Snow White’s prince falls in love with her frozen in her glass coffin and knows he must have her. Disney has him wake her with a kiss. Tradition is more likely for him to take her dead body away and keep it with him always until the poisoned apple (or comb, or dress) is dislodged from the body and she awakes, ready for her happily ever after. (If you’re interested, there’s a wonderful article about the history of the Snow White story here: Snow, Glass, Apples.)
Sleeping Beauty’s prince hacks through hundreds of years worth of thorn bushes, past the dead and impaled bodies of those who tried before him, just to get to her. Another kiss and she’s awake – or, if you prefer the older, creepier, stories, after she’s given the prince two children, the spindle falls from her finger and she awakes.
Rapunzel’s prince climbs her hair to her tower, gets her pregnant, then is tricked by the witch and flung into thorns which blind him. He wanders in the wilderness for a while until Rapunzel and her twins find him, and her tears heal his eyes.
So, what, if anything, do these fairytale heroes have in common with our more modern, romantic heroes?
We’re fortunate that the trend today is to see more of the heroes thoughts, feelings and point of view. Our princes’ motivations tend to be vague, often based on an immediate love at first sight reaction, and without getting to know the object of their affection at all – especially if they’re in a magically induced coma. Not so today’s heroes – we get to watch them wrestle with their feelings, often taking time to come to terms with the idea of being in love.
Once they’re there, though, just like our princes, they’re willing to go through any trials to get the woman they love. Imprisoned by a witch in a tower? He’ll scale it (by ladder, or hair…). Trapped by shrubbery? He’ll hack his way through to her. Medically dead…? Well. He’ll come up with something. Especially if it’s a medical romance.
But I think that maybe Rapunzel’s prince is the one most like our modern romance heroes. After all, he scales the heights for her, suffers for her and then, in the end, is healed by her love. Doesn’t that sound familiar?