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Arabian Nights

So, the version I picked up of this is written by Wafa’ Tarnowska, who grew up hearing versions of these stories told by her grandmother, and illustrated by Carole Henaff. Why, you ask, did a person so committed to unabridged books as I am pick up a children’s version of The Arabian Nights? Quite simple, really: I’m told that the real version is extremely explicit and full of sex and seduction and violence – which I completely believe, since even this kids’ version has a lot of “and so-and-so caught his wife in the arms of another man and ran them both through with his sword.”

Thanks very much, I don’t need any more details.

Anyway, this version has beautiful illustrations, and I love Wafa’s introduction that gives both a brief history of the stories themselves and a history of her love of them. The One Thousand and One Nights, it seems, originated with a few stories in India and/or Persia in the early 8th century. It was then translated into Arabic, and Arab stories were added in the 9th and 10th centuries, and from the 13th century it had stories added from Syria and Egypt, finally totaling the number of stories promised. (I find this history incredibly interesting; I hope you do, too!)

Of her grandmother, Wafa’ writes, “I believe that Hanneh had much in common with the heroines she described: daughter of a village sheikh, she left her father’s house as a bride decked with gold jewelry, sold every one of her bracelets and necklaces to educate her children, then used the rest of her dowry to dig a well in the house so that the family would have running water. I dedicate this book to her memory.”

Inspiring, indeed.

Stories in this version include:

  • “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp” (don’t even think you know the story; this one is SO much better than Disney’s!)
  • “The Diamond Anklet” – A Cinderella story, but exchange anklets for shoes and a genie for the fairy godmother (I like this version better than Disney’s, too). And the girl is so lovely, both in beauty and in personality, one can’t help but want the moon for her. (This one is tied for my favorite of the stories in this collection.)
  • “Jullanar of the Sea” – A weird, twisty turny story in which people are turned into animals so often one can hardly keep up with them all!
  • “The Ebony Horse” takes us on magical travels through Persia, Yemen, and Greece on a flying horse and tells of a Yemeni princess who pretends to be mad so that the king of Greece won’t marry her before her true love can come rescue her.
  • “The Speaking Bird and the Singing Tree” is the other tie for my favorite. I love that the shah likes to disguise himself and walk about the streets in the evenings to find out what really happens in his city! Then, the bits of content taken from the stories of Moses and Odysseus. And finally, the two brothers who love their younger sister (who is beautiful and brave and the tender of a lovely garden) so much! What’s not to love?
  • “Prince Kamar el Zaman and Princess Boudour” – in which we see that the central means of protesting to parents by unhappy lovestruck teenagers of this time was fasting either until death or until the loved one was found and brought to the protester. Interesting. Also, quite fun involvement of the djinns in the story.
  • …and, of course, the story frame, in which Shahrazade tells stories to Shahriyar each night to keep him from killing her, gradually winning his trust and thereby saving all the other young women of the kingdom.

One favorite quote: After the first night of storying, Shahriyar says, “It has been a long time since I have enjoyed a story so much. What other tales can you conjure for me?”
Shahrazade replies: “You will have to wait until night falls again, my king. For it is then that the loom of stories weaves it best designs.”

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