Archetypal Characters of Fairy Tales
What is it that we love about a fairy tale?
Is it the universal elements in the story structure – good vs evil, hero saving heroine (or vice versa)? Is it the archetypal characters that draw us in? Is it the heroic actions of ordinary people – like Beauty sacrificing her freedom with the Beast? Is it the ideal that one person can make a stand against stronger forces, and win – like Snow White versus the Evil Stepmother Queen? Or is it the pure romanticism of personal risk to save others – like the Prince from Rapunzel?
Or is it the gowns and shoes? Cinderella, we love you!
When I told my close friends and writing partners that my next release, Enamoured, was a romantic suspense with fairy tale elements, I attracted a lot of questions.
Where you on drugs when you wrote it? What did you use to blackmail/bribe the publisher? Did you seriously think it through? The answers: No, nothing and not even a little bit.
I think there is something so iconic about a fairy tale that it transcends genre boundaries. (Yes, that’s me justifying my juvenile dream of writing a fairy tale with sexual tension and murder, but it sounds better the first way). Then there is the fashion.
My daughters use the term ‘girly-girl’ – and depending on the tone used this can be a positive, neutral or negative term. I, personally, would not consider myself a girly-girl. I like wearing shorts, jeans and sneakers. I’m likely to run away from a bottle of nail polish rather than use it, and I preferred to rumble and tackle than to dress up dolls (but that’s because I never had a Barbie. Deprived, I know) – until we start talking about fairy tales. When that happens, I turn into a pile of pink fairy-floss mush. With sparkles, thank you. I even giggle.
Maybe it’s because Prince Charming is so unbelievably, out-of-this-world handsome, or because Cinderella can really rock her frock – and (gasp) those SHOES!!! The Frog Prince’s princess doesn’t just play with a tattered tennis ball, no, her ball is GOLD, and nobody does great hair like Rapunzel.
Okay, I know this makes me sound very superficial, but it’s more than that (otherwise I’d be just plain old superficial). These characters play clearly defined roles. One book, The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines, by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever and Sue Viders, outlines them beautifully (as a writer, you need this book on your resource shelf – do yourself a favour and buy it).
Prince Charming is (I guess rather obviously) The Charmer; charismatic, appealing, fascinating, although would rather not talk about touchy-feely stuff, likes to get by on his personality and wit.
Cinderella, on the other hand, is The Waif. She’s ethereal, adaptive and doesn’t complain, but endures a situation until she’s saved.
The princess from the Frog Prince would be The Free Spirit. She’s a handful, but charmingly so. Zany, high-spirited, and more than a little impulsive, she finds herself stuck in many a tricky situation.
Rapunzel would also be The Waif, waiting for her knight to rescue her from the tower.
All of these characters are so well-known to us that each time we read them, in whatever guise, unconsciously we accept them, like familiar friends. Despite the fairy-tale endings, though, these characters do face tests. They must overcome trials, resolve deep personal flaws, and change and develop into better, stronger, faster (oh, oops, that’s the Six-Million Dollar Man – totally another blogpost!) people by the end of their story. Not unlike a romantic suspense – or…any other story, for that matter. Because archetypes are the recurring personalities that people our stories from the Dawn of Storytelling.
Tell me: who is your favourite fairy-tale heroine? Leave a comment to go into the draw to win a copy of my new romantic suspense novella with fairy tale elements, Enamoured.