Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Books: What about the Prince? An Interview with Author Christopher Healey

With all this talk about kickass princesses, the princes are feeling somewhat neglected. Even ordinary princesses who do nothing heroic have the story named after them, rather than the prince (See my opinion on Passive and Dumb Heroines).

Enter author Christipher Healy, who has written a book about those neglected princes, The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom. I will leave the book details to other bloggers, but in a recent interview on the blog Stories are Good Medicine, Healy described the way he created his fairy tale characters by digging deep into the original stories to glean what sort of person would make those choices:

Question: Christopher, your book has four main protagonists – Frederic, Gustav, Liam and Duncan — all former Prince Charmings (er, I mean, Princes Charming. As your character Duncan would remind me, the noun is made plural, not the adjective).  Where did you come up with their off-kilter personalities? And tell us the truth – which one is closest to your own?
Christopher: Well, the original fairy tales don’t give us much to go on, but it was still important to me that my princes’ personalities made sense with what little we do know of these guys already. I asked myself, for instance: What do we know about Cinderella’s prince? He can dance. He’s sophisticated. And he’s got noble ladies swooning over him. But beyond that, we don’t know much. So I took what Charles Perrault gave me, and got creative with the rest. From that starting point, it’s not too much of a stretch to think that Prince Frederic is probably not very outdoorsy, perhaps a little too focused on his fashion choices, and (to put it mildly) not the most daring guy in the world.
I did the same for all the princes. Rapunzel’s prince wants to rescue her, but never thinks to get a ladder — so Gustav is the kind of guy who rushes into things without thinking. Sleeping Beauty’s prince actually rescues an entire kingdom in his story, and gets major kudos for it — so Liam bases his entire identity on heroics and has a bit of an ego about it. Snow White’s prince gets lucky by wandering through the forest and stumbling upon a bewitched princess to kiss — so Duncan is a carefree oddball who spends a lot of time walking the woods by himself, just waiting to see where life takes him next...
Question: Your book plays with the princess stereotype as well. How did you decide on your princess’ personalities?
Christopher: While I did work to make sure that my princesses were different from previous depictions of those same characters (especially their film incarnations), I crafted their personalities the same way I did the princes. I built them out of the original stories.
Cinderella worked hard labor for years, so she’s tough and strong. Rapunzel has the power to heal people with her tears (in the original tale), so here she’s got a bit of a savior complex. Sleeping Beauty was hidden away and catered to for her whole childhood, and has thus ended up somewhat spoiled.
And Snow White, just like her prince, spends a lot of time wandering the forest and chatting with wildlife, so as it turns out, she’s actually a good match for Duncan.
But those were just starting points for the princesses. The ladies come into the spotlight a whole lot more in Book II, and the further changes you’ll see there should come across as a natural evolution for the characters.  (Full interview)
I love this method of finding character! So many people complain that fairy tale characters in their original form are too flat and uninteresting, and that is often the case. We never get to see what they are feeling, or what they are thinking, just what they do. But I think its a great game to extrapolate what sort of person they are from the actions that they take. 

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