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Prince Charming is a stock character who appears in a number of fairy tales. He is the prince who comes to the rescue of the damsel in distress, and stereotypically, must engage in a quest to liberate her from an evil spell. This classification suits most heroes of a number of traditional folk tales, including Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, even if in the original story they were given another name, or no name at all.
These characters are often handsome and romantic, a foil to the heroine, and are seldom deeply characterized, or even distinguishable from other such men who marry the heroine.
In many variants, they can be viewed more as rewards for the heroine rather than characters.
History of term 
Charles Perrault's version of Sleeping Beauty, published in 1697, includes the following text at the point where the princess wakes up: "'Est-ce vous, mon prince?' lui dit-elle, 'vous vous êtes bien fait attendre'. Le Prince charmé de ces paroles... ne savait comment lui témoigner sa joie". ("'Are you my prince?' she said. 'You've kept me waiting a long time'. The prince charmed by her words... did not know how to express his joy.")
It has sometimes been suggested that this passage later inspired the term, "Prince Charming", even though it is the prince who is charmed (charmé) here, not who is being charming (charmant).
In the eighteenth century, Madame d'Aulnoy wrote two fairy tales, The Story of Pretty Goldilocks, where the hero was named Avenant ("Fine", "Beautiful", in French), and The Blue Bird, where the hero was Le roi Charmant ("The Charming King"). When Andrew Lang retold the first (in 1889) for The Blue Fairy Book, he rendered the hero's name as "Charming"; the second, for The Green Fairy Book, as "King Charming".
Although neither one was a prince and the first was not royal, this may have been the original use of "Charming".
Then, Oscar Wilde's 1890 novel The Picture of Dorian Gray refers ironically to "Prince Charming", perhaps the earliest use of the exact term. The main character, Dorian, is supposed to be a young actress's "Prince Charming", but he abandons her and in despair she commits suicide.
In the early Disney animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), when Snow White tells the dwarfs about her prince, she says, "Anyone could see that the prince was Charming, the only one for me." The logical antecedent of "one" in this lyric is "Charming" because of the placement of the pause. However, he is never referred to specifically as "Prince Charming."
In other languages, like Spanish and Italian, he is called the "Blue Prince". In Portuguese, a translation mistake occurred and he is called "Prince Charmed" (Príncipe Encantado; the correct term for "Charming" should be Encantador or Charmoso), coincidentally closer to the sense in Perrault's story mentioned atop this section.
The prominence of the character type makes him an obvious target for revisionist fairy tales.
The character of Prince Charming is deconstructed in the 2004 movie Shrek 2 and its 2007 follow-up Shrek the Third, wherein he has an undesirable and boorish personality unfitting for a fairy-tale prince. He is the secondary antagonist in Shrek 2 and the main antagonist in Shrek the Third.
"Prince Charming" is the title of a 1981 album and song by Adam and the Ants. Prince Charming is also the title of a 1999 movie starring Andy Lau and Michelle Reis. Meet Prince Charming is the title of a 1999 movie starring Tia Carrere and David Charvet.
Prince Charming is a prominent character in the Fables comic book. In that version, he successively married Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, with each marriage ending in divorce due to his compulsive womanizing. He himself comments: "I always truly love a woman when I first pursue her...I'm just no good at the happily-ever-after part." He parlays his charm into election as the mayor of Fabletown, the underground "Fable" community, and finds the job more difficult than he had anticipated.
This aspect of his character is also explored in the Broadway musical Into the Woods, where there are not one, but two Prince Charmings. Here they are shown as brothers pursuing Cinderella and Rapunzel, then later, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, after they have married their first loves. Cinderella's Prince has an affair with the baker's wife as well, and when confronted about his womanizing, states "I was raised to be charming, not sincere."
The concept of the Prince Charming is also parodied in Enchanted when Edward is looking for Princess Giselle in New York City. While knocking the doors he finds a pregnant housewife holding three kids, who tells him, in a scoffing voice, "You're too late."
In The Sisters Grimm, Prince Charming is the mayor of Ferryport Landing, a town inhabited by fairy-tale characters- or everafters. He is shown to be rude, arrogant and boastful, but turns out to be a valuable ally to the protagonists of the series. He is shown to have married and slept with many of the girls in this town, among them Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. But he clarifies that he truly loves Snow White and proposes to her. He then separates himself from her for her protection.
In the television series Once Upon a Time, Prince Charming is James, the husband of Snow White, though neither of them remembers this in Storybrooke, where the character's name is David Nolan. ("Charming" is the nickname given to him by Snow White.) In his previous life, James is actually the brother of the real prince, who died and was replaced with his twin. Both brothers were born to a poor farm couple who made a deal with Rumpelstilskin to save their farm; they gave up one son to the king, whose wife could not conceive. After the real prince's death, his brother found out the truth and took his place, becoming engaged to Abigail, daughter of King Midas (reluctantly, after his family is threatened by the real prince's adoptive father), in a deal that unites two kingdoms, with Midas giving the other king gold in exchange for the prince defeating a dragon. Later the prince meets and marries Snow White with who he has a daughter called Emma. In Storybrooke, David is a John Doe with amnesia who meets and falls for Mary Margaret, who is really Snow White, before recovering his memory. He is portrayed by Josh Dallas.
In the book "The Land of Stories", written by Chris Colfer, there are four Prince Charmings, who are brothers. Three of them are married with Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, the other is lost.
- Catherine Orenstein, Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality, and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale, p 121, ISBN 0-465-04125-6
- "Prince charming". Merriam-Webster online. Retrieved 22 September 2010.
- "Fairy tale of New York: Swedish princess finds love again with millionaire Prince Charming". Mail Online (UK). 18 January 2011.
- "The Fairy Tales of Marie-Catherine d'Aulnoy". SurLaLune Fairy Tales. Retrieved 2010-07-27.