Is Prince Charming A Hero?

During one of my many ongoing arguments with the ladies at work about the never ending battle between the sexes, I was surprised to hear one very astonishing assertion put forth, at least to me, that Prince Charming is a hero that every boy fantasizes about becoming.  Peggy and Heather were ganging up on me to defend their belief that people are not animals and biology is not the overwhelming motivating force I claim it to be.  I keep trying to convince Peggy that many of her basic beliefs are due to biology and not as she adamantly insists, due to what we choose to believe through free will.

I argued that popular myths often reflect underlying sexual motivations, and that our private fantasies reflect biological impulses to reproduce, whether sexual or romantic.  They countered back that Cinderella is a universal fantasy that doesn’t deal with sexuality, but is about pure romance, and it certainly doesn’t grow out of biochemistry.  I shot back that it was only universal to girls.  Both of them, talking at the same time, essentially said my philosophy was warped by crude sexual impulses and that Prince Charming was indeed a universal fantasy hero for boys.

“You’ve gotta be kidding!”  I said, amazed that both of them could think that.  “Boys don’t fantasize about being Prince Charming.”  Okay, that was over-generalizing, but no friend of mine ever revealed such a desire.

“Of course they do,” the ladies insisted loudly.  “Prince Charming is a hero!  All boys dream of saving women is distress.”  They went on to imply that Prince Charming fell into the categories of heroes like those Joseph Campbell described in his famous books.

“First off, Prince Charming is not a hero.  He doesn’t fight anyone.  He faces no dangers.  He’s just a fancy royal dude that all the courtly ladies twitter over.  Heroes are guys who face great perils and beat unbeatable odds – not guys using glass shoes to interview potential wives.”

My lady friends did not like this at all.  They argued that Prince Charming saves Cinderella, and that little boys everywhere loved to fantasize about rescuing girls.  “You two obviously haven’t spent any time inside the brain of the average male adolescent.”  I didn’t say this, but I also thought of suggesting they rent some porn to see how boys cast Cinderella in their dreams.

Just to get a reality check, I asked my friend Mike about this, and he was also amused by the idea of boys idolized Prince Charming.  Then I decided I should ask another woman, and picked Susan, my wife.  She suggested that Prince Charming was the metrosexual of his day, and wasn’t a hero.  Now that a creative response!

This got me to thinking and it occurred to me that if we used the same motifs as Cinderella, boys fantasies, especially if they hadn’t reached puberty and XXX brain theater time, might consider The Princess Bride a more realistic fairy tale for their mental television inspiration.  Westley is a hero because he fights the evil Prince Humperdinck.  The key element here is not Buttercup – the hot chick to be saved, but swords.  Boys love swords and sword fights, and the real issue will be whether they want to emulated Wesley or Inigo Montoya.  Before puberty, the majority of fantasies will be about using metal swords and afterwards their dominant thoughts will focus on their fleshy swords.

Look at the whole light saber thing for a modern variation.  I assume young boys have spent far more time pretending to fight with light sabers than thinking about rescuing Princess Leia.  It not that Princess Leia didn’t inspire fantasies in boys, but out of the trillions of cerebral performances that Carrie Fisher’s image has given, damn few involved rescue.  At most, the rescue is setup for the real action, either before or after.

I can see how women get confused.  They think saving the hot chick is the whole point of the story.  But it’s not – it’s the violence.  Boys love violence, and its the dominant fantasy element before sex drives them crazy.  Heroes are the last man standing, the alpha male, the winner of the game, the king of the hill, the slayer of dragons, the dude you don’t want to mess with.  Women are the prizes, and what they plan for their prizes are not elegant banquet dining and courtly romance, but the same plans Prince Humperdinck had.

I think Prince Charming is the fantasy that women have for how they want us men to act.  And there are lots of savvy men out there who know this and are willing to play the game to get what they want, but that doesn’t mean they fantasize about being Prince Charming.  Acting like George Clooney is only the romantic costume we all wished we had to hide our wolfish selves.

Our fantasies aren’t about rescuing women, they are fantasies about competing for women.  The Iliad wasn’t about rescuing Helen, it was a major war fantasy.  How many lines does Helen get as oppose to the number of lines glorifying battle?

