Handsome Paul (and the Anonymous Princess Who Saved His Ass)

Don’t let the title of this tale fool you. It may be called “Handsome Paul,” but Paul is, at best, the co-star of this show. He’d be nowhere without a certain princess, who shall remain nameless for the simple reason that she has no name.

To be fair, the rest of her family is also anonymous. Only Paul has a name here, for the literary equivalent of a “spot the main character” meme.

I will be picturing Paul as Yugi for the rest of this post.

Because it’s a pain to just call her “the princess” all the time, I’ll refer to her as Anonymous.

I will also be picturing the princess like this.

I don’t have a problem with Paul, really. He seems fine. It’s just that, for a hero, he doesn’t do much himself.

A Summary of Paul’s Heroic Deeds

  1. Meets a giant, who carries him to the king’s palace
  2. Falls in love with the princess, and gets thrown in prison by her parents
  3. Uses magical items the princess gave him to complete impossible tasks (well, he snaps the magical whip, and devils come and do his chores for him)
  4. Beats up some horses (actually the royal family in disguise) with an iron bar (killing the two older princesses)
  5. Plays along and doesn’t accidentally reveal his identity when the princess magically disguises them to escape from her parents
  6. Is chosen by the princess to become her consort after her parents die and she is crowned queen (Are you still picturing them as Yugi from Yu-Gi-Oh! and a Guy Fawkes mask? Because I am.)
Yugi and Anonymous
My power is unto a god’s, and I have used it for evil.

Overall, Paul is more of Anonymous’ sidekick than a hero. It’s to his credit that he recognizes this and contributes what he can in support of the princess’s quick thinking and magical powers. They make a good team, and by working together thwart the king and queen.

What’s In a Name?

In one way, it’s ridiculous to call this story “Handsome Paul.” Paul isn’t hero material. He didn’t earn that recognition. If anything, the story should be named after Anonymous (who should have an actual name), or else everyone could be nameless, and you could simply call it “The Clever Princess.”

On the other hand, the title perfectly encapsulates Paul’s place and role in the narrative. The title contains his only assets (besides an ability to follow directions): “Handsome” and “Paul.” That’s it. He is handsome, which is how he first catches the princess’s eye. He has a name to single him out as the story’s focus, because if we were to go by actions alone, the princess would steal his spotlight.

In short, Paul’s status both as hero and as main character come through borrowed magic — the powers lent him by the unnamed princess, and the narrative power of a name among an otherwise nameless cast.

The princess was lucky, in a way. She might not get a name, but she did end up ruling a kingdom. As I mentioned in “Where Are the Badass Women?” female characters — even those presented as main characters — often fall into “helper” roles in fairy and folk tales. Most of those women suffer more and gain less than the princess in this tale.

I could draw another parallel between the anonymous princess in this story and the multitudes of anonymous heroines in history, those never named or whose names were ignored in favor of a man’s. After all, history is just another kind of story, and like any story, it’s subject to narrative techniques and interpretation.


4 thoughts on “Handsome Paul (and the Anonymous Princess Who Saved His Ass)

  1. I really enjoyed your post! I love your explanation of Paul’s name, and I always wonder why an author will not give a name to certain characters like the princess. I think it is interesting that the princess is the most powerful in the story, but she is unnamed. I also like how you linked to your other blog post. Great job!


  2. That was a really fascinating read. While I won’t pretend to know much of anything about folklore, fairy tales, and myths, I think the point you bring up about the female portrayal in fiction (and even in non-fiction if spun that way) is really important. As a gamer, I immediately thought of my video games and how women are often presented as damsels in distress or lesser than their male counterparts, even when they are clearly shown to be the more capable of the two. It has become a sad reality with how often that narrative has been repeated.
    The nameless aspect really got me thinking… Is there a commentary to be made, as you have done, by making her nameless? How many unrecognized heroes, fighters, caretakers, etc. go unnoticed because they are working behind the scenes or don’t care about recognition? Could we say they are equivalent to the nameless princess? Or how many women go “nameless” because of their sex deeming them not worth recognizing? Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment! I would love to have been able to bring up a larger pattern regarding names/namelessness and its relation to gender in fairy tales in general. But while I can hypothesize that such a connection exists, I would need to do a lot more research to see whether it’s a definite pattern, and what that exact pattern is. And even if I narrowed it down to analyzing tales from just one culture or region over a set period of time, that would still be quite the task.

      After I’ve re-familiarized myself with everything I half-forgot over the last few years (I was obsessed for a while, then got distracted, and only came back to this topic a couple months ago), maybe then I’ll return to the idea of naming conventions and gender in folklore.

      Liked by 1 person

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