Charmed by the Prince.

Or, the Prince Charming appreciation post that may have been inspired by ABC’s new show Once Upon a Time.

Prince Charming is an archetype that can be manipulated and remade a hundred ways. He’s more of an idea then an actual character (though I bet you that the image that comes to a lot of people’s minds is one of the two Disney animated Prince Charmings.) So I thought I’d highlight some of the memorable versions.

Since Prince Charming is most often related to Snow White and Cinderella (again, thanks Disney) I’m putting the main spotlight on those renditions. And my focus is on modern re-tellings then the stories that might appear in different fairy tale collections.

As always these grades are not a reflection on the writing quality but on the men themselves, on just how charming they actually are. And I’ve tried to refrain from major spoilers in this one but they still lurk below.

Cinderella Charmings

Prince Char from Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Char made it into my Top 10 Mancandy because he was the best Prince Charming a middle-schooler (me) could have come across. In this version, heroine Ella was cursed by an overenthusiastic fairy to always be obedient. Prince Char is the sweet hero who likes Ella even though she’s not a typical girl (or because she’s not typical.)

When you think of Prince Charming, you might think of him swooping in and saving the day. But in this version Ella has to save Char from herself. A young woman cursed with obedience can only lead to Char’s ruin if she became Queen. So it’s up to her to either break the curse herself, for herself. But Char fights for her even still, making the reader love him more.

Grade: A

Prince Charming from Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix

This YA novel begins with Ella after her Prince Charming has whisked her away from her malicious step-mother and step-sisters. And though the life with her step-family was cold and lonely, she finds that her happily ever after is more confining a life than her old one. And no one knows how she really got to the ball in the first place (with a mix of courage and ingenuity). They’d rather believe that she was saved by a fairy godmother’s magic. There is one person interested in her feelings and her story in that castle, but it’s not Prince Charming.

Prince Charming (yes, this is his name) is handsome, broad-shouldered and deep-voiced. But Ella doesn’t feel a spark with him after the ball and realizes that he’s  very pretty but very spoiled and dull. Which works for the reader because by the time Ella recognizes this we’ve already wanted her to get out of that confining castle and take a second look at her awkward/adorable tutor Jed. After she saves herself, of course.

Grade: D

Prince Charming from Disney’s Cinderella

I probably wouldn’t be so into fairy tales and fairy tale re-tellings if not for the Disney films, so my nostalgia glasses are attached when I look over these male leads. Despite that, I can admit that this Prince Charming is a little dull. We get him for one scene and an epilogue (with two lines of dialogue). The rest of our window into palace life focuses on his grandchild-crazy father and the comedic Grand Duke.

That said, his major scene with Cinderella is beautiful and dreamy. It’s a definite testament to the skill of the artists working on it. This Charming is iconic but as flat as his fairy tale collection counterparts.

(I’m told he’s more exciting in the third Disney Cinderella movie so there is that.)

Grade: C

Prince Henry from Ever After

In this movie, Cinderella is Danielle de Barbarac, an intellectual young woman in the 16th century who poses as a Comtesse to save the servants she works with in her own home. She catches the eye of Prince Henry and ends up continuing the charade to spend time with him.

Prince Henry starts out as a bit of a brat, not malicious but unaware of how privileged he is. Danielle, who knows  how unfairly the working class is treated, opens his eyes and they fall in love despite her lies, her step-family and the prince’s impending marriage to Spain (unless he can find a suitable bride in time for a ball). Also there is Leonardo da Vinci who knocks some sense into Henry when needed.

It’s a cute film that makes me swoon. Henry isn’t perfect but the important thing is that he repents for his mistakes and tries to make up for them. (I’ve said it before and I will again: I don’t care if a character does bad things. But I will get so mad if you have a character screw up and either never address it or insist that what he or she didn’t wasn’t so bad.) And that’s why when the couple finally gets together, it’s so darn satisfying.

Grade: A-

Austin Ames from A Cinderella Story

In this movie, Hilary Duff is a high school student with dreams of going to Princeton. Her step-family not only treats her like a servant but has turned her father’s baseball-themed diner into an ultra-pink rollerskate diner where she must work all the time. She finds a friend online named “Nomad” who also wishes to go to Princeton and they realize that they both go to the same school.

Because this is a teen romcom, Nomad is not a 40-year old creeper but actually Austin Ames, the most popular boy at school who is secretly misunderstood (and played by Chad Michael Murray). Everyone, father included, expects him to go to USC and be a football star but no, Austin Ames wants to go to Princeton.

It’s a cheesy movie with over-the-top villains but it’s also fun and funny. I wasn’t as invested in Austin’s dilemma which seemed like a rehash of Freddie Prinze Jr.’s college subplot in She’s All That.  Hilary Duff plays her role so well that at the end, you’re just glad she wins. Snagging Prince Charming is just icing on the cake. Austin is charming and well-acted but not the best of the Charmings.

Grade: B

Snow White Charmings

Raven from Snow by Tracy Lynn

The Once Upon a Time book series (completely unrelated from the ABC series) had different YA authors re-tell fairy tales in historical settings. Snow is set in Victorian England where the evil step-mother is a scientist trying to hold onto her youth and navigate through a society that represses her intellectual gifts. Snow White is a young woman named Jessica (and sometimes Snow) who, through her father’s negligence and step-mother’s ire, becomes a bit of a waif before she escapes from her step-mother’s jealousy

The seven dwarves are five pickpockets who aren’t quite human and instead of a Prince Charming we have Raven, one of these pickpockets. The romance is understated in this story, focusing more on Jessica/Snow herself and her various states of life/sleep/death. But it is sweet and Raven, though initially a loner, grows protective of Jessica. It’s a thoughtful and intense tale, and Raven is a good mix of the loner bad boy and the Prince Charming.

