one is more shocked by the deluge than Goldman, who said Tuesday from his New York office, "I promise you that when I wrote it, no one dreamt that anyone would write in.
"It's amazing to me that people believe that you can write in to the publisher and get answered."
Not only do they get answered by HBJ in its San Diego offices and Urban del Rey (now part of Random House) in New York, but it is also evidently a point of pride that the people assigned to answer those letters answer them promptly--although not with a reunion scene.
To ask why no reunion scene is sent is tantamount to asking, does such a scene exist? Is there an S. Morgenstern? Is the Pope Jewish?
There are some truths even scandal-hungry journalists won't reveal.
What can be told is that the first version of Goldman's response to his readers was a three-page story about a lawsuit between Mr. Shog, a representative from the estate of S. Morgenstern, and publisher William Jovanovich preventing the publication of the reunion scene until early 1978.
This, according to Goldman, spawned a second generation of letters from people who had waited patiently for the lawsuit to be over. So in 1978, Goldman added a postscript explaining that there was a typo, and people would have to wait until 1987 for the scene.
In May of this year, a further postscript was added that explains that all Florinese-American litigation has been put on hold as a result of Florin having become America's leading supplier of cadminium, which, according to Goldman, NASA is "panting for."
And still the letters keep coming.
Gideon Rappaport, who handled the letters for HBJ in San Diego in 1983, recalled getting the bulk of his mail from Germany and the Midwest. After he left HBJ to teach at the Bishop's School in La Jolla, he was asked again about the reunion scene--this time by the 10th-grade students to whom he assigned the book.
Stephanie Myers from Urban del Rey reports getting a wider range of responses. She opened one letter from an Illinois reader, saying: "Dear Sirs, I am in the middle of reading 'The Princess Bride.' I am really enjoying it so far! I would like to have a copy of the reunion scene. I like what William Goldman has added to this classic story. I do hope he will be writing another book in the future. I like his style. Thank you."
And from Pennsylvania: "Dear Urban Del Rey, I am looking at a copy of William Goldman's 'The Princess Bride.' On page 153, he asks me to request a copy of the reunion scene. Hoping to hear from you and prove my skeptical wife that your company stands behind what it prints."
Despite Goldman's note that the publishing houses will spring for the postage, Myers notes that most send self-addressed stamped envelopes. "They really want this reunion scene."
Some people also want the original S. Morgenstern book, writing to Goldman that they can't find it in the library. Others are interested in "Buttercup's Baby," an as-yet unpublished Morgenstern book that Goldman mentions in his form letter (he's still working on it). Then there's "The Silent Gondoliers," another Morgenstern book that Urban del Rey advertises in its latest editions of "The Princess Bride."
There are those who write in even though they don't believe the scene exists. One young girl from England recently wrote to Del Rey: "Dear Mr. Goldman, . . . Even though I know you wrote the whole thing so it was your choice to leave out the reunion scene between Buttercup and Westley, so it's probable you'll never fill the eager reader in on the previous private moment when they reunite, I'm itching to know what you do send those people craving a reunion scene. Until I have a copy of this scene, I don't think my copy of the 'Bride' is complete. OH PLEASE SEND ME ONE."
In a similar spirit, David Bickel, a 20-year-old college junior from New York, who has been a Goldman fan since age 12 when he first read "The Princess Bride," sent away for his copy.
When he got back the form letter, he wasn't disappointed. He didn't need to know what Westley and Buttercup said to each other. It was enough that he was reading something new by William Goldman.