A trickster prince

Though the Prince of Persia has managed to survive for 20 years as a videogame hero without any character ever mentioning his name, this wasn’t a realistic option when it came to writing the movie. He needed a name.

I found it in this passage from Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh (the Persian Book of Kings):

[The Simorgh] went to the youth and said, “O brave young man, until today I have brought you up as if I were your nurse, and I have taught you speech and the ways of virtue. Now it is time for you to return to your own birthplace. Your father has come searching for you. I have named you Dastan (The Trickster) and from now on you will be known by this name.”

Despite what the Simorgh says, the new name doesn’t stick; everyone goes back to calling him by his real name, Zal. But Dastan seemed like the perfect name for my prince (especially since Zal wasn’t using it). So I borrowed it.

The Trickster has been a popular heroic archetype for thousands of years (Joseph Campbell called him the “Hero with a Thousand Faces”). From his first incarnation as an Apple II sprite, the prince has run, jumped and scrambled firmly in the footsteps of other well-known Tricksters like Robin Hood, Zorro, Han Solo, Indiana Jones, and (of course) the Man with No Name.

As it turns out, the word dastan has shadings I wasn’t aware of — shadings that make it an even more appropriate name for the prince than I realized.

First, several people (including Jake Gyllenhaal the first day we met) have pointed out to me that Dastan is also a Persian word meaning “story.” And so it is, although the vowel is pronounced differently. According to wikipedia, a Dastan is a type of Central Asian oral history “centered on one individual who protects his tribe or his people from an outside invader/enemy.” Hey, just like every video game.

Then, I came across this fascinating article by Dick Davis (the translator of the English edition of the Shahnameh I quoted above). He’s discussing the qualities of the Trickster Hero as they pertain to Rostam, Persia’s greatest epic hero (think Hercules, Siegfried, etc), who is way more famous than Zal or Dastan. It’s a great example of the kind of nuances that get lost in translation:

There is also the curious nature of his name to be taken into account. He is often referred to as “Rostam-e Dastan,” which can have two different meanings. One, “Rostam the son of Dastan,” is the meaning the poem foregrounds, and his father, Zal, is seen as having somewhere along the line acquired a second name, Dastan. But the phrase can also mean “Rostam who possesses the quality of dastan”, and the word “dastan” means “trickery.” This, I believe, was the original meaning of the phrase “Rostam-e Dastan” (probably long before the Shahnameh was written, while the stories of Rostam still had a solely oral existence), i.e. “Rostam the trickster”, the equivalent of Homer’s “Odysseus of many wiles”, and only later did the word dastan come to be identified as the name of his father (after all, his father already had a name, Zal).

The prince in Sands of Time (the video game) at one point wishes aloud that he had the strength of Rostam so that he could smash through a certain wall. I figured a seventh-century Persian prince would have grown up hearing those tales and would use them as a point of reference.

Now he’s got a name of his own.

Posted on Mar 2, 2009 in Blog, Film, Games, Prince of Persia | 26 comments

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  1. 3-3-2009

    Nooooo, Jordan!!!! The Prince’s name is already Shazdeh! In the demo-version of Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow the Flame is the Prince called Shazdeh, in the last part of the demo!

  2. 3-3-2009

    I can’t believe it!

  3. 3-3-2009

    Wow, I didn’t know anyone remembered that! Shazdeh isn’t a name, though; it just means Prince.

  4. 3-3-2009

    Ooh, I didn’t know that! Is that persian?
    And Dastan is a beautiful name too, I like the way you choose it :-).

  5. 3-3-2009

    Definitely an interesting background story.
    This makes the Prince in the film the only Prince to have a name, although I suppose the Sands of Time video game is sort of the same character.
    I’ll have to see the film to get a better idea about that of course, see how much of the overall story as well as the character is the same.

    I really should try and get my hands on the Arabian Nights and Shahnameh stories.
    (I did buy and enjoy the Prince of Persia Graphic Novel.)

  6. 3-8-2009

    lol its not a good name i hate my name =(

  7. 3-13-2009

    I’ll have to see the film to get a better idea about that of course, see how much of the overall story as well as the character is the same.

  8. 3-14-2009

    While I like the name, for all of it’s variations in meaning, I have to ask – WHY? Why wasn’t it a realistic option to keep him nameless when writing the movie? Look at Postal… ok… maybe not a good comparrison (Uwe Boll and all…), but still.

    Also, I’m curious – Where is Farah in the movie? Was she renamed to Tamina, and if so, why? Did the studio required the change for whatever reason, or did you wanted to rename her (and why)?

  9. 3-14-2009

    Having a nameless hero as a literary device only works if it doesn’t call attention to itself. It worked in the games because (a) the prince was onscreen in pretty much every scene and (b) he was a stranger arriving in a new place where no one knew him. (Same with the Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns.)

