Trope Me This: The Hidden Princess

This can be kind of a fun trope, actually. Just imagine.

Hero receives The Call To Adventure, but since Hero is just ordinary Citizen X of city/town/kingdom/realm, Hero doesn’t believe in herself, BUT just at the right moment, Hero discovers an ancient lineage that turns her into royalty and the next Queen or Whatever-High-Ruling-Rank, and everyone lives happily ever after (except the Bad Guy, who was squarely and soundly defeated).

Sound familiar to you?

I think there is something in all of us that loves this surprise royalty line. Perhaps it’s partly because life is really hard and we want to be suddenly rescued from the hardship or perhaps we just love this idea of being really special and having some title that proves it. I’m not exactly sure what it is that draws us to these particular stories, but we can all agree that there are plenty of princess stories out there (Disney anyone?).

I love the descriptions provided by TV Tropes here and here of this kind of story.

One nice thing about this trope is that often, this mystery lineage provides just the right boost at the right time for the Hero Princess to save the day or find the right group of others to help save the day.

Naturally, there are some really overused parts to this trope, as well. There’s usually some kind of lowly love interest that had developed back when she was nobody and now part of the story is figuring out whether she will choose or be allowed to keep the love interest or if she must sacrifice it for the greater good. She also seems to be exceptionally prepared to deal with the complicated nature of royal politics even though she’s never had experience with it.

So, what are some ways that this trope could be subverted if you decide you want to use it?

What about ignoring a love interest altogether? Or even losing the previous love interest? What about a nasty break up?

What if she has absolutely no idea how to handle court and makes a huge mess of things? Or is completely taken in by someone who knows how to manipulate?

What if she’s NOT saved by a handsome knight, but instead by a street smart peasant girl? And what if they DON’T become best friends afterward?

This trope and its treatments remind me how we tend to look very differently at girls and boys – princesses and princes. While there are certain aspects to reality that we must accept (men and boys are physically stronger than women and girls) when working in the world of humans, I don’t think this necessarily means that a princess’s call to action must be saved by a prince. I do believe there are more creative ways we could solve this (have you seen the tweet circulating the internet about a dad playing D&D with his daughter and instead of vanquishing a wolf army, she feeds them and turns them into her own wolf army?) These are the kinds of angles we can look at as we try to figure out how to tell our story.

Yes, your main character might be a Hidden Princess, but see how you can be more creative in handling this particular trope instead of adding on the “all good things on a silver platter” trope for your princess.


What do you think? Agree? Disagree?


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3 thoughts on “Trope Me This: The Hidden Princess

  1. I would be curious if someone has done this differently. Maybe started with a character that thought she had a noble linage and calling for about half the book or so and then have it revealed that she got the prophecy or linage wrong, how would that effect her? Would characters still follow her or treat her special? How would she cope to that blow to identity? And how would she learn to be heroic after it?


    1. Oooh, that’s a REALLY good question. I don’t know anything off the top of my head, but wouldn’t THAT make for an interesting story… hmmm….


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