by Gail Carson Levine
Okay, Prince Charmont, or …
How about both? "Prince Charmont" is almost an exact translation of "Prince Charming" in French (though it'd be "charmant," not "charmont").
You might know "Prince Charming" from Disney's Cinderella, but the name is way older than that. In fact, princes and kings have been referred to as "Charming" in fairytales since at least the nineteenth century. (Seriously, who names their kid that? Okay, other than Fairy Godmother in Shrek 2).
So, is "Prince Charming" a good description of Char?
Well, maybe not in the literal sense. He's horrified when Ella is sent to finishing school. Mandy describes his reaction to Ella: "And when he heard you were at finishing school, he was indignant. He demanded why you needed to be finished since there was nothing wrong with you to start with" (10.36). Ella even has to tutor him on how to properly grip a mutton fork and shake out napkins, so clearly he's not huge on etiquette for etiquette's sake.
If you asked us why "Prince Charming" might describe Char, we'd answer that it's because he's witty and funny, thus charming in the charismatic sense of the word (and so dreamy, too!). He jokes with Ella about silly reasons to run away from a masked ball, and ruins his doublet by pulling off buttons to mark their search for a secret chamber, joking: "I'm destroying my dignity without sliding down anything" (21.48).
But let's be clear—these are all harmless pranks. Royalty has a habit of getting up to some pretty crazy tricks, but not Prince Charmont. This is good clean fun.
Yeah, we think he's pretty charming.
He's Princely and He Knows It
At the same time, Char takes his duties seriously. When it's ogre-hunting time, he's all business. In a letter to his father, he writes that he is "so stirred up by the thought of" his first military duty, and also that: "I do not fear injury, only that I may not acquit myself well" (12.31). So he's got the bravery thing going on as well.
Thank goodness Charmont's knight Sir Stephan is so talkative, because he tells Ella (and us) a lot about Char's character. Like, Char made the ogre-hunting party stop to help out a produce-seller whose cart had overturned in the road. So, he's handsome, funny, and kind. Score!
He's also smart, steady, and eager to learn: "Too steady, maybe. Too serious, maybe. He laughs when there's something to laugh at, but he doesn't play enough. … He laughed more in a morning with you [Ella] than in two weeks with us" (16.20). Laughter is good for the soul, and all that, so it seems like Ella is good for Char.
When Ella and Char first meet, she's impressed by his kindness (since he consoled her about her mother's death). But as they get to know each other, she learns to like a whole lot more about him. By the time she's fallen in love with him, she's got an entire list going: "I loved his laugh, his handwriting, his steady gaze, his honorableness, his freckles, his appreciation of my jokes, his hands, his determination that I should know the worst of him" (25.3).
So he's not perfect. In fact, he's not much like a fairy-tale prince at all. And she actually likes him better because of that.
There's a downside to him being so awesome, however. Between his good nature and his crown, every eligible young lady has her sights set on him. As Ella says right after she breaks up with him, "His nature was loving, and he'd find someone to love" (26.18).
But the thing is, he doesn't want anyone else. As he confesses so "Lela" at the third ball, he's "resolved never to marry" (28.78). If he can't have Ella, then he won't have anyone. Still, he's not going to force her to choose him. He insists that she's not obligated to marry him if she doesn't want to.
Despite (or maybe because of) his flaws, we think Char's a keeper. Turns out, so does Ella.