In a traditional storytelling sense, Westley is the hero of The Princess Bride. The story, after all, centers around his love for Princess Buttercup. However, I, along with many other fans of The Princess Bride, consider Inigo Montoya to be the real hero of the story and here are seven reasons why:
- Inigo the only one with an actual character arc. All the characters in The Princess Bride essentially remain the same throughout the story. Westley starts out as a farm boy and ends up a pirate, but he’s determined, devoted, and dashing from beginning to end. Inigo starts off being a mercenary without a sense of direction, driven by revenge. In his first scene, where he appears with Vizzini and Fezzik, Vizzini berates him for being a drunkard and threatens to fire him. We don’t really know much about Inigo until his sword fight with Westley. In this scene, we learn that Inigo insists on using his left hand when sword fighting. Jill Bearup analyzes the meaning behind this iconic scene. Some things she mentions are all part of establishing Inigo’s character arc: He’s impatient, but he’s also a man of honor (not cutting Westley down or killing Westley as soon as he gets to the top). Inigo opens up to Westley, a perfect stranger, and is willing to wait until Westley is ready to fight. Inigo likes a good challenge, but he also likes to win. Most of all, we learn that Inigo only has one goal in mind: to get revenge on the man who killed his father. And when Westley is on the verge of defeating him, Inigo is desperate and devastated, scared to die before fulfilling his goal.
- Inigo is smarter than he thinks. He’s smart enough to know that Vizzini isn’t using “inconceivable” in the correct way. Later on, upon hearing that Count Rugen was the man who murdered his father, Inigo tries to formulate a plan. He may not be able to figure out a specific way to storm the castle and find the count, but he’s smart enough to know that he has to find Westley. Once Inigo and Fezzik rescue Westley from the Pit of Despair, Inigo takes him to Miracle Max. And even as Westley formulates a plan to storm the castle, Inigo knows that he still has to find the Count, meet up with Westley and Buttercup after, and figure out a way to escape from the kingdom. For a guy who doesn’t consider himself as smart as Vizzini, Inigo definitely has a mind for strategy.
- Inigo is empathetic. When Westley screams under the agony from the life-sucking machine, Inigo is the only one who recognizes Westley’s voice and he’s smart enough to realize why Westley is being tortured and uses Fezzik to help him out. Aside from that, he is not willing to kill Buttercup, even if it’s part of the job. Once Inigo takes Westley to Miracle Max, he advocates for the noble causes of true love and avenging his father. When he realizes that Miracle Max was humiliated by Humperdinck, he argues that reviving Westley will ruin the wedding and humiliate the prince forever, empathizing with Miracle Max’s desire for a potential revenge.
- Inigo is determined. His desire for revenge aside, his fight with Count Rugen shows Inigo’s determination. Rugen runs like a coward and then tries to kill Inigo before they even have a chance to fight. In spite of being close to death, Inigo is determined to kill Rugen. And he knows that Rugen is offering false promises, so he won’t let anything the Count says stop him. Being able to fight in spite of his injuries, wanting to do the right thing even though Inigo didn’t see himself as anything special? That’s what makes him a hero.
- Inigo proves to be a good leader. Contrasted with Vizzini, Inigo knows the strengths of the people he’s with and he encourages them to lean into their strengths instead of threatening them. Inigo has to do a lot of the legwork once he, Fezzik, and Westley get inside Humperdinck’s castle. I’m not saying that he’s a perfect leader, as he prioritizes his fight with the Count over getting Westley to Buttercup, but he at least knew that Fezzik’s strength would be able to help them both. Later on, when Fezzik arrives with the horses, Inigo praises Fezzik for taking initiative.
- The meta-narrative part 1: Keep in mind that the framing device for The Princess Bride is a grandfather telling the story to his grandson. The kid literally asks his grandfather if Inigo kills Humperdinck. He never considers Westley to be someone who would kill Humperdinck. Granted, Westley was assumed to be dead when the grandfather stopped the story in the Pit of Despair, but Inigo was enough of an engaging character to make the kid think that Inigo could kill Humperdinck. It implies that if Westley was actually dead, Inigo had the potential to carry the rest of the story on his own.
- The meta-narrative part 2: This story is well-known amongst fans of The Princess Bride as well as Mandy Patinkin fans, but for those who don’t know, Mandy Patinkin, who played Inigo Montoya, went into this role seeing the six-fingered man as representing the cancer that killed his father. He identified with the loss that Inigo suffered. So when Inigo killed the six-fingered man, Mandy felt as if he also killed the cancer that took his father.