Looking for Buddhist Wisdom in ‘The Princess Bride’

Ahead of the book’s publication, Mr. Nichtern agreed to watch the film once more with a reporter, sharing his thoughts on why “The Princess Bride” is such an enduring piece of pop culture, what universal lessons it holds, and why he was moved to meditate on a low-budget comedy that is celebrating its 30th anniversary next month.


Robin Wright (as Buttercup) and Cary Elwes (as Westley) in a scene from “The Princess Bride.”

20th Century Fox/Photofest

Mr. Nichtern’s book defies easy categorization. Part memoir, part Buddhist treatise and part cultural criticism, its pitch is that “The Princess Bride” is something more than a lighthearted sendup of the fairy tale genre — if viewed through the right lens, it is also a trove of timeless wisdom.

Some people will buy that no matter what. As a “shastri,” or senior teacher, Mr. Nichtern is well-known in Buddhist circles with a devoted group of students. The son of David Nichtern, an accomplished musician and a Buddhist teacher himself, the younger Mr. Nichtern, like his father, teaches in the Shambhala tradition, and also founded the Interdependence Project, a secular meditation group.

But if the book finds a wider audience, it will be thanks to the lasting appeal of “The Princess Bride.” Despite its modest performance at the box office, the film, directed by Rob Reiner and based on the novel by William Goldman, has emerged a cult classic, spawning memes, board and video games and more.

Among those who count it as their favorite film is Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, who acted out scenes featuring Billy Crystal and Mandy Patinkin on the campaign trail. (That drew a rebuke from Mr. Patinkin, who said Mr. Cruz was missing the point.) Ross Ulbricht, the mastermind behind Silk Road, the shuttered online bazaar for illicit drugs, assumed the nom de guerre Dread Pirate Roberts, a character from the film. The sports and culture website FiveThirtyEight deemed it the sixth “most rewatchable” movie of all time. And on Rotten Tomatoes, the influential review website, it has a remarkable Tomatometer score of 97.

So what makes the film so enduring?

“It’s a deconstruction of a classic genre,” said Mr. Nichtern, watching the opening scenes of the movie, in which a grandfather reads a bedtime story to his grandson. “It’s a fairy tale that makes fun of the genre, but is…

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