If you want to know about the inner life of young dudes, look at the LCD screen in front of their faces – first person shooters, sports and porn.  As males mature, they add in dreams of ambition.  Men and women just aren’t on the same wavelength when it comes to personally created fantasies, or the mass consumption fantasies they buy.

I know Peggy and Heather will think my opinions are the representation of some male deviant minority but I don’t think so.  To make my case, how many males like to go to chick flicks?  When I go it’s because I get to earn points with a female, I get to see lots of beautiful female images on the screen, and its hilarious how they portray men.

Of course the reality is real women are not like Keira Knightley characters, and us guys don’t get to act like Daniel Craig.  Prince Charming is not going to rescue you gals from humdrum life, and we guys don’t get to whip out .45s to solve minor disagreements.  We all have to be who we are.

And by the way Peggy, the dream of finding Prince Charming is based in biology.  Females are programmed to search out the best male provider they can find, and I can easily believe Prince Charming is a universal male archetype that females want in their dreams, and those dreams have their seeds deep in your cells.  And male fantasies of violence and sex also come from biology.  Just watch nature shows to see how males fight for the right to mate.

It would be very interesting if we didn’t have these biological impulses.  If males and females were totally intellectual creatures who dated because of shared interests how would society be different?  Can you imagine what life and fiction would be like?  Without the biological impulse would we ever sacrifice our time, energy and money to raise the next generation?  Without the biological drive would we even think kids as cute and lovable to have around?  Without the biological imperative would women want to be seeded no matter how charming the prince?

Would women be more independent without the Prince Charming programming planted into their brains?  Would men consider women as equal souls if they didn’t have the XXX Cinderella programming in their brains?

Of course, I think male humans would have remained uncivilized chimps if it hadn’t been for the Prince Charming myth.  Lady frogs only expect Prince Charming frogs to croak the loudest.  Lady humans expect men  to act nice, give up their weapons, stay home, guard the kids, and bring home the antelope – with Prince Charming the tune we all try to harmonize with our croaking behaviors.  Instead of bashing heads like mountain goats we’re expected to earn lots money and buy sparkling diamonds to prove our worth.  It’s weird, but it’s still biology.

I think in the end, the higher brain functions that Peggy wants to defend has to deal with sex on a different level.  Most of our lives aren’t about reproduction.  As adults we spend most of our time not thinking about sex, but it still taints our actions.  Women want men to give up their XXX fantasies about women – well ladies, men hate to be typecast as Prince Charming.  These are both very hard roles to play.  Peggy, for you to be right about people not being animals, both genders have to give up their fantasies.  I don’t think that will happen, but it’s what’s needed.


12 thoughts on “Is Prince Charming A Hero?”

  1. I hate to say it, Jim, but I’m with you on this one. Men don’t want to be Prince Charming. He’s a wimp. Cinderella is my favourite fairy tale – not because of Prince Charming but because Cinderella was one of the few women in fairy tales who didn’t sit around and wait to be rescued. She got a dress and a pumpkin and went out to find the man of her dreams. Proactive. The fact that Prince Charming didn’t actually do anything is irrelevant. He was the perfect physical specimen – good gene pool, capable of defending her, capable of providing for her.

    Why do you think there are so many little boys out there wearing Superman and Batman costumes? It certainly isn’t the pretty colour or the way tights feel. Those men are heroes for boys (and me). They get to do cool stuff and bash the baddies, and make the world a safer place to be so that the women will look favourably on them. The little boys probably don’t think that far down the line, but that’s the progression.

    With the change in society, our expectations have changed. We don’t need the physical protector so much – although there is still something about a man in uniform! What women look for now in a man is someone who is far away on the genetic tree (stronger offspring), someone who will be a good father (the gentle, protective man), someone who will be a good provider (women still have to have the babies and can’t keep working through the entire process – somebody has to pay the bills) and someone who is reliable and trustworthy (children take a long time to raise and it’s easier with two parents because they can take turns during the bad times). Unfortunately I know a number of women who never get past the diverse genetic makeup and choose absolute ****holes as their biological mates.

    I wonder if we were more honest about what we’re looking for in a mate, we’d have more success in reducing the divorce rate.

