Saturday, September 25, 2010

Princes in Disguise

Recently, over at All About Romance, a thread started up about happier endings and tragic ones, and the discussion digressed, as it sometimes will do, to a lively debate about Jo in the book Little Women -- specifically, whether Jo's choosing Professor Bhaer over the younger, more passionate Laurie was really a true happy ending. I argued it was. And not only because he was played in the movie by Gabriel Byrne, so that now I imagine him looking like this..

...because let's face it, Laurie was not such a bad-looking guy in the film, either.

No, it's because the professor is one of those heroes I love best: a prince in disguise.

I coin the phrase from Carly Simon's lyrics to The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of, in which she claims the 'slow and steady fire' can outshine 'shooting stars', and asks straight out, 'What if the Prince on the horse in your fairytale/Is right here in disguise?' Those lyrics impressed me so much, by the way, when I first heard that song, that I hid my next hero in plain sight in front of the reader (and heroine), just to see whether they'd notice. Most didn't. The heroine nearly walked past him herself.

She was looking, as we all so often are, for what the fairy tales have promised us: a dashing, handsome, charming prince, with style and status, money and a white horse (or at least a flashy car).

And while we're looking for him, often we don't see the prince in front of us: the one without the flashy car. The one whose charms are quieter. The one who doesn't need to call attention to himself because he's self-assured and solid and dependable.

I've loved these men so often now in fiction, from Jake Waring in Lucilla Andrews's The First Year to "the guy who gets the girl" (can't spoil it) in Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart, that I nearly always spot them when I see them, standing patiently and waiting.

And I always love the moment when the heroine turns round and sees them, too.

What about you?

Come back Thursday, for Julie's next post.


  1. I actually posted this in the wee hours of Sunday, September 26 -- but Blogger thinks differently...

  2. Ooooo---I love While You were Sleeping!

    But I don't know if Jack (Bill Pullman, oh, yum) was 'in disguise' so much as he arrived just a tad late. He was a bit of a jerk in the beginning---though he was right about Lucy lying---but and Lucy clicked almost immediately, anyway.

    I'll admit that if Lucy had seen both of them at the same time, she might not have noticed Jack for Peter . . . though Peter was definitely not a prince. More of a schlub in disguise.

  3. I'm guessing that your book that you reference is Mariana, Susanna. I think it was the fourth or fifth of yours that I'd read (since discovering your books at the Ontario Writer's Conference in May), and by that point I'd started seeing a trend in when and how you introduced the guy-who-gets-the-girl into the story. So when the prince-in-disguise was introduced, I thought, aha! that must be him! And then became thoroughly confused as the story went along and she became increasingly engaged with the prince-in-plain-sight. I loved the ending of Mariana, although I have to admit some dissatisfaction over the unknown fate of the poor prince-in-plain-sight, who seemed the only one to not get a girl (I felt a bit badly for him, too, having his girl ditch him at the drop of a hat for another guy, without having done anything to deserve it).

    Another story with a hidden prince that I love is Sense & Sensibility. I saw the recent movie first, which inspired me to read the book. Part of it might have been that I love Alan Rickman as an actor, so I was rooting for his hidden prince the whole way. :) (And in that story, the prince-in-plain-sight turns out to be a bit of a self-absorbed jerk who simply got his just desserts.)

  4. Gabriel Oak, in Far from the Madding Crowd.

    *happy sigh*

    (not reading previous comments about Mariana as I've not yet read that book and am looking forward to it)

  5. I love the prince in disguise characters.

    My mind went straight to Touch not the Cat before you even mentioned it, Susanna. Though I have to admit that the first time I read it as a young teen, I was tying to stop that snowball I saw rolling and hoping against hope that the prince in plain sight would vindicate himself. I've matured since then and that particular prince in disguise is one of my favourites.

    Gabriel Oak is another - my eldest son thinks he's about the best hero ever invented. ;)

    I tend to notice princes in disguise quite early on in stories, and I'm often telling the heroine to open her eyes and see what's right there under her nose!

  6. Great post, Susanna! My favourite prince in disguise is Freddie in Georgette Heyer's "Cotillion". At first the reader thinks he's a bit dim and much too fixated with the cut of his waistcoat, but I love the way he turns out to be very savvy and capable after all. Not to mention a much nicer person than the prnce-in-plain-sight who is a right cad! I can see why you enjoy writing those kind of heroes and love all the ones you've had so far!

  7. They are always my favourites...sigh

  8. Oh Susanna, I LOVE the princes in disguise. Which makes me wonder why I've never written one, or at least, not yet.


  9. I agree that Jo made the right choice with Prof Baer, and I know it's wrong of me, but I will always see him as looking like Gabriel Byrne! I fell in love with Gabriel Oak when I read the book in school and he's still one of my favourite heroes.

    I do love a prince in disguise. It makes it so much more interesting if they weren't the obvious choice or they slipped under your radar when you started reading the book.