Grade: B+

Prince Charming from Fables

Fables is a comic about how fairy tale characters were exiled from their fairy tale homeland by a terrible Emperor. They immigrated to New York City, the characters (called “Fables”) who cannot blend in amidst humans (because they’re animals, giants, etc.) live on a farm upstate.

One of the main characters is Snow, the mayor’s assistant. And Prince Charming’s first ex-wife. He has three of these, and many one-night stands. See these fairy tale characters have carried over powers from their homeland. Charming’s is that he’s, well, charming. And can use that to get any woman into bed (though it never lasts). So most of the characters (especially his ex-wives) don’t like him much.

He ends up being likable though as the series progresses and he gets some maturity to him. I wouldn’t place him in my top five but he’d probably make the top ten because he’s such an unrepentant jerk.

**(This is opposed to Jack who, when they brought him back for the “The Great Fable Crossover” left a bad bad taste in my mouth. Especially with the scene he shared with Rose Red. He’s an unrepentant jerk but celebrated in a way that makes me seethe.)

Grade: C+

Prince Charming (Ferdinand) from Disney’s Snow White

(In some merchandising he is known as Ferdinand or Florian. But since the public knows him as “Prince Charming” this is what I will use.)

Disney’s first prince, like Cinderella’s, doesn’t get a much screen time. Or dialogue outside of singing to Snow White. He does fit into Snow White’s stylized aesthetic very well but besides that is more plot device than character.

That’s the extent of what can be said about him.

Grade: C-

Prince Charming/David from ABC’s Once Upon a Time

In ABC’s new show, Snow White and Prince Charming got their happily ever after…but not for long. The Evil Queen unleashed a curse that trapped all the fairy tale characters in our world with no memory of their fairy tale lives. As far as they know, they’ve always lived in Storybrook, Maine. The only person who stands a chance of breaking the curse is Emma, Snow and Prince Charming’s daughter who they sent to the real world before the curse took hold. Except she doesn’t quite believe that there is a curse…

The people who made Lost are making Once Upon a Time so in a familiar motif, we learn about the fairy tale character’s lives through flashbacks. So far they’ve been spacing out the stories and we don’t know the full tale of how Snow White and Prince Charming got together. But we do know that Snow kicks butt and she and Prince Charming spend some time snarking/capturing/fighting each other before they do fall in love. That sort of set-up turns cliché easily but so far they’ve kept the chemistry sizzling and the plot twists coming to liven it up.

In the real world Snow White is a teacher named Mary Margaret Blanchard who volunteers at a local hospital. On her rounds she visits a John Doe coma patient who is, you guessed it, Prince Charming. (He was dying when the curse took hold so ended up in a coma.) When he awakes he has no memory of his past but does have a woman who believes that he is her husband, David Nolan.

The Mary/David romance is so far not handled as well. Because of the curse, David’s wife really believes that they are married. And David is currently trying to “make things work” with her…but is also seeing Mary Margaret on the side. And comes off as a bit of jerk in the way he goes about it. So right now I’m not a big fan of David but am loving the flashback appearances of Prince Charming. (They also don’t handle the subjects of adoptive parents well either but that’s a whole different rant.)

So Prince Charming, your grade is: A-

David, your grade is: D-

The Others

Prince Joffrey from Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin

(Spoilers only for Game of Thrones Season 1/the Game of Thrones novel)

While not a riff on Snow White or Cinderella’s charming, Joffrey is a deconstruction of the trope. If you’re familiar with the books or read my review of Ned Stark, you know that the series employs several POV characters within each book to tell the story. In the eyes of Sansa Stark, the pre-teen daughter of the first book’s main protagonist, Joffrey is exactly the blonde, heroic prince she’s heard about in songs and stories. Being betrothed to him just seems right after being raised on tales of beautiful ladies swept away by their true loves.

The reader knows, from the other points of view, that Joffrey is the most foul character they’ve ever encountered. (Or at least until they get further in the series where some of the villains make Joffrey look like Prince Ferdinand from Disney’s Snow White.) But Sansa is so young and so naive that the full extent of Joffrey’s twisted nature isn’t clear to her until it’s too late.

Grade: F

Prince Charming and Prince Charming from Into the Woods

Into the Woods is Stephen Sondheim’s musical that follows the intersecting stories of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack and a Baker and his wife looking to break a spell that has left them childless. At the end of Act I, all wrongs are righted and all are happily ever after.

Then it all falls apart in Act 2.

The thing I love about Stephen Sondheim is that he knows how to twist your gut around with his plots. While Into the Woods has a lot of fun with its fairy tale characters, it also delves deep into the relationships between parents and children, good and evil within the framework.

The two Prince Charmings bring a lot of levity to what becomes a dark musical. In the first act the two brother princes bemoan the “Agony” of chasing after Cinderella/climbing up to visit Rapunzel. But they get their happily ever after. All is well and good. Then in Act 2 they meet up and bemoan the Agony…of having fallen in love with two princesses who cannot be woken and become theirs (Snow White and Sleeping Beauty). Meanwhile they’re still married to Cinderella and Rapunzel from Act 1. Still later Cinderella’s Prince tries to canoodle with the Baker’s Wife. When she questions his actions he replies “I was raised to be charming, not sincere.”

Reprehensible? Yes. Hilarious? Very yes. And a nice addition to the way Act 2 subverts all the fairy tale traditions.

(Personal Opinion: The Original Broadway cast is the by far the superior version)

Grades: D

This has been a long post but I’m certain there are other Prince Charmings out there. Let me know which ones are your favorites and which ones have been left out.


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