The narrative of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Ubisoft Montreal, 2003) can be
read as an allegory of the Freudian Oedipal fantasy and the subsequent failure of the infant subject in realizing it. In the beginning of the game, the Prince remarks that:
Many men that day sought to win honor and glory on the battlefield that their king might say to them as Khosrau said to Rustam: “You are the noblest of my warriors.” From the moment my sword tasted blood, I knew this would not be my way. I would win my father’s praise not by killing, but by being the first to find the Maharaja’s treasure vaultPrince of Persia: Sands of Time
and the wonders within.
From the very beginning of the narrative there is a sense of anxiety in the Prince of performing and internalizing the role of a “warrior’s son”; ironically what King Sharaman uses to describe his son. The Prince is an individual who does not have a name. Unlike in the 2010 film adaptation of the game, at no point does the Prince ever possess a name other than his royal title. A “prince” is but a placeholder, connoting a certain identity that is assimilated by an individual with a name. Indeed, in feudal societies it was a common practice that an individual on ascending the throne would take up a new name, denoting a form of “rebirth”. The Prince in lacking such a name is hesitant to internalize the identity of the title and thus the responsibilities, obligations and dynamics pertaining to the kingdom. The Prince, in essence, resists the claim of the society over his individuality; he resists being assimilated by the Symbolic Order. He delves deep underground into the “Maharaja’s treasure vault”, yet not before facing and besting spear-wielding enemies guarding the path to the vault. The vault, that is, the womb is guarded by the Name-of-the-Father, the phallus wielding warriors. The Prince journeys into the vault to find the “Dagger of Time”. In the vault, there is a specific imagery that reinforces this particular reading. In the alcove where the hourglass is kept, there is an inscribed image of the Hindu deity Ganesha on the wall. The myth of Ganesha’s beheading has been read as being symbolic of castration. Commenting on the myth, Barratt mentions:
Shiva is the supreme godhead. In a certain sense, he is the embodiment of the phallus itself. However, his son, a mortal who will become a deity in mortal form, is ‘castrated’[…] [the] elephant’s trunk is ‘an exaggerated limp phallus’ – large, flaccid and in the wrong location – that thus poses no threat to the father.(Barratt 6-7)
The dagger possesses the power of turning back time, thereby being an instrument that
encapsulates the Oedipal urge of the infant subject of receding back to a state of “wholeness” in the mother’s womb. The Prince’s castration anxiety is manifested through his encounter with his undead father, whom he eventually slays. Yet, he is not able to succeed in his Oedipal fantasy in this case because of the absence of the mother. The Oedipal triangle is more fully realized by the Vizier, the Prince and Farah/Hourglass. The Prince defeats the Vizier who had taken possession of the hourglass and Farah, with the help of the dagger that stands as the primary phallic object. After the death of the Father, the Prince surrenders the phallic object to the mother, that is, to Farah thereby reinstating the perceived wholeness between the infant subject and the mother. The Prince associates his identity with a name, only in respect to Farah’s perception of him. At one point in the narrative, the Prince learns of a seemingly nonsensical word from Farah that opens a
secret passage in the palace. Farah had learnt this “magic word” from her mother. This
matrilineal magic word is “Kakolookiyam”, reminiscent of the Kristevian chora that the prince accepts as his name. In the end, the Oedipal fantasy is not fulfilled as Farah repels the Prince’s advances and he is forced to leave her domain to return to society, in a world that has been restored to order and where his father has been brought back to life.
Barratt, Barnaby B. “Ganesha’s lessons for psychoanalysis: Notes on fathers and sons, sexuality
and death.” Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society, vol. 14, no. 4, 2009, pp. 317-336.
Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Columbia University Press, 1982.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. PC game, Ubisoft Montreal, 2003
Hiranya Mukherjee graduated from Presidency University, Kolkata with an undergraduate degree in English Literature, in 2021. His article, “Mirrors of Disruption: Interrogating the Abject in Brightburn, The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter”, has gotten published in the International Journal of English Literature and Social Sciences. His research interests include Gothic studies, Narrative Studies, Game Studies, Medievalism, Comparative Mythology, and Fantasy Fiction.