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”