Bill Kerwin's Reviews > Arabian Nights: The Marvels and Wonders of The Thousand and One Nights

Arabian Nights by Anonymous
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's review
Apr 05, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: fantasy, proto-novels, weird-fiction, picaresque

Sir Richard Burton has said "there is no 'Nights' without the nights," and I agree with him. Without the frame story of the "Thousand Nights and a Night," the stories themselves--while still a fascinating collection of Oriental folklore filled with fine examples of the extemporaneous storyteller's art--lack resonance and depth. As told by Scheherazade, however, each individual story is not only a stratagem enabling her literally to keep her head on her shoulders for one more night, but--taken together--they also function as a three-year course in civility and tolerance for her murderous spouse, a man made vicious and half-mad by a former wife's adultery. The corpus of the tales--by exhibiting examples of a variety of women (the virtuous and resourceful as well as the manipulative and adulterous), by showing the consequences of revenge and the beauties of forgiveness--help Scheherazade heal the psychically wounded shah who in time becomes not only a good man but also a good king, one who appreciates not only the mystery of woman, but also the importance of mercy and compassion--praise be to Allah, the source of both!--in the pageant of human existence.

Like all great books--as opposed to the perfect merely good ones--"The Arabian Nights" can often be infuriating. Many of the tales are little more than examples of what Henry James termed the easiest form of fictional invention, the improvisation, and others are too coarse for the modern sensibility, with their humor or horror derived from dwarfs, paralytics and the maimed. At the best, however, the tales are mesmerizing, creating a world of marvels that is nevertheless so gritty and real that you can almost smell the scents of the bazaar and see the variety of people parading down the palace avenues, crowding into the alleys and streets. And then, of course, there are the maidens, each as beautiful as a moon.

The very best tales are the ones you already know--The Fisherman and the Djinn, Aladdin, Ali Baba, Sinbad the Sailor--but there are others here almost as good: "The Tale of Three Apples" tells a story of rift and reconciliation across the generations that-in its bittersweet, twilight wisdom--reminds me of the tragi-comedies of Shakespeare, and "The Tale of Judar and his Brothers"--a darker, more marvelous version of the biblical story of Joseph--unites magic and tragedy in a surprising and memorable way.
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Reading Progress

April 5, 2012 – Started Reading
April 5, 2012 – Shelved
November 30, 2012 – Shelved as: fantasy
November 30, 2012 – Shelved as: proto-novels
November 30, 2012 – Shelved as: weird-fiction
November 30, 2012 – Finished Reading
December 1, 2012 – Shelved as: picaresque

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by WarpDrive (new)

WarpDrive Nice review - the very complex history of the "Arabian Nights" with all its multifaceted cultural contributions is also quite fascinating.

message 2: by Michael (new)

Michael Perkins nicely written

message 3: by Vanessa (last edited Sep 16, 2017 12:19PM) (new) - added it

Vanessa Excellent review . I'm sure Scheheradze would enjoy reading it .
The tale of The Three Apples is my personal favorite : )

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