The Princess Problem

I have a bunch of fantasy story pet peeves.  Like the care bear stare.  I also have things I love like the arrival of the cavalry.

The Princess Problem is one of the former.  I’m going to paint in broad strokes here…

Put a princess in a story and she will have a problem with her betrothed.  It generally turns out that the prospective groom is a cad, but long before that is apparent the princess will rail against the unfairness of being forced to marry.  When I indicated I disliked the fantasy series I just finished this was one of the items that bothered me.

Why does it bug me?  I’m certainly not pro forcing people to marry against their will or against marrying for love.   Here are a few reasons:

  1. It is an application of current cultural mores on what is ostensibly a prior time.  Although I can ignore a lot of anachronisms, but this one bugs me.  This one also might be a bit unfair.  We have at least as far back as King Edward of a monarch actually leaving the throne for love…
  2. But that raises my second peeve.  This is almost entirely a female plot.  The poor princess is unjustly being forced to marry, but the prince is always fine with it.  There aren’t many fantasy stories that I’ve read where the prince is forced to marry against their will.
  3. Finally, actual royalty are raised to know their responsibilities.  Nobility didn’t actually have much – their land, their title and their family ties.  (And the legal system on their side of course.)  Marriage was the primary method of maintaining, strengthening and extending all three of those.  It was essential to the way of life.  The next best option was war… came with greater risk though.

Like any cliche, it can be done well though.  Romeo and Juliet is a variation on this theme.  (Although they skip the ditching the appropriate prospect and move straight to the love…)  Downton Abbey has has this as a central theme for two of the girls in the family.   The big difference is moving past the rote, obvious reactions and motivations and finding some humanity under them.

When that happens it becomes less of a problem and more of an asset.



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