Monday, February 09, 2009

The Arabian Nights

The Arabian Nights

I was familiar with the famous story of the king that took a different bride every night, killing her in the morning. A beautiful girl named Scheherazade is chosen one evening, and to save herself begins spinning fantastic yarns that can’t be finished in a single session and so she is allowed to live another day. When actually reading this, however, I was amazed at how little I really knew. The back story of why the king was killing women was interesting; apparently he was jilted by his first queen and resolved to never be hurt again. And the heroine wasn’t simply unlucky to be picked and survived with her wits, she volunteered to save the lives of the women of her kingdom. This nobility and courage is reflected in many of the stories told, and eventually heals the king’s irrational distrust of women.

Another surprising tidbit was that two of the most famous tales—Aladdin and the Magic Lamp and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves—aren’t actually part of the original Arabian Nights. Because the tales developed out of an oral tradition, there isn’t any single reference version of the book. Over the years, various authors, translators, and storytellers have added chapters to expand the scope of the adventure, and apparently Aladdin and Ali Baba (included as an afterward) are two of these added later. The Seven Voyages of Sinbad are considered by some experts to be another set of “orphan” tales, but this edition includes them in the main text. Regardless of the dubious authenticity, I loved this book. Almost 700 pages, but I read it all in nearly one sitting while flying to Singapore.

First Sentence:
Sir, there was formerly a merchant who had a great estate in lands, goods, and money.

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