Books - Reviews

Arabian Nights Volume I: Marvels and Wonders of Thousand and One Nights

Book Title: Arabian Nights: The Marvels and Wonders of Thousand and One Nights Volume 1

Author: Unknown

Translator: Sir Richard Frances Burton

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Folklore

Rating: 4/5

The book “Arabian Nights: Marvels and Wonders of Thousand and One Nights” is a collection of folktales of Arab, Persian, and Indian origin written by an unknown author. Set in the middle ages, the book opens with the frame tale of a vengeful King, Shah Shahryar, who develops a hatred for women after his wife’s infidelity. As a result, every night he would take a young virgin girl as his bride and execute her at the dawn of the next day. This continues to happen for quite a long time until there are no women left in his Kingdom except for the two daughters of his Vizier, Scheherazade, and Dinazade. Scheherazade, the eldest daughter is a wise, learned woman, and a gifted storyteller. She takes it upon herself to protect not only herself but also the women of her country from these senseless killings. Hence, Scheherazade volunteers to be the King’s next bride, despite her father’s protests. Now, every night, she narrates a story to Shah Shahryar and deliberately leaves it unfinished, ending on a cliffhanger, before dawn to pique his curiosity and to prevent him from executing her. This continues to happen for one thousand and one nights until Shah Shahryar is convinced of her chastity. (Hats off to this woman, by the way. It is not an easy task to narrate stories night after night.)

Anyway, that was about the frame tale. Now let’s talk about the tales. I loved most of the stories in the book, especially the ones that have elements of fairy tales in them such as, “The Tale of the Merchant and the Jinnee,” “The Ebony Horse,” “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp,” “Julnar the Mermaid and Her Son Badar Basim of Persian,” “The Tale of Judar and His Brothers,” and “Sindbad the Seaman and Sindbad the Landsman.” Although there are fairy tale elements in these stories, they are in no way appropriate for children. Overall, the book is a smooth read and the language is fine too, but some parts of the book include scenes of sexual nature. There is also the use of vulgar and offensive language in some places, making it an inappropriate read for children. Apart from that, a lot of stories have elements of racism and misogyny. Some stories showed women as commodities; however, there are also stories in which women are shown as cunning and men docile and innocent. However, it must be kept in mind that the book was written a long time ago in an era when these things were considered normal and acceptable. Therefore, we need to read these stories through the lens of their historical context.

On the other hand, if we see the character of Scheherazade, we will find her to be a strong female character in the story. She is not only the symbol of feminism but also the sane voice who used her brain and skills to educate Shah Shahryar and put sense into his head as well as helped other women to protect themselves from the wrath of the vengeful King. She seems to have an altruistic personality, in my opinion, for she decided to change the fate of the women of her kingdom by putting herself in jeopardy. For me, Scheherazade’s character is quite interesting and progressive keeping in mind the time in which it is written.

Some parts of the stories didn’t make much sense to me. For example, the justice of the King in the “Tale of the Three Apples” was very twisted. I found the King and his judgment quite stupid. Although I enjoyed all the stories, however, “The Tale of the Barber and His Brothers” was not something I enjoyed and though they were meant to be comic, I just couldn’t find them funny or humorous. In my opinion, there is no humor in the degradation of another person. Sadly, the Barber had seven brothers and I had to read all the seven stories that were more or less the same and I was getting bored by the end. I was relieved when his stories came to an end.

One of the stories that I thoroughly enjoyed in this book was the seven voyages of Sindbad the Seaman. According to the introduction of the book by Daniel Beaumont “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp” and “Ali Baba and Forty Thieves” were not parts of the original manuscript of the tales, which is why these stories were known as the “orphan stories.” They were later added by Antoine Galland, the French translator who undertook the task of translating these tales. Also, as I searched the internet about it, I came to know that Sindbad’s tale was also not part of the original manuscript. These stories were narrated to Galland by a woman named Hanna Diyab. The introduction of the book also states that “the earliest evidence of the book is a ninth-century papyrus found in Egypt.” These tales were later sent to Galland during the early 17th century, who translated them and from there on, they became popular in the Western world.

Nonetheless, these stories are truly amazing and I thoroughly enjoyed them. These tales offer the readers a glimpse into the society and culture of the ninth century Arab and Persia. It took me a couple of months to finish this book, but it was worth it. They reminded me of the bedtime stories I used to read when I was a kid, however, I would like to mention it again that these stories are not for kids. In my opinion, this book is a valuable read for anyone interested in folklore, cultural history, or classic literature. For me, it deserves 4/5 stars.