    In the movie, the prince has a family, and there are scenes where people talk about him when he’s not there. For them to never refer to him by name would have felt really forced and contrived, and broken the reality of the world. (Try it with someone you know well and you’ll see how weird it feels.)

    As for Tamina, yes, she is based on Farah. I chose the new name in homage to one of my favorite operas, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, which has a princess Pamina and Prince Tamino. One reason I changed her name was so that game fans wouldn’t expect her character to exactly match the portrayal of Farah in the game.

    • 1-4-2010

      AT the same time though, having a nameless hero also manages to keep a sort of mystery to the character. You mentioned family, but in the games does that Prince not have King Sharaman and Queen Nameicantrememberbutisawinbattles? Also, The Forgotten Sands (which is before Sharaman’s ultimate death, and possiby Queen Whatsername’s) has him visiting a brother’s kingdom, or so I’ve read. Along with that, the Prince (in The Two Thrones) is referred to as “Prince” even by the Old Man, who certainly knows his name. He is also called this by Sharaman (who had BETTER know his name), the Vizier (who I refer to as Zurvan, the name he took in TT [but you know that]) and Farah, among others. If the King is King Sharaman, certainly the Prince would have to be Prince Something. However, isn’t Dastan a different Prince than the videogame Prince?
      Since there’s an okay chance I’ll never post anything on this site ever again (I’m not much for forums) I must add that Prince of Persia is far and away my favorite fictional universe, and I own every single Prince of Persia videogame. And I’ve preordered Forgotten Sands from Gamestop. Then again, 90% of everyone else on this site probably has too. I should probably stop writing… I have to figure out how to run POP3D on a Windows XP computer. D_mned technology….

    • 1-4-2010

      I disagree. The idea of a nameless prince has always been better for me, ever since I played POP1 online a number of years ago as a promotional tool for the Sands of Time (And a good one at that, I went out and bought SOT a few weeks later, and now I’ve collected every other game including Battles, Fallen King, and Forgotten Sands through Gamestop pre-order.). I find that giving the Prince a name would ruin the illusion for many like me. For the movie I have no problem with it, as it is in my understanding that Dastan and the videogame hero are not the same character. The game Prince, however, should remain nameless. After all,if he has a name, which he obviously does, it would’ve been used by now. You mentioned family, but does this Prince not have a family as well? There is King Sharaman, Queen Whatsername (It’s been a while since I was there in Battles) and Forgotten Sands, if my memory serves me right, has the Prince visiting an older brother. You also mentioned that he was a ‘stranger arriving in a new place’, but in The Two Thrones/Rival Swords, he is in his home of Babylon and yet the Old Man, every citizen, Princess Farah, and even Empress Kaileena refer to him as ‘The Prince’ or simply ‘Prince’.

      By the way, to anyone that noticed, use of the phrases ‘Whatsername’ and ‘If my memory serves me right’ were indeed references to the Green Day song “Whatsername”. For anyone reading this who caught ‘whatsername’ but not the other, listen closely at the “Remember, whatever, etc.” part.

  10. 3-14-2009

    Interesting. Didn’t thought about it in that way.

    Oddly enough though, there have been many people whom I’ve known long and don’t know their names. If they have a title (like “the math teacher”, “the land lady”), I use that. If they don’t, I use a descriptive nickname (a replacement title if you will), like “the foreigner” or “the red hair”. In this case, “the price” would suffice, unless perhaps its his family that talk about him when he’s not there. Though in that case, “our son/nephew/whatever” is also good (and in fact I’ve often seen this in movies where the character does have a name).

    What’s harder indeed is to speak *with* people I’ve known for long times without knowing their name. In most such cases, simply using “you” as a replacement for the name is sufficient, but it can indeed look forced at times. And it’s especially weird with long distant relatives.

    As a fan, I don’t know which would be worse – not having Farah, or not having a good Farah… I guess I’ll have to wait for the movie to find that out, but then again, who am I kidding. I’ve liked all POP games (except maybe POP3D), and I’m not so critical to the movies I watch (even the mentioned Uwe Boll, who’s a synonym for a bad game based movie makes movies that are better than the worst I’ve seen). The combination of those two means I’ll like the movie even if the “critics” don’t (which I doubt).

    It would still feel odd to watch Tamina when I known she portrays Farah though. Dastan would be much easier to swallow since he didn’t had a previous name to stick with.

  11. 3-16-2009

    Ohw come on.. i wished atleast the female character would be more like in the game.. ATLEAST.. but you guys threw that out too.. and changed her name to Farah!! So that PoP fans can accept Gemma Artenton as the princess coz its a different name.. ? I love that game so much but.. yea.. well.. its not ur fault.. u probably wrote great script and some casting director screw’d up his part of the job..

  12. 4-15-2009

    This is very up-to-date information. I’ll share it on Facebook.

