Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Prince of Persia: The Graphic Novel

Based on the video game, soon to be a major motion picture... eh, forget all that. Prince of Persia purports to be the legend behind the game, but any knowledge of this graphic novel's origins are completely unnecessary. What we have here is a great, multi-layered tale of power and and palace intrigue over the course of centuries, a story rich in Eastern myths and torn allegiances.

In the 9th century city of Marv, the warrior Saman has not only conquered but rebuilt the city in great splendor. Among his children, the twin brother and sister Guiv and Guilan, he has adopted Layth, the orphaned son of his enemy, and raised them as equals. Growing up together they vow strength in unity and insist on ruling as one when their time comes. The problem is that Guilan and Layth have fallen in love and that Guiv becomes an outcast when he tries to kill Layth in his sleep...

The 9th century blends with the 13th century where Shirin, daughter of the current ruler of Marv, leaves a palace that has become the home of decadence and lies to discover the truths that have been hidden from her. After nearly drowning in a well Shirin is rescued and taken to a citadel that is the secret home to Ferdos, who relates the stories of the past to her. The tales of two centuries echo each other as we learn of the rise of two princes, and how the power of the desert city is in the hands of those who control the waterways that have been built from ancient springs.

The thing about Prince of Persia, the element I long for in graphic novels, is the sense of the novel. It isn't merely a question of length, but when a story is rich in character and story threads, that's what pulls me in. I want to get lost in a story, in a time and place, and to know that the storyteller is weaving an elaborate tapestry. For me, it's part of what separates a comic from a graphic novel, this feeling of story heft, and Prince of Persia has it in spades.

I can't ignore how location resonates between the story and our own lives. How different are the days when an elite group of people controlled the means of survival for a larger community? Does it matter that it was water in the 9th and 12th centuries and oil in the 20th and 21st? Is the ancient Persian empire, no matter what it is called today or in the future, destined to be where all of our international battles for power will be set?

I read somewhere (advance word from Publisher's Weekly perhaps?) that the graphic novel wouldn't be as successful for its intended gamer audience because it lacked the interactive element of the game. Excuse me? Are gamers really the only audience for this book? should think not. And are gamers so limited in their abilities that unless a book based on a game is interactive like a game they couldn't appreciate it? That makes no sense, it sells gamers short, and totally ignores what a separate experience the book is from the game.

What we have here is reminiscent of great Eastern myths and storytelling. It may play off familiar images from what most people know of Arabian Nights stories, it has some magic and mythical qualities (no genies, however, but earth- and animal-based magic), but also has some grounding in the real world. In the 12th century the city of Merv was briefly the largest in the world, built on an oasis along the Silk Road, and no doubt a place where stories and myths were built around the tales of travelers in the region. It does not seem out of place that the stories included in Prince of Persia could have sprung from the ancient city of Merv.

My simple wish to those who can grant it: More like this, please.

Prince of Persia
Created by Jordan Mechner
Written by A.B. Sina
Artwork by LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland
First Second


Joe Cottonwood said...

Thank you, David, and thank you, Guys Lit, for taking graphic novels seriously and making us aware of them.

My simple wish to those who can grant it: More like this, please.

Seth Christenfeld said...

As someone who pretty much grew up on the original PoP, I still can't quite get behind the idea of the Prince having a name and there being more plot than "you have an hour to get from the dungeon to the throne room and save the princess."

david elzey said...

Ah, Seth, but there's always a reason the prince was in the dungeon, and a secret in the throne room only the princess could reveal. You just never knew what they were.