Late in the project, I’m going off-piste. The story of Aladdin, translated by Ursula Lyons, sits at the very end of Volume III of my Penguin Classics edition. The tale is not part of the Calcutta II text, but the publishers have included a version anyway. This is presumably due to its popularity and cultural impact.
However, I am reluctant to read it after I have finished the main work. After so many Nights in the world of Shahrazad, I would like the conclusion of her story to be the finale to my reading experience. So this week I skipped ahead to Aladdin. My next recap will return to the proper sequence, and the last set of stories before Shahrazad finally falls silent.
When I began ‘A Thousand And One Recaps’ I created a dedicated Twitter account for the project: @1001recaps. I post links to each of the recaps and the other blog posts on this site, and share other people’s tweets about The Arabian Nights.
To that end, I have a saved search for ‘Arabian Nights’ on Tweetdeck. It presents a stream of tweets that use that phrase, which in turn has revealed many interesting thoughts, articles and artworks about Shahrazad and her stories.
But I have also noticed four major recurring themes. They are:
946—952 Harun al-Rashid and Abu’l-Hasan of Oman • 952—959 Ibrahim and Jamila • 959—963 Abu’l-Hasan al-Khurasani
Two of the three stories in this sequence start with a caliph venturing incognito into the streets of his city. This is a common trope in The Arabian Nights, but not one to which I have devoted many words to so far. It’s not unheard of in reality: There’s a marvellous story about a young Charles I (when he was just a prince) taking a road-trip through Europe; and the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret famously ventured onto the streets of London during the V.E. Day celebrations in 1945. I do not doubt there are examples from elsewhere in the world, too. Continue reading “Nights 946 to 963: Caliphs, Incognito”
To help plan my recaps, I created a list of every story in The Arabian Nights. This is derived from the indices at the back of the three volumes of the Penguin Classics editions. I thought I may as well post on the site, and it is pasted below.
I used the same list to create a rudimentary visualisation of the stories: their relative sizes, and how they nest within one another.
First, I created a spreadsheet (Arabian_Nights_Contents.csv, 18KB) which lists the stories by ‘level’ (i.e. whether they are told directly by Shahrazad, or one of the characters within one of her stories). The sheet also lists the number of Nights that a story spans, and also the number of pages the story covers in the Penguin Classics edition.
(Given more time, I might have also listed the number of bytes that each story consumes when rendered the HTML format found on the Project Gutenberg editions).
I used this data to generate a simple webpage. My version presents separate columns for each of the three Penguin Classics volumes, but could just as easily have been a single long list.
930—940 Abu Qir and Abu Sir • 940—946 ‘Abd Allah of the land and ‘Abd Allah of the sea
I had planned to recap four stories, all the way to Night 963, and I have actually read that far. But I wrote a fair amount on the first two stories, so I will post a recap of the second two (the tale of Ibrahim and Jamila; and the tale of Abu’l-Hasan al-Khurasani) later in the week.
We’re getting close to the end now. Back in Volumes I and II, and even in the early part of Volume III (before the long tale of Hasan of Basra) the nights seemed endless. A permanent fixture in my world. Now we’re on Night nine-hundred-and-something, the world becomes uncertain again. The book is contained, finite, mortal, and it is coming to a close.
Anyone who loves books or box-sets knows this feeling. ‘Bereavement’ is too strong a word, but it’s on that emotional spectrum. Re-reads and re-watches can never recreate the experience of the new. Prepare for the inevitable withdrawal, as “I am reading” becomes “I have read.” The last page of this book will be particularly jarring, because the book has dominated my reading, and my conversational repertoire, for months now. What will I talk about? Continue reading “Night 930 to 946: The Disruptors”
Shrinas’s son does this through a fairly simple trick, convincing the foreign king’s messenger that Wird Khan’s power is far greater than in reality – a classic military tactic. The modern literary parallel that springs immediately to my mind is the Mouse in The Gruffalo…
Throughout my reading of The Arabian Nights, I have often thought of the work of the British children’s author Julia Donaldson. Her books all seem to have “some element of surprise, shock, astonishment,” that ‘Borgesian quirkiness,’ that also imbues most of Shahrazad’s tales. Such a sensibility is not unique to Julia Donaldson, of course… but it is a trait that seems particularly strong in her œuvre. Indeed, the commonality even extends to many of the extremely short phonics books that she has written for children learning to read. Continue reading “The Arabian Nights and The Work of Julia Donaldson”
896—899 The young man of Baghdad and his slave girl 899—930 King Jali ad and his son, Wird Khan • 900—901 The story of the cat and the mouse • 902 The story of the ascetic and his butter jar • 903 The story of the fish and the crab • 903 The story of the crow and the snake • 904 The story of the wild ass and the jackal • 905 The story of the unrighteous king and the pilgrim prince • 906 The story of the crows • 907 The story of the snake charmer • 907 The story of the spider and the wind • 909—910 The story of the two kings • 910 The story of the blind man and the cripple • 918 The story of the foolish fisherman • 919 The story of the boy and the thieves • 919 The story of the merchant and his wife • 920 The story of the merchant and the thieves • 921 The story of the jackals and the wolf • 921—922 The story of the shepherd and the thief • 924 The story of the partridge and the tortoises
Many weeks ago, when discussing The Arabian Nights foray into fables that begin on Night 145, I mentioned the widely accepted theory that the text has many authors. I suggested that there might be a ‘Monarchical author’ who wrote about kings (“where magic is all but absent”) and an ‘Allegorical author’ who produces the short morality tales about animals.