  13. 4-16-2009

    Hopefully, she’ll end up looking and behaving more like the Farah you have originally imagined, Jordan. Good luck!

  14. 4-23-2009

    Hail to Jordan
    I’m Persian and Honestly i must say the Prince of Persia (all versions)
    were the only Adventure Games that i played in all of my life just because its name have my Country name . i offer you a point ,could you use the original base stories that wrote in the Shahnameh for writing your epical stories ,its gonna be great because i can seriously tell you and promise you that its absolutely want to rules the world .
    as you well know the Shahnameh has the most of great epical stories on itself , please let the world enjoy from the sweet spells of Persian epic
    thank you Jordan for everything and we all love in Iran (Persia).

  15. 7-29-2009

    Thanks!
    I like it
    very useful!

  16. 8-20-2009

    Hi everyone,

    I saw someone in IMDB was complaining that “dastan” means “story” and not “trickster”, as I can’t post messages there I think I should clarify this here, the name is “dastaan” (and again, not a plural for “hand”), like in this poem by Hafez.

    dardam az yaar asto darmaan niz ham, del fadayeh oo shodo jaan niz ham
    inke migoyand aaan khoshtar ze hosn, yaare maa in daarado aan niz ham
    yaad baad aanke be ghade khoone maa, ahd raa beshkast o peymaan niz ham

    doostan dar parde migoyam sokhan, gofte khaahad shod be “dastaan” niz ham

    chon sar aamad dolate shabhaaye vasl, bogzarad ayaame hejraan niz ham
    har do aalam yek forooghe rooye oost, goftamat peyda o penhan niz ham
    etemadi nist bar kaare jahaan, balke bar gardoone gardan niz ham
    aashegh az ghazi matarsad mey biar, balke az yarghoye divan niz ham
    mohtaseb danad ke hafez aashegh ast, aasefe molke soleyman niz ham

    Sorry for the complete poem, though it’s pity to write a line and leave the rest, it’s one of my favourites, well :)

    That line Hafez says “Friends, I’m saying this privately, but tricksters will hear it too [soon]”

    For more info check Dehkhoda lexicon.

    Again, sorry for such a long comment with a poem rarely anyone here can read :)

  17. 8-20-2009

    Jordan, your a wonderfull writer,
    it’s also lovely to see you keep in touch with the fans of the game
    this only means the dedication and carefull thoughts writing the script.
    I have no doubt this movie will be a blockbuster and fans will enjoy it I can’t wait and keep up the good work :-)

    greetings from the Netherlands.

  18. 12-11-2009

    I’m really excited about this movie. I kept telling all of my family and friends about it since you announced you’re going to make a movie. I even lent one of my friends (who only played the earlier version of the game in 1989) the trilogy games to download and play until the movie comes out, so she can have a good idea about the story Lol
    Regarding the name, I’m fine with it, but I’m a bit disappointed about the casting. I love Jake Gyllynhaal and been an avid fan of him for years, but I don’t know about him acting as the Prince. I know he’s a great actor, but I wanted to see a new comer for the role of the Prince instead of a famous one. I know this can be hard, but that was my hope.
    And unfortunately, from the few minutes of the trailer that we all saw, I couldn’t stand Tamina. yeah she’s based on Farah’s character, but god I hated her! I don’t know why though! she’s pretty but so bossy. Farah though was a tough girl but she was very likable too. Her relationship with the Prince was one of the many reasons why I loved the game. When he used to pass out and she called him my love, that was when I thought to myself: “man she’s lovely”. I hope I grow to like Tamina later as the movie progresses, but right now I don’t.

    sorry for my VERY long comment lol I just wanted to say that I absolutely appreciate all of your hard work and hope the movie will be a great success and expect other sequels (I’m looking forward to Warrior Within and the The Two Thrones).

  19. 3-15-2010

    i think he has a brother dustin in milwaukee his bday is march 3

  20. 6-3-2010

    What is the meaning of DASTAN in Persian?
    thank u..

  21. 6-6-2011

    Full name of Prince Rostam-e Dastan? or just Dastan?
    I’m from Russia and poorly know English. Therefore not quite understand…

    • 6-7-2011

      And a couple more questions of Jordan:
      You were personally acquainted with Stuart Chatwood, the former lead singer of Canadian rock band The Tea Party, who wrote the music for Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time?
      If so, send one’s best and thank you for such a great soundtrack)

  22. 6-12-2011

    I’m very bad translator.
    Now I understand that the name of Prince Dastan.
    And his full name?
    Well, as Leonardo da Vinci and his full name is Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci.
    And the Prince?

  23. 6-3-2012

    Sorry, i don’t know if you have already asked this question,
    the name Dastan, applies only to the Prince of the film, or at the Prince in all his apparitions, from 1987 to present day?

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