YOU CAN THREATEN all you want, but the folks at Ballantine aren't going to ever, ever, ever utter the name "William Goldman." Not this year, anyway, despite the fact that one of their featured books at the American Booksellers Association convention this weekend in Dallas, a book on which they plan to spend 50,000 promotion bucks, is by said well- known author--whose boffo novels and screenplays include No Way to Treat a Lady, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Marathon Man. But there's method to this muteness, and it has to do with an exclusive contract which Goldman has with Warner Books.

So let's talk about The Silent Gondoliers, written by S. Morgenstern and illustrated by Paul Giovanopoulos. Categorized as a "fanciful novel," it's due to come out in paperback from Ballantine in November, and writer Morgenstern is being touted on the front of the advance copies as the "author of The Princess Bride." In case you've forgotten that bit of satirical whimsy, The Princess Bride was published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 10 years ago and now is something of a minor cult title for Ballantine in paperback. With me so far? Here's the part, then, that has caused Ballantine editor Judy-Lynn Del Rey and publicity director Sandy Bodner to make like giant clams.

Author billing on The Princess Bride is a bit convoluted, not to mention coy: "S. Morgenstern's 'classic tale of true love and high adventure'--the 'Good Parts' version, abridged by William Goldman." In a preface, "abridger" Goldman explains that, alas, Morgenstern was no longer alive. If you haven't guessed by now, all that verbiage-- dead Morgensterns and 'Good Parts' and so forth--is a Big Old Literary Conceit. In short, The Princess Bride was a bit of authorial game-playing and somewhat of an inside joke to boot (in which, says one longtime HBJ senior editor, Goldman managed to poke fun at publishing).

But it's a decade later and another bit of whimsy, another fable, has jelled inside the brain of a man now sought after more than ever for his twisty, tricky commercial thrillers. Warner's, however, has him locked up for those. Maybe The Silent Gondoliers is salable, maybe it isn't. But if anyone's going to make a slight story of high jinks along the Grand Canal work, it has to be--sssh!--but only in tandem with Del Rey, who, after all, repackaged The Princess Bride in paper and made it pay its way. How, though, do they explain away Morgenstern's previously announced demise?

An introductory note tells us that an error was made. Writes "Morgenstern," "I am old, but alive. Perhaps as you age, you will find the two are not mutually exclusive." The author bio included with The Silent Gondoliers, by the way, states that Morgenstern has "one wife, two daughters, and 4 and a half grandchildren." Guess who else does? You're right if you think it must be--sssh!. Incidentally, you don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to end-run Ballantine on this business: there's no S. Morgenstern listed in Books in Print, where The Princess Bride is identified as William Goldman's work.y yc wa graphics/1 photo: Stanley Ellin. By Nina Leen. graphics/2 photo: William Goldman. By Alex Gotfryd.