    Having said all that, there’s still the research that was done a while ago (don’t have the reference) that found approximately every four years (max) women looked to produce another diverse offspring – this is when they go looking in the gene pool and, if the father of their previous offspring isn’t proving to be a good provider etc, she’ll look for one who will be for the next offspring. Makes perfect sense to me but it really screws up childrens’ growth in this society and it also makes it more difficult to find the diverse genetic make up.

  2. I really like your argument and analysis Jim.

    I’d like to think you are right too.

    Only one thing sprang to mind while thinking of counterarguments. That is…

    Is your claim falsifiable?

    You claim fantasies are generally attributable to biology – and more specifically, male fantasies and female fantasies are different due to the biological differences between the genders.

    I won’t ask for evidence that would prove your case, I rather think that it would have to be in the form of surveys and such, rather, I’d like to know what falsifiable claims could come out of such a solid argument as you’ve made.

    For instance, what do homosexual men and women fantasize about? What myths drive them?

    I was also thinking about the latter part of the essay, in which you speculate about what it would be like to be free from biological drives. What myths would intelligent ameobas tell each other?

    The big problem with making such a powerful argument as you’ve done in the above essay is that it has such a wide ranging scope, everything we do, that it becomes almost too explanatory, and that’s a serious issue.

    Karl Popper, the philosopher I like to turn to when confronting such arguments as you’ve made above, would argue that an asserted hypothesis, like yours above, is scientific only if it is falsifiable.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, as I’d like to take in your hypothesis, use the argument, run it up a few metaphysical flagpoles. It’s fascinating.

  3. I’ve been thinking about this post today – particularly about why I don’t think Prince Charming is a good hero. He really is a wimp. The only way he ever defied his father was to resist marrying the first woman chosen for him. He still went to the grand ball to look for one – and of course only women his father would approve of were invited. I don’t care what the modern fairy tale says – only those of appropriate lineage were invited. Prince Charming didn’t even go looking for Cinderella himself. He was morose after the ball, so the King ordered his advisor to do it. All Charming had to do was sit back and wait for someone to bring her to him.

    Where’s the hero there?

    I think the attraction he held for Cinderella was basic. He was gorgeous – so she’d probably have gorgeous kids. He was rich so she and her children would be well provided for. Of course the real power was the king, but as long as she was in the family, she’d be taken care of.

    Of course all of this depends on which version of the fairy tale you remember. There are a number of them and the most well-known would probably be the romanticised Disney version from the ’30s.

  4. Does that mean that Cinderella is the archetypical gold-digger? If you look back at the history of literature, beautiful woman broke through the class barriers before industrious men. Pamela by Richardson is a good example. Cinderella moves from poverty to royalty because of her looks. Could this fairy tale just be suggesting that good looking people belong together? Or is it a guidebook telling women how to get ahead?

    I think Prince Charming, in this particular tale, because he was used in many, is a symbol for woman and not men. I wonder if a woman originated these stories? I went to Wikipedia and searched on both Cinderella and Prince Charming and found wonderful histories of both. They are very old characters and myths.

    And is Sex in the City a modern version of Cinderella? Is Mr. Big the new Prince Charming? Are working women hoping to marry into the royalty of the rich merely modern day Cinderellas?

    I’m reading The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton and it has lots of parallels to this myth too. Lily Bart expects to parlay her looks into riches via marriage, but ultimately fails. Every time she hooks a Prince Charming and reels him in she realizes he has warts of some kind or another and lets him go. Ultimately, she commits suicide. And what is the message here for young women? You better suck it up and kiss the ugly toad or you’ll end up dying alone?


  5. I must admit that I never thought much about Prince Charming. He seemed like such a milksop. I became enamored with football at a very early age and poor old Prince Charming didn’t stand a chance against my football heroes. I also devoured all of the Hardy Boys books. They were full of intrigue and suspense and all kinds of derring-do; just the kind of things that young boys love.

  6. Exactly, Mike. I can’t imagine what man or woman could possibly consider Prince Charming hero material. He’s not a hero – he’s a provider.

    I don’t know about football, though. Here in Australia football is pretty rough – no helmets or padding – and the men are pretty rough as well. Sometimes they’re so far from being heroes it’s frightening – more like thugs. Unfortunately once a young child sees them as a hero they accept nearly everything they do as heroic.

