What an ideal. Prince Charming, or the idea of him, has been around for a while. Noting that every girl today has some version of who he is in her mind, I decided to do a little research into our favorite fairy tale prince and find out where he came from.
There once was a world where there was no Prince Charming…back in the early 1600s.
Charles Perrault wrote Sleeping Beauty in 1697, when the term was believed to be coined. Sleeping Beauty, upon waking up and finding a handsome prince says,
“‘Est-ce vous, mon prince?’ lui dit-elle, ‘vous vous êtes bien fait attendre’. Le Prince charmé de ces paroles… ne savait comment lui témoigner sa joie”. (“‘Are you my prince?’ she said. ‘You’ve kept me waiting a long time’. The prince charmed by her words… did not know how to express his joy.”)
Obviously he’s not being charming, he’s being charmed. But it’s the first known use of those two terms together. Perrault also wrote the French version of Cinderella that year, which is also known for it’s Prince Charming, although that’s not his name in the story.
Later, in the 1800s Madame d’Aulnoy wrote the story of Goldilocks, in which the hero was Avenant, and The Blue Bird, in which the hero was le roi Charmant, the Charming king. In later translations, Avenant was changed to Charming, though he isn’t a prince.
In 1890, Oscar Wilde was the first to actually coin the term in his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. Sybil calls Dorian her Prince Charming, which later proves to be false, as Dorian is a scumbag.
Then came Disney and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. The prince in the film is actually not Prince Charming; he’s simply known as “The Prince.” That’s right, Snow White’s prince doesn’t have a name. Bummer for her. (Let’s be for real, she should have just hung out with the dwarves, they looked out for her.)
The Disney Prince Charming is Cinderella’s prince. I know it’s strange, but he has more of a role in the movie than The Prince in Snow White. And he’s so dashing, right?
This leads us to the transformation of Prince Charming today. It’s a bit of a stereo type, but if you look at the movies and television shows coming out, Prince Charming looks quite different. In Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, he’s more charismatic. In The Little Mermaid, he’s a little clueless, but ultimately the hero. It’s in Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast that you begin to see a change.
No longer is Prince Charming someone who is just born to privilege. He doesn’t just sing with his heroine, or slay dragons. He has to earn the right to his happy ever after. In Aladdin it’s by taking advantage of a genie and proving to Jasmine that he’s more than just a street rat. The Beast has to earn someone’s love in order to be restored to his princeliness. His character didn’t match his title and he paid for it.
Let’s be honest, the Beast, or Prince Adam (yeah, that’s his name), is the first bad boy prince. He is transformed from his angry beastly self into a kind person by love. It’s the first, but definitely not the last.
Disney’s last few princess movie have been overflowing with the reformed bad boy. In The Princess and the Frog, Naveen is transformed from a self-centered person into a caring one by love. In Tangled, Eugene softens up and transforms from thief to charismatic king because of love. This isn’t just a Disney theme. Literature, TV shows, other movie are full of this new idea of Prince Charming. He’s flirtatious and cute, and needs to be saved from his bad boy lifestyle.
Like Hook (or Killian) from Once Upon a Time. There is, of course an actual Prince Charming on the show. However, Every character seems to have their own version of what that means. For Emma, it’s Hook. For Belle, it’s Rumplestiltskin.
There’s also the sweet, lovable, but notably un-prince-like hero. Like Frozen’s Kristoff. Prince Charming has changed a lot over the years and has grown to mean different things to a different group of people. But he’ll always be the ideal, no matter which reincarnation you prefer.
So that’s the evolution of Prince Charming. Like it?