Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Hidden Monarch

When King Richard returns incognito from exile and unveils himself to Robin Hood, a monarch who had been hidden is recognized, and the Land is healed (see Healing). But Richard already is a monarch, and knows he is. As a Plot Device or Topos in fantasy, the HM motif commonly follows a somewhat different pattern: the HM is a youngster who does not know his (less frequently her) identity or destiny. The most famous HM in English literature is the young Arthur; and the definitive tale of the Rite of Passage into adulthood, responsibility and healing power is almost certainly T H White's The Sword in the Stone (1938).

Most HMs are Ugly Ducklings when first met; Wart in The Sword in the Stone is certainly one. They are children occupying a lowly position in the world; they are badly dressed; they are mocked; they have unappeasable longings for some other state, but their Bondage – their immolation in the wrong identity – seems unloosenable, often having been imposed by Magic at the behest of a jealous Dark Lord. Tip, the young lad who becomes Princess Ozma of Oz in L Frank Baum's Oz sequence, fulfils all these conditions, as do Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper in Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain, Garion the farmboy in David Eddings's Belgariad, and Simon the scullion in Tad Williams's Memory, Sorrow and Thorn.

The wish-fulfilment function of the HM device is obvious. An HM is a figure easy for young readers to identify with. But his function is wider than that in some texts, where his ascension to the throne carries a promise of profound transformation, a confirmation of Healing – a healing function which may in fact be literal: Covenant, in Stephen R Donaldson's Thomas Covenant sequence, has miraculous curative powers, as does Severian in Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun (1980-1983). When Aragorn is crowned as Elessar in J R R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955), after the unjust have been cast down, he properly takes on a demigod role. [JC/RK]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.