    Jim, I don’t know that I’d consider Cinderella a gold digger. I can’t remember when I realised it, but I seem to have always known that if Cinderella didn’t have the protection and financial support of a man she wouldn’t make it, no matter how strong she was. The story was written and set in an era (in fact many eras) when women went from being the property of their fathers to being the property of the husband upon marriage. For most of history they couldn’t own property in their own right so had no way of supporting themselves alone. Marrying was the only way of surviving for women of ‘good birth’ as Cinderella was. Marrying rich at least ensured a comfortable lifestyle and education for their children.

    There was so much more than just the money to consider – there was the whole legal and social vulnerability thing as well.

    If you’re wondering why I was thinking all this as a child, I don’t know. I used to ask my father why she didn’t go and get a job instead of staying with the step-mother and why she didn’t get to know Prince Charming better before marrying him, how was she sure it was love and not just wanting to get away from bad people. He explained it all to me, so I guess you could say he’s responsible for my attitude on this one :).

  7. When I was a little kid all my heroes came from television: Sky King, Roy Rogers, Superman, Zorro, Mighty Mouse, and so on. Later on they came from movies, but they became more real and human, but still fictional, generally cowboys or soldiers. Probably by the time I was 8-10 heroes started being older teenage boys in the news that did things that I thought were far out, like a kid who sailed around the world on a boat by himself, or just boys in the neighborhood who had their own cars. As I got even older, I admired non-fiction books about real men, explorers, scientists, astronauts, etc. I never had sports or movie star heroes.

    Heroes were always guys that could do things I couldn’t. Prince Charming wasn’t on the radar. I’d think more about being the pirate Long John Silver as a kid, and he was no proper role model. Up until I was a teenager my biggest heroes were astronauts.

    As a teenager I admired Bob Dylan, Robert Heinlein, Mark Twain and Jack Kerouac, a bizarre crew of heroes I must say. In terms of heroes that were lucky with ladies, it was always rock stars like The Beatles and The Byrds.

  8. I will freely admit that I am in the minority here, Jim and will probably be no help for you whatsoever…maybe. I guess it all depends on how one interprets what I have to say.

    First off, I’ll dispense with the Prince Charming reference as there seems to be only one interpretation of the character going on here and I agree that yours and the commenter’s version of P.C. is one I wouldn’t like either. I myself have always thought to Prince Charming in the typical knight rescuing a damsel in distress mode and not the sitting around dressed prettily and sweeping a girl off her feet mode that everyone else seems to be saying he is.

    So for my response, Prince Charming should just reference the typical (and possibly one dimensional) hero role that most superheros, sci fi male heroes, etc. fall into.

    Anyway, I must not be a typical male although I assure you I am as red-blooded as the rest. I love football, love first person shooter games, and freely admit to the typical male fantasies. However, I was never one of those boys that went through the ‘I hate girls’ phase. I always liked girls. As young as I can remember I enjoyed being around girls, thought about having girlfriends (well before puberty, mind you) and have always considered myself a romantic.
    I much prefer my action adventure, sci fi, fantasy, etc. with romance in it. I always prefer the character who gets the girl, who is after the girl, who either rescues the girl or, in this more modern age, teams up with the girl to beat whatever bad guy(s) are out there.

    For example, I have always preferred Han Solo to Luke. Yes, the light saber is damn cool, but Han was always after the girl. Even when he seemed reluctant he was always a rescue the damsel in distress kind of guy. I always wanted to be Han. For the typical male reasons: cool ship, cool best friend, cool blaster…but also because he got the girl. Pretty much all of my favorite novels and movies, etc growing up became my favorites because there was either a damsel in distress aspect or romance in general…or both. My website namesake, the Stainless Steel Rat, captured my lifelong affection because there was a smart, attractive, woman there who both needed rescuing but could also hold her own. The reason I read these books over and over again? The romantic relationship.

