So I’m talking with Mark about fairy tales, and it occurs to me… Prince Charming. He’s been a literary character, a cartoon, a meme, and yet…
What is it about Prince Charming? I read the Brothers Grimm version, as a kid and as an adult. I swallowed the animated, kind of 2D-Ken doll versions as a kid. I’ve absorbed the cultural visions of him through my pores like almost every woman (it’s not just Western culture — other cultures have their own versions) in movies, in books, magazines, television, songs… It’s embedded into our view of the world, the idea of the perfect man. It’s so prevalent that it took me years to examine it. When I did, I realized something…
Nobody tells you what makes him charming. We’re simply told he’s charming, and that’s that. In the original, he’s simply a prince, and that’s enough. Then he becomes a handsome prince. He dances with Cinderella, and he’s charmed by her, but does he do anything particularly charming himself? Not really. In later versions, he acquires the name, Prince Charming, but still we’re not given any evidence that he is, indeed, charming. He ignores the other guests at the ball to dance with the most beautiful girl in the room, flattering for her, but hardly charming for everyone else there. He chases a girl who’s trying to get away from him. Not so charming, that. He takes her shoe on an obsessive quest, prepped to marry the first woman who wears that size shoe in the kingdom, assuming there’s only one, and it must be her. Not too bright. If you find intelligence charming, you’re out of luck.
To a lonely, abused girl, maybe the very fact that he could take her away and presumably give her a place to bathe, a change of clothes, and a bed that wasn’t the floor was probably enough, to start. How likely is it that her standards were high? We don’t hear from her five years into the marriage. By that time, he might be “Prince Too Dim To Follow A Thought From One End To The Other,” or “Prince I Think He’s Sleeping With The Maids, And Not One At A Time, Either.”
So what is it that drives the myth of Prince Charming? He’s a mirror. You bring to him whatever needs and desires you’re carrying with you. He’s featureless. You can hang whatever fantasies you want onto him, and he’ll wear them, much like dressing a Ken doll. We all know Ken only exists so that Barbie doesn’t have to go stag if she doesn’t want to. Pre-media celebrity, we had Prince Charming. Much as we approach celebrities with our load of issues and paint them to suit us, we create our own Prince Charmings, one for each of us. Mine might be, probably is, very different from yours.
All of which is fine, if you see it for the fantasy it is. Instructive, even, if you look at why your Prince Charming looks and acts as he does. That could tell you a lot about yourself. If, however, you go out in the world skipping any guy who doesn’t fit the suit, Prince Charming becomes a problem. He gets in the way. Which isn’t charming.
Yes, guys have their own versions of this (“Hooker with a heart of gold, beautiful but unappreciated, disease-free, no addictions, not planning to steal my wallet, just needs someone perceptive and kind to rescue her”). No, I don’t have any deep, insightful lessons to impart from it all. I just find it interesting that in looking slightly to the left or right of the real people standing right in front of us, we might be missing something. — Joey