Oct 7 2013 2:00pm

Build Me Up, Buttercup: The Princess Bride’s Heroine as Romance Type

Princess Buttercup in The Princess BrideSeveral months back, Shelley Ann Clark wrote a post on The Princess Bride at Wonkomance about all the different kinds of love in the relationships in that movie. It was a lovely post reminding me why I love that movie so much. After I was done, I thought more about Buttercup and how she is so often maligned as a weak heroine. And it’s true, she is weak. She isn’t the smartest or strongest character; she has no magical or martial skills. She isn’t the equal of any of the men in the movie. But I think she is still the heroine.

Despite her deficits, Buttercup jumps off the boat to flee Vizzini, fights off the Dread Pirate Robert and refuses to be cowed by Prince Humperdink. She never gets very far with her efforts, but it’s not for want of trying.  She simply doesn’t have the power to accomplish more.

While I love my kickass PNR heroines, I also like a relationship where the heroine seems completely outclassed, yet somehow ends up winning the hero’s heart. One of my favorite books is Carolyn Jewel’s Lord Ruin for this reason (and many others). Anne isn’t popular or talented or beautiful, which of course is of such great importance for a woman at that time.  She is forced to marry a duke who is titled, rich, handsome, powerful and pursued by women. Their relationship should feel unbalanced, but she never fails to do her best to take what control she can of circumstance and her own heart.

Mary Challoner from Georgette Heyer's The Devil’s Cub is a similar heroine. Her main strength is her practicality, which isn’t glamorous or exciting at all and yet she uses it to wrest back some control of a trip that has led her places she never meant to go, including losing her heart to a man she thinks too far above her.

All They Need by Sarah MayberryIt’s easy to imagine such heroine’s in historicals, since ladies were necessarily less powerful than the gentlemen but even contemporaries have Buttercup heroines. Sarah Mayberry’s book All They Need has a heroine with self-image issues who comes from the wrong side of the tracks and a very attractive hero with a silver spoon in his mouth. Much of the story is Mel feeling comfortable in her own skin but even as she works her way there, she doesn’t just sit back and let life toss her around without getting back up again. In Any Man Of Mine by Rachel Gibson, the heroine has to work overtime to stand up to her pushy, famous hockey player husband Sam. Sam knows he’s charming and he isn’t afraid to use that appeal to get what he wants. Autumn calls him out when he screws up and fights hard for what she thinks her son deserves from his father. And she ends up with what her heart wanted all along.

Dragon Bound by Thea HarrisonEven in paranormal romance, not all the heroines are of the supreme beings waiting to defeat the forces of evil. Sometimes they are frightened and on the run and the stakes are even higher. Pia in Thea Harrison’s Dragon Bound is young, alone, all but broke and the most powerful creature on the planet wants her head. No matter how scared she gets, she thinks on her feet. Pia might need to be rescued but she’s not sitting around buffing her nails waiting for help. She’s the one dialing the phone.

It’s true that sometimes Buttercup is a bit of wimp (a letter opener to the chest? really?) but what I always think of is how magnificent she is when she stands up to Humperdink and tells him she can’t marry him and simply through the force of her will gets him to agree to search for Westley. Sure, Humperdink is a liar. Buttercup has something kind of ressembling what Kate Winslet’s character in the movie The Holiday calls gumption. That is what I adore about her, and all these other leading ladies. Life shoves you down, sometimes hard enough to knock the wind out of you. Often you are outclassed or outnumbered or both. They still get up and keep trying.


Julia Broadbooks writes contemporary romance. She lives in the wilds of suburban Florida with her ever patient husband and bakes ridiculous amounts of sugary treats for her teens' friends. Find her on Twitter @juliabroadbooks.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. Kareni
What a fun post, Ms. Broadbooks. I've enjoyed a number of the books you discussed as well as the Princess Bride movie. I will admit though that my biggest memory of the movie are the R.O.U.S. rather than Buttercup.
Carmen Pinzon
2. bungluna
I don't remember much about Buttercup either, but agree with you that 'gumption' can redeem a heroine that at first glance is perceived as weak. I adore Pia for this very reason.
Julia Broadbooks
3. juliabroadbooks
@ Kareni The R.O.U.S. are terrifying! They still creep my out to this day, even though the FX are a bit dated looking.

@bungluna That's my favorite thing about Pia, how she never decieves herself about her circumstances but never gives in, even when it is the logical thing to do.
Maggie Boyd
4. maggieboyd66
I think Lauren from Mary Balogh's A Summer to Remember is a bit like this. There's a memborable scene where Freya Bedwyn points out all Lauren's deficits - she's not much of a rider, she can't swim or play criquet, she can't shoot or fence or fight in any way. Lauren holds her own by answering all the lady like things she can do - including being polite to her guests. It's a great moment.

I love Buttercup and Westley. As you wish!
Julia Broadbooks
5. juliabroadbooks
@maggieboyd66 I LOVE the sound of that scene and that is exactly the kind of heroine I was thinking of. I love Balogh but I don't think I've read that one. *adds to TBR*
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