The Arabian Nights and The Work of Julia Donaldson

Charlie Cook's Favourite Book


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”

To Infinity and Beyond!

Buzz Lightyear

Last week I noted how much I enjoyed the way the tale of Buluqiya tries to describe the almost-infinite, and to invoke a sense of the overwhelming scale of God’s power.

In a lecture, Jorge Luis Borges (discussed previously in relation to these tales) made a marvellous point about the title A Thousand and One Nights, which itself alludes to the eternal:

I want to pause over the title. It is one of the most beautiful in the world … I think it lies in the fact that for us, the word thousand is almost synonymous with infinite. To say a thousand nights is to say infinite nights, countless nights, endless nights. To say a thousand and one nights is to add one to infinity. Let us recall a curious English expression: instead of saying forever, they sometimes say forever and a day. A day has been added to forever. It is reminiscent of a line from Heine, written to a woman: “I will love you eternally and even after.”

— Jorge Luis Borges, Seven Nights (Faber and Faber, 1986), translated by Eliot Weinberger from Seite Noches (Fondo de Cultura Economica, 1980)

Continue reading “To Infinity and Beyond!”

Jorge Luis Borges and the Arabian Nights

Borges in his study

351—352 The rich man who lost and then regained his money

From an earlier recap, where I tried to stick a pin in a certain structural style shared by many of the stories in The Arabian Nights:

Almost all of them include some kind of surprise: A twist in the tale, a moment of irony, or some clever thinking … [an] out-of-the-box moment

I might also have quoted Adam Roberts, who, in comparing the structure of science fiction to that of a joke, writes that

The structure of a joke is a knight’s move: it leads you along a particular narrative trajectory only to finish with a conjurer’s flourish of the unexpected.

Before reading The Arabian Nights I would also have used the word ‘Borgesian.’ The short stories of the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) often exhibit precisely the quirky quality I am trying to describe. But of course these tales I am reading pre-date Borges by hundreds of years, so it is certainly more accurate to say that one can perceive the blueprints for his stories in The Arabian Nights. Continue reading “Jorge Luis Borges and the Arabian Nights”