"The Humpback" was another story in which stories were told within stories to the point that every time they would emerge to the original narrative I would think "Oh yeah, right, the humpback thing." It's a story about a humpback who is cruelly murdered, the body then passed off to someone else who thinks they accidentally killed him, and then passed off to another person, and so on. The whole line of presumed murderers are hauled before the Sultan who seems delighted by the odd tale and says, "Who has ever heard a story so strange?" One of the presumed murderers is innocent of knowledge of rhetorical questions and tells a strange tale. The Sultan does not think it more wonderful than the tale of the humpback and condemns them all to die. Then they each take a stab at telling a more wonderful tale. The barber in the final portion of the tale brings Sancho Panza to mind so tangibly that it suggests Cervantes was familiar with the story. The story ends far more happily than I ever could have imagined the story ending, save for the fact that the people who initially forced food down the humpback's throat never receive their comeuppance.
In that story, we get a taste of some of the cultural differences. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all appear within the tale. There is also this culture of criminal justice that seems, at once, horrible and effective. For example, thieves who are caught get their right hands cut off. This, essentially, dooms them to be social outcasts in the extreme (in essence, they will be universally shunned, most likely to the point of one form of death or another). Which is good if you want a crime-free society, bad if there is ever occasion for someone to be wrongfully accused or misunderstood. And guess what!
"Nur-Ed-Din and Enis-El-Jelis" was, for me, the weakest offering in the collection thus far. The only point of interest for me was the secret lair which reminded me very much of the garden of Hassan-i Sabbah. Other than that I am not sure why Dr. Eliot included this piece.
You may be familiar with "Es-Sindibad of the Sea" in other incarnations more commonly known as Sinbad the Sailor. Like so many classics that have suffered multiple reinterpretations for popular general consumption, I found it to be both familiar and alien. This is not a cutesy Popeye cartoon. I like how the fantastical is presented in such a matter of fact manner in all of these stories. I also like how the fantastical is not mere brain candy but pushes the narrative forward. I was taken aback at the appearance of the cyclops story from The Odyssey. It isn't exact, but it is very close to the same story, although the racial undertones may be problematic to modern Western eyes.
I audibly gasped when Sindibad is dropped into the pit with his dead wife, and specifically at how he sustains his life in the pit. I think one of the compelling elements of 1,001 Nights is that it presents a world both whimsical and dark, often mingled in the same moments. I am a little surprised that this book is not more widely read in our time as we seem to love being attracted and repulsed at the same time.
In the next section, I have two more stories I've never heard of and two I have. Of the two I have heard of, if they resemble the versions I grew up knowing, the first deals with a door that requires a secret word to open, the second deals with a magic lamp.