Trope Me This: The Hidden Prince

No, you didn’t read that wrong. Last week, we looked at the hidden princess, and this week, I want to look at her brother, the hidden prince (see what I did there?).

The Hidden Prince (sometimes called the Backup Prince) can be created in a number of ways – either by sending the boy away when very young to be raised as a commoner or is an illegitimate heir, a bastard of the king, or one of twins sent off to make life less complicated – so that in due time, when the biggest conflict arises, he can be brought back to right all wrongs and, generally, take his place as king.

First of all, then, how does this differ from the Hidden Princess?

Often, the Hidden Princess’s goal is to find her prince, to get married, and become queen. Less often, she wins the major battle or conflict (but then usually finds her princes, gets married, and becomes queen).

The Hidden Prince, however, usually has the main goal of slaying the dragon or winning the conflict, saving the kingdom, or some other massive goal. His ultimate aim isn’t generally just to find a nice girl to be his queen (though this can be a side plot).

These differences are why I think it’s important to look at these tropes separately – the ultimate end goals are often different, which skew along our generally accepted gender roles in society. The interesting thing is that reading these stories from different cultures gives a really big clue about how a particular culture views men and women and their roles in society.

I’ve read pieces from Western countries who have about as neutral of gender roles as anywhere, where the girl CAN be the hero (but still often isn’t without some very strong, handsome man with wonderful manners or a smile beautiful enough to make his manners worth overlooking) and CAN kick some tail and do some great stuff. I’ve read pieces from other places around the world where the man is doing all the tail-kicking and the woman is simply “a great beauty he cannot get out of his mind” and every entrance by  her is yet another opportunity to remind us how beautiful she is, though she never quite gets a character beyond her looks.

It’s interesting what we can see about an author or a culture based on how they write their characters.

So, how do we as writers rise above this? How do we turn the trope on its head? Or just twist it a little bit? How do we make the Hidden Prince more interesting?

A commenter last week had a great idea to turn the hidden princess on its head.

What if the Hidden Prince is discovered and must rescue the kingdom, but he’s decided he doesn’t care? How would that change the story?

What if the Hidden Prince is actually Quasimodo and it’s his deformities that got him sent away? How does that twist the trope? What if people are unwilling to accept him, but the monarchy does NOT allow for lack of royal line.

What if the Hidden Prince was in a terrible accident and has been reduced to not much more than a vegetative state?

What if the Hidden Prince is a playboy extraordinaire? How do his extracurricular activities influence his ability to do what needs to be done?


I think there are some really fun and interesting ways to turn this one that not only amps up the conflict, but makes for great opportunities for really interesting secondary characters. It also leaves room for a really imperfect prince. It also gives room to explore some of society’s quirks about different disabilities (or abilities).

What do you think? How would you twist this trope?


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