I could write five different posts on the Dark Prince and the Wild Man. In fact, I’ve been putting off this idea for a post for a bit; it seems so daunting. They’re such broad concepts, sweeping most of literature and entertainment, from Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights to Criss Angel, reaching deep in to the psyche to the Animus of any dark-hearted lover. Such breadth and depth is hard to narrow down to a definition or explanation.
The distinction between the two is fairly clear:
– the Dark Prince is cool, cultured, sensual, mysterious, reserved, graceful, alluring, thinking…
– the Wild Man is energetic, driven, fearless, outspoken, lusty, passionate, vigorous, vital…
These are characters that appear to tantalize us everywhere in literature (Heathcliff, Mr. Darcy, Anne Rice’s vampires); movies (Jack Sparrow, Neo, Meet Joe Black); comics & graphic novels (Morpheus the Sandman, Wolverine, Batman); television (Lex Luthor in Smallville, Dean Winchester, Malcolm Reynolds); and any number of other media. They cross all genres and subgenres: vampires and werewolves, gunslingers, hackers, thieves and con-men, pirates, elves, wizards, knights, musketeers and masked swashbucklers, superheroes and vigilantes, ghosts in the machines, even the occasional ninja.
But the two archetypes are really fairly similar underneath it all.
– They are essentially good men, with a sort of personal code, anti-heroes, not villains (antagonists perhaps, but not evil)
– They don’t often conform to society’s rules, at least not all rules. And the rules that they break, they do it for a reason, because they feel it’s the best thing to do. Though they might be prone to a little personal gratification, it’s usually only minor things like an insulting comment or unusual clothing choices (the Dark Prince might wear an older, elegant fashion; the Wild Man would wear jeans and leather jacket to a suit-and-tie event).
– They are often vulnerable despite their exterior front, but always strong when caught in a tough spot. However those soft spots within them can often be hard to handle, things that might spark anger if you try too hard to draw them out. They could be dangerous if provoked, and are definitely challenging to carry on a relationship with, what with their certain quirks and expectations.
Some characters cross over between the two: the vampire Lestat, for example. Compared to Louis and other vampires, he’s the Wild Man: reckless and chaotic, driven by emotion. However, compared to a typical werewolf, he’s more the Dark Prince (like most vampires): fashionable, graceful, clever of wit. Hence, we call him the Brat Prince.
The Dark Prince and the Wild Man are two sides of the same archetype, with simple surface differences: look at Spock from Star Trek (especially dark in the new movie) and Sylar from Heroes (when he’s in a “good” mood). They’re like the Dungeons & Dragons character alignments of “Lawful” vs. “Chaotic”. It’s a wide range of difference in personality, but not always of basic motivations.
Some characters hearken to these archetypes, but in my opinion, sugar coat these dark men. One that comes to mind is Edward Cullen from Twilight. Here we have a Dark Prince, but where are his fangs? He broods in guilt and denies himself his true love for fear he’ll hurt her, but what has he really done wrong? He comes from a group of vamps that don’t drink human blood, that do not burn in sunlight, that in fact try their best to blend in with human society and appear normal. No, Edward is far too safe and ordinary for my taste. He doesn’t seem to have enough edge. (Again, only my opinion, but I’ve spoken to many who share it.) The swooning teeny girls who call themselves vampire-lovers would do well to expand their reading into deeper, more adult literature.
But perhaps all of this still does not make it clear to you how to distinguish the Dark Prince and the Wild Man from any other delicious character? How exactly is the Dark Prince different from the Good Prince? Perhaps it is that the Good Prince would never even consider certain actions: murder or stealing or lying. The thought would not cross his mind, and if it did, it’s very presence there would shame him! But darker archetypes are well aware of the full possibilities of choices they could make. They know how far they could go, how many means there are to any end. They feel that fine line between good and evil and they balance themselves upon it. Batman will go to great pains to keep from killing his villains, to bring them to justice, but he has no problem scaring somebody shitless to get information out of them. And to Jack Sparrow or Mal Reynolds, well, some people just need killin’. But it’s a matter of principles all the same: they have a conscience, an inner code, and they are very, very aware of it and hold to those basic ideals with great care to keep themselves from becoming like the people they fight.
Who’s to say whether or not these archetypes exist when applied to real men? But I say, every man has both within him (as well as a lighter side). A Wild Man by all appearances may secretly wish he could be the Dark Prince, just for one night to seduce the lady of his dreams. While on the other hand, a cool, reserved Prince might be waiting for the right moment to let loose his passions on the right woman. Either thought just makes a dark woman’s heart (especially this one!) melt like chocolate over a fire.