    I love chick flicks. Not because I am trying to score with the ladies but because I always have. My whole adolescent fantasy life involved being a hero not because the fighting was cool (which it is/was) but because that was the way to win the hearts of fair maidens. It is no mystery why I have watched shows like the Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice or films like A Good Year and Under the Tuscan Sun over and over and over again. It is all about embracing romance as the key to embracing life. I’ve watched many of the Meg Ryan movies so many times that I know them by heart. I honestly have never understood why guys don’t like these movies. They are mostly about average joe’s hooking up with beautiful women who are (unrealistically) perfect emotionally and psychologically as well. Isn’t a stable, fulfilling relationship with the opposite sex what all hetero males really want? Personally I’ve never gotten the revulsion towards these films though I have many friends who feel like they are going through hell to have to sit through a movie like this. Not me.

    Lets also take Firefly for a non-romantic comedy/chick flick example. The show would not hold near the appeal for me if it wasn’t for the relationships and the romance. When I watch these episodes for the umpteenth time the parts that make me come back again and again are the romances and also the friendships between characters. That is the strong, driving force of that show. Not the admittedly cool battles and fights, etc. I wouldn’t want to give up those either, but they would be pointless to me without the love aspect.

    I even prefer games that have some type of romance built in, even if it is minimal. Max Payne, for example. I can play that game over and over again. Yes, because it is damn cool to shoot bad guys in bullet-time, but also because there is the anguish of lost love and the hope of future love involved.

    I buy into the biological aspects of things only to a point, because I also believe in the spiritual aspect of life. I think we are programmed for certain things but I also believe we have free will and are as much influenced by what we have put into ourselves over the course of our lives as we are by the things programmed into our genes to make sure the species survives.

    I am certainly a typical guy…I want, and make sure to cultivate, a strong, creative sex life with my spouse. But sex for pure sex sake is a pretty empty thing…it has always been about the romance, the connection, the commitment for me.

    Luke can keep his lightsaber. I’ll take a good blaster, a tall best friend in need of a good shave, and woman who may need rescuing (and could also rescue me if the need arises) any day!!!

  9. Okay Jim – you’ve successfully brought me out of hiding to respond to this.

    I feel like I need to clarify the content of our discussion because I think you missed the point of what we were talking about on Friday. I certainly wasn’t trying to make a point about the validity of Prince Charming as a hero or the Cinderella tale in general. I never meant to imply that Cinderella was a story of pure romance!
    I think the point we were trying to make last week was that there are men (some, certainly not all) that are attracted to needy women, women that are in perpetual need of help.
    I was not saying that little boys grow up idolizing Prince Charming. Just that some men seem to enjoy that role.

    As far as fairy tales go, I enjoyed the stories as a little girl but I also enjoyed other kinds stories. I was a huge Nancy Drew fan for the same reasons someone else above enjoyed Hardy Boys.

  10. I’ve never liked helpless females either, but I’ve never really considered most of the damsels in distress that I’ve liked in literature or film to be helpless…they just needed help, a small distinction but an important one. I think of the women in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, for example. While according to today’s standards it could be argued that they were subservient women, I don’t see it that way. As examples of characters of their time I think they are very strong and although they are the ones who need rescuing (a situation that isn’t always successful) it is their strength and
    support that gives the men the courage that they need to face the challenges ahead of them.

    Leia certainly isn’t a helpless character. She was captured and need rescuing…but because she was a strong character she actually took an active part in her rescuing.

    Certainly the Disney-fied version of fairy tales promotes, or at least used to, the helpless women. The woman as victim. But if you read the stories as in their original forms, the women can be pretty feisty. I come back to this a lot, but it always boils down to perception for me. Maybe it a despicable male trait to see strength in a damsel in distress…maybe it is just subconscious justification for a more male desire to keep women in that ‘rescue me’ role, but I certainly don’t consciously think that.

    I’m sure a big part of the attraction to that aspect of books and films is growing up in a time period where that was the image we saw growing up. To be a hero, the male often had to rescue a woman from some peril. I have no doubt that stuck with me. But I also like strong women…I like to see women and men who are strong and weak at the same time. Who could, in most situations, survive on their own
    but are in touch with the reality that relationships are an import ant an d needed aspect of life. I go back to Firefly…I loved Zoe and Wash’s relationship. I loved seeing a good marriage on a television show. While initially Wash might seem like the weaker of the two characters you learn of his strength over time. And with Zoe you learn of her softness, her tenderness, over time. I love that.

