Thursday, June 08, 2006

Princesses in Peril

I'm currently writing a futuristic where a princess needs to be saved by the heroine as the main story plot - with bounty hunters, mercenaries, and slave traders thrown in ;-) What stumped me for a while was the feeling that the 'princess in peril' plot was slightly cliched, if not over-used. So I did a little research.

The most famous princess in peril is Princess Leia of the Star Wars Trilogy (I was going to add her mother but of course she's Queen Padme Amidala) who of course is kept by Jabba the Hut as a pet, thereby spawning the obsession with Leia's metal bikini amongst geekboys (according to Ross and Chandler in Friends ;-))

Looking at books, one of the earliest SF princesses in peril was Edgar Rice Burrough's Dejah Thoris, who was introduced in the first of the Mars series, A Princess of Mars thus:

She was as destitute of clothes as the green Martians who accompanied her;
indeed, save for her highly wrought ornaments she was entirely naked, nor could
any apparel have enhanced the beauty of her perfect and symmetrical figure.



It seems the obsession with nude or nearly-nude princesses started back a long time ago. However, I'm not here to delve into the male fascination with the damsel-in-distress archetype (we need only read most pulp stories written in the 1930s-1960s for copious examples), but specifically the princess. John Carter of Mars saves and marries Dejah Thoris and becomes ruler of Mars. So maybe the fascination with the princesses in peril is not just the damsel-in-distress situation but the idea that the hero will afterwards be rewarded by endless power.

OK, so in my story the heroine saves the princess (yes, there are a few f/f elements *g*) but my question is this: Is the princess-in-peril archetype a little bit cliched? Or are do we still find it as fascinating as ever?

(BTW, has anyone read the Star Wars spinoff books where Han Solo married Leia? What happened there? Did he become Prince Han? Just curious *g*)

*Picture of Deja Thoris from Overlander at Deviant Art

6 comments:

Lynda K. Scott said...

I don't think the princess-in-peril is anymore cliched than the woman-in-jeopardy plots from other genres. Saving the princess/woman seems like a splendid activity for our heroes (male or female)and can provide good, strong action for the plot.

In my current wip, I have a princess-in-peril too though that only provides the impetus for the hero and heroine (not the princess) to get together during the course of the story.

Yes, I read some of the SW offshoots where Han and Leia married and had children...I don't recall him getting a title but that was a long time ago *g*

Loved the pictures you posted with your article!

Cassandra Kane said...

Lynda, my princess also provides the impetus for the heroine and hero to get together. Which begs the question whether the princess-in-peril has been done so much that instinctively we've relegated the princess to a plot device and are no longer making her the heroine?

Lynda K. Scott said...

Maybe we don't make the imperiled princess the heroine anymore because we don't necessarily want our heroines to be 'rescued'? I suspect nowadays our heroines need to be as strong and resourceful as our heroes--not necessarily kickass--but able to fend for themselves.

For instance, in my novel HEARTSTONE, the heroine is convinced she's losing her mind especially after she's *kidnapped* by a shapeshifting alien and dragged to another world. Her story is essentially a *coming of age* plot and at the end she rescues the hero who kidnapped her *g*

My upcoming novel, ALTERED DESTINY, showcases another woman who doesn't necessarily think of herself as strong stuff but it's because of her that humans win a fight for liberation from alien overlords.

Now, neither of these are *princesses* (though, tbh, the heroine of HEARTSTONE is very close to a missing princess) they do epitomize the traits I think we all would like to have -- strong, resilient, intelligent. They might get kidnapped or attacked, but, by God, they aren't waiting to be rescued *g* No, they'll find ways to turn the tables on their kidnappers and earn their own freedom.

SpecRom Joyce said...

I like Lynda's distinction between the princess-in-peril as heroine vs as plot element.

As long as there are people who hold power, be they princesses or presidents, they will always be in a little bit of peril.

(Insert your Monty Python joke here.)

I am of two minds on whether it is acceptable to have a heroine need rescuing, or whether she should be self-sufficient. Both the totally dependent and totally independent woman are dangerous myths.

I guess as always I come down squarely for complexity. Sometimes we need saving, and sometimes we do the saving.

Skylar Masey said...

I must confess I also used the "princess" in peril storyline in Take Me in Your Heart. Though the hero doesn't realize this until close to the end (pre super black moment). However it is foreshadowed in the opening chapter:0) And it's done with a bit of a twist, where Zara isn't technically a princess though her societal status is equal on her homeworld of Sartin. But Prince-Regent Awyn must save her life from the evil Vahezhno maurauders, though she does her own fair amount of kicking rump.

Annalee Blysse said...

I was thinking of the portrayal of Princess Leia in Spaceballs the other day... my hair, you've shot my hair!

In my novel Starlit Destiny the princess is in peril. But, every time she is in skimpy clothing, rather than sitting still for the photo op she's too busy finding new trouble. Then again, she was at a beach when the flesh started getting bared. LOL.