Deliciously complicated

A stranger's intuitive interpretation of your culture can apparently often open one's own eyes


Deliciously complicated
by bahmani

The Prince of Persia: Collector's Edition

Graphic novel
FirstSecond Books, 208 pages

Based on your age, chances are that your son, nephew or younger brother know more about Prince of Persia than you do. Personally I was introduced to the game after I made the mistake of downloading the original computer game during the 80's, after realizing that my career as a Market Analyst in Silicon Valley involved a lot of boredom, once the spreadsheets I built were crunching the numbers for upper management to get rich off of.

As one of the few games available for the Macintosh at the time, I remember clearly how realistic the graphics looked, especially the swordplay. The link to Persia and Iran personalized the game for me, and made it all the sweeter. Your goal was to play the part of the Prince, seeking to free a Princess from the evil hands of an evil Vazeer named Jafar, who held her prisoner in a series of tunnels and underground caves. Along the way, you had to find your way through the tunnels like a maze, deciding which doors to open, which ladders to climb or descend, and which fragile floors to run across, just as they crumbled and fell away under your feet, trapping you on one side or the other. It was an exciting game, and the goal to free the undoubtedly beautiful princess at the end, an entertaining fantasy. Or at least far better fun than Excel.

Fast forward to now. Arguably one of the most popular titles in the larger than the film industry console video game industry (Nintendo's Wii, Microsft's Xbox, and Sony's Playstation) the now full blown franchise has even tempted the skilled action adventure filmmaker Jerry Bruckheiemer to tackle the upcoming film adaptation. Personally I would have cast our own Reza Golzar over the questionable Jake Gyllenhall as the lead Prince role, but time and tickets sold will ultimately tell. But you're on, Jerry!

The original story and the original game were conceived, devised, programmed and hatched by Jordan Mechner who following his own desire for a fantasy tale based on the traditional romance and high allure of the concept of Persia.

Recently, his love affair with the story he had created in the game of Prince of Persia led Mechner to explore areas of the story that he had always wanted to do, but never got around to it. Until now. The adaptation of his story in the form of the Graphic Novel, enabled him to flesh out some of the more dramatic details as well as to do some research into the culture and it's vast and rich history. It has resulted in an outstanding new story, which is a unique adaptation taking various elements of both ancient Persia, as well as the more important inclusion of our traditional character and culture. But as in the story, all is not what it seems and there are mysteriously provident strings being pulled from afar.

It is important to note that this is not based on any single traditional Persian literary tale. But rather, an elegant amalgam of several elements taken from various bits and pieces of our classical literary and folkloric record. Rather, Mechner is a respectful foreigner rummaging through our collective cultural laundry, taking bits and pieces from various stories, and putting them together to tell his story, of us. Naturally skeptical at first, and slightly put off to be honest, I have to say, I was amazed at how well it works.

That is, until upon contact I learned that Mechner was even smarter than that. A. B. Sina, a suspiciously vague credit in the book caught my eye immediately, for his obviously recognizable nom-de plume. I learned that Mechner upon a request by Sina, had in fact turned over the writing of this book to this now focal component in the creation of this novel. Further investigation led me to the mysterious Mr. Sina who based somewhere in Canada is fast becoming more than a passing post-modern literary point of interest. Look for more from Sina in the future.

The story is deliciously complicated. I was happily lost in ancient Persia right from the beginning. And I read a lot of weird and strange comic books! This is an area of discomfort most of us don't like. When it comes to our story we don't like puzzles. Well, actually we do, it's just that we don't trust other people doing it to us! But, the format of the graphic novel brilliantly and efficiently tells you the story through 2 mediums at once, literal and visual. And quickly. This serves to keep you going page after to page, until somewhere around the middle if you're a bit dense like me, you start to finally get what's going on, and then you smile, knowing that now you can relax, trust the writer, and enjoy the rest of the ride.

The Iranian details are very well researched and this is largely due to Sina's clever realization, discovery, and use of a variety of cultural iconic examples of folklore, which of course would lead him to The Shahnameh for inspiration. This treasure trove of stories, plots, villains, and heroes served up by the epic poem by Ferdowsi, offers ample examples to choose from, to spin details, places, names, and character elements for the reader's consumption. (Just ask me how I know)

One of my favorite examples of this is the peacock, which follows our main character out of the city, and during his self imposed banishment, magically transforms into what appears to be the famed Simorgh of yore. Having never really been all that into the Simorgh and thinking it to be rather preachy for my taste, I was able to connect with this magical mythical element in our culture, and finally understood it's great importance in dispensing timely wisdom and the overall prophetic role it has played throughout. I am now a big Simorgh fan. Thanks to a foreigner allowing us to put it into his book.

Such is the value of adaptation, a stranger's intuitive interpretation of your culture, can apparently often open one's own eyes to previously missed or mis-interpreted details, allowing you to re-appreciate your own folklore and myth all the more.

After reading this short book, after re-introducing me to the concept of "Persia" in a new way, my mind has been spinning for days since, thinking of the time, the characters, the stories, the backstabbing intrigues, the places, and the overall fantastic plain of existence, even working it's way sweetly into my dreams (a mild addiction to anti-inflammatory pain killers notwithstanding).

It is important to mention if you haven't gotten it yet, that Mechner is smart. Smart enough to hatch such a franchise in the first place, and smart to know and meet and more importantly listen to A. B. Sina, a lesser-known Iranian-born writer.

You might have been put off by the video game of this title that your son, nephew, or brother might be playing. The extremely graphic fighting and action and content rating might dissuade you from picking up the game controller, even if you figure out what and where the left action bumper is. The film adaptation too, has a big fat "300 reaction" written all over it so far based on the production stills we've seen, but we'll all have to take a breath and hope that Mr. Bruckheimer doesn't pull an Oliver Stone's "Alexander" on us. Again.

But none of this should prevent you from picking up this sweet book, and enjoying a far more entertaining journey. One that is literal, visual, and more importantly culturally respectful.

Animated movie trailer:

Bruce Bahmani is a frequent contributor to and co-created the American comic book series of Rostam comic books, an adaptation of The Shahnameh.


more from bahmani

I read the graphic novel. It

by Anonymous1 (not verified) on

I read the graphic novel. It was pretty good and was enjoyable for just the illustrations alone.

I only hope the movie will be at least half as enjoyable.

American Wife

Can't wait to read the book

by American Wife on

but it was your comments about the computer game that got my attention.  My first computer was an LCII and I'll always regret going to Windows.  The educational programs were by far the best.  But the point to this was the Prince of Persia game.  I LOVED it.  I've even tried to find it for Windows but the new version is just too different.  Who would have thunk that some years later I would marry my own Persian prince...:-)