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.
Because it’s a pain to just call her “the princess” all the time, I’ll refer to her as Anonymous.
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
- Meets a giant, who carries him to the king’s palace
- Falls in love with the princess, and gets thrown in prison by her parents
- 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)
- Beats up some horses (actually the royal family in disguise) with an iron bar (killing the two older princesses)
- Plays along and doesn’t accidentally reveal his identity when the princess magically disguises them to escape from her parents
- 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.)
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.