    Anyway, sorry to throw a monkey wrench in the works. I have most of the aspects of a typical guy other than the fact that I have always been head over heels for women and all my life have nurtured what are generally called the ‘feminine’ traits. I’m a romantic, I am the interior decorator of the home, I have (but don’t always practice) the fashion sense, and I love me some good ol’ chick flicks (with the exception of Terms of Endearment and that
    ilk). Glad I could give the ladies some more ammunition to continue their argument with you. 😉

  11. There are many versions of Cinderella, but I guess the one I know is the Disney version. Y’all bring up a lot of good points. Is she helpless? And who really rescues her? I’d say the Fairy Godmother does most of the work, and not Prince Charming.

    And does Prince Charming even know about her problems – so he might not even feel the need to rescue her. If you look at the story, Prince Charming might only like Cinderella because she’s the prettiest and most charming girl at the ball.

    I guess it’s the issues we bring to the story that lets us use the story in different ways. I see the story as a guidebook for gold-digging girls, but others may take offense at that. Cinderella is a good girl stuck in a bad situation, and her solution for change is finding a rich guy.

    I think a lot of girls stuck in low-level jobs wish they could find a rich husband to rescue them. Does that make them gold-diggers? That’s iffy. My definition, whether for females or males, are people who want to find instant riches. Some think of marrying into money, others think of buying a lotto ticket. Men who rushed off to the gold fields of 1849 were all wanting quick riches. To be fair, Cinderella wasn’t looking for quick riches. I think she just wanted to be free of her bad situation.

    The moral of this tale is actually ruined by magic. If Cinderella had found some way to crash the ball by herself we’d see her as a positive figure, and maybe a gold-digger. As it stands, neither Cinderella or Prince Charming come across as take-charge characters. But we can break it down into a very simple concept.

    A woman wants to escape her fate and she does through marrying a rich man. The basic lesson to girls is men are their answer to their prayers. It would have been the same lesson if Cinderella had been rescued by the poor farm boy living next door.

    For centuries that was the only solution for girls. Even modern stories like Star Wars don’t offer much more. Leia is never portrayed like Hans Solo. It’s only until stories like Buffy the Vampire Slayer does women really break out of the old roles.

  12. I can’t disagree with you here. At least the version of Cinderella that you are talking about is certainly like that. I much prefer the more modern version, Ever After, in which the Cinderella character is stronger, well educated, etc.

    But getting back to what you are talking about, I see value in those old stories as well as hope in future stories because, like with your mention of Buffy, one can see growth in the stories of today. In the grand scheme of things women have only recently started to get the respect, etc. that they deserve as equal members of the human race, and in many situations they still don’t get that. It doesn’t surprise me that some stories are still behind the curve and that some are a ways ahead, trying to blaze a trail through literature that will hopefully be followed in reality.

    It is indeed true that you often get out of a story what you bring to it. And I do think there are many examples of stories throughout the last few centuries that show women as strong characters, though they may not be as popular or as well known as the Disney stories that were made popular through film.

    I don’t think Leia is quite as far down the rung though as you may think she is. Lets not forget that the character was raised as a princess. Despite a royal lineage she is an active part of a rebellion, is feisty and cocksure (probably not the right word to use here, but it made me smile), and does her fair share of rescuing in all three films, even if it is just in small ways. I don’t know that she can be portrayed like Han Solo because of the origins of her character. Again, that is what I read into it. What I like about a character like her is that she is a natural leader and yet shows a need for and desire for a romantic relationship.

    I believe it is a really hard thing to write a well rounded female character. One who is strong and a leader and can represent that part of what women want to and should be and can also be soft and feminine and in love…all things that are every bit as ‘strong’ and important about women as the other traits are. I’ve never seen marriage, or the need to acknowledge that a person needs a partner to be complete, as a weakness…or a sign of weakness. I think the writers of today who can write those kind of characters and those kind of relationships can tap in to those core truths contained in the old, nostalgic stories (for their must be something in them in order for them to have lasted so long) and can combine them with a more enlightened, realistic views on men and women, are the ones who will craft stories that blow us all away.

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