Sunday, October 28, 2012

1,001 Nights- Part 3

It seems clear to me that these stories were not all written by the same person.  In the final four stories in this collection two are at nearly opposite poles of quality from the others.

I should have mentioned earlier that this volume is selections from the 1,001 Nights, not the entire series of stories.  The full set usually comes in several volumes.

We start with "The City of Brass" which is another story with which I had no prior familiarity.  My verdict is that the stories worth reading in this collection are the commonly known stories and "The Humpback."  Upon reflection after completing the volume, I assume the book falling out of vogue may have a good deal to do with the racial and religious elements that harken back to a less enlightened time.  Indeed, this may be best for young readers with the maturity, intelligence, and cultural awareness to be able to properly understand books like Uncle Remus or Babar.  I would argue that these are valuable reading experiences in spite of (and occasionally because of) the unenlightened times in which they were written.  I am decidedly against the suppression of any book in any context and for any reason.

"The City of Brass" did contain another Homeric parallel (or appropriation perhaps) with the appearance of the Sirens in everything but name.  Otherwise, it is a story of a man who finds people who free Jinn ("Genies" might be the more familiar term although they bear little resemblance to pop culture's approximation of the mythical beings.  More on that later.) confined to bottles by Suleyman (That's Solomon to those of us in Judeo-Christian circles.  And there is a whole load of Solomon fan fiction concerning how he dealt with Jinn).  The man decides that he wants to gather similar bottles and is directed to The City of Brass.  There is an adventure tale of getting to the city and then pages upon pages of the man reading a cautionary inscription on the tomb of someