These characters are often handsome and romantic, a foil to the heroine, and are seldom deeply characterized, or even distinguishable from other such men who marry the heroine. In many variants, they can be viewed more as rewards for the heroine rather than characters. The prominence of the character type makes him an obvious target for revisionist fairy tales. "Prince Charming" is also used as a term to refer to the idealized man some people dream of as a future spouse.
Charles Perrault's version of Sleeping Beauty, published in 1697, includes the following text at the point where the princess wakes up: "'Est-ce vous, mon prince?' lui dit-elle, 'vous vous êtes bien fait attendre'. Le Prince charmé de ces paroles... ne savait comment lui témoigner sa joie". ("'Are you my prince?' she said. 'You've kept me waiting a long time'. The prince charmed by her words... did not know how to express his joy.") It has sometimes been suggested that this passage later inspired the term, "Prince Charming", even though it is the prince who is charmed (charmé) here, not who is being charming (charmant).
In the 17th century, Madame d'Aulnoy wrote two fairy tales, The Story of Pretty Goldilocks, where the hero was named Avenant ("Fine", "Beautiful", in French), and The Blue Bird, where the hero was Le roi Charmant ("The Charming King"). When Andrew Lang retold the first (in 1889) for The Blue Fairy Book, he rendered the hero's name as "Charming"; the second, for The Green Fairy Book, as "King Charming". Although neither one was a prince and the first was not royal, this may have been the original use of "Charming".
The first usage of the exact term "Prince Charming" was an ironic one. The earliest character to actually have been called Prince Charming was Dorian Gray, the titular character of Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.
The stock character of Prince Charming having appeared in several popular fairy tales (such as "Snow White", "Sleeping Beauty", "Cinderella" and "Rapunzel") has led many modern adapters to refer to the many characters as one and the same. This leads the character to being deconstructed as being "charming but not sincere", as he has the qualities to pursue and attract new love, but lacks the qualities to sustain a long-lasting relationship. Some examples of this includes "Into the Woods", the "Fables" comic book series, and "Sisters Grimm".