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Common themes from myth and mythology in modern fiction: Prince in Exile

Updated on October 5, 2010
Detail from 'The Judgement of Paris,' by Peter Paul Rubens (National Gallery, London)
Detail from 'The Judgement of Paris,' by Peter Paul Rubens (National Gallery, London)

Rama, the crown prince, was banished to the forest for fourteen years because his step-mother wanted her son to be king. (from the Ramayana)

Karna was sent away by his mother, a princess, because he was born to her before she was married. He grew up as a charioteer’s son. (from the Mahabharata)

Paris, the Trojan prince who convinced Helen to run away with him, was raised as a herdsman, not as a prince. Some prophecy about how he would bring about the destruction of Troy if allowed to live was the reason. His father asked someone to get him killed, but that did not happen. Paris was brought up by herdsmen of the hills.

Krishna, of Hindu mythology, was born to a chieftain, but a prophecy that he would kill the king, his uncle, etc, etc… He was raised as a cowherd.

The infant Jesus was smuggled to Egypt and had to be in hiding because of a prophecy. Note the manger and cattle, please.

There are many other stories with this ‘prince in exile’ concept: Rama, Karna, King Arthur, Oedipus, Romulus and Remus…

Moses is this concept turned upside down: commoner is brought up as a prince till he realizes his destiny.

Fairy tales use this theme often:

  1. Snow White was supposed to be killed but survives. She lives with the dwarfs in the forest till her time and her prince come.
  2. Sleeping Beauty is a variation. She is in a kind of coma, exiled from daily life.
  3. Hansel and Gretel is another variation. Not of royal blood, but exiled anyway.
  4. In Beauty and the Beast, the beast is a prince in exile.

In fairy tales, curses abound, whereas in myths prophecies are popular. Both are effective: they manage to send the little prince or princess into hiding.

Let’s see how these themes have been used in modern fiction. Coming to think of it, all mankind is in perpetual exile from Eden, according to the Bible. Many of us, for various reasons, live farway from our childhood home, and yearn to return. Two years ago, I had to leave my home of 26 years. Maybe that is why we identify with and understand the ancient heroes in exile.

Two days ago, I saw an Indian movie that had the rich father send his son into hiding and Mauritius to escape from a death threat.

Can you name some stories with this theme by yourself? See if any of your answers figure below. Of not, please write them in the comment box, for the benefit of all.

  1. Harry Potter. Get the connection? Prophecy, has to live an ordinary life, and all that, though no cattle motif.
  2. Godfather: Michael Corleone in exile in Sicily, but returns like a king in the end.
  3. Star Wars: Luke Skywalker raised as an ordinary rustic, lest his hooded father gets him killed.
  4. Tarzan was also nobility, actually Lord Greystoke, living in the jungle.

When I get more, I will update the list of modern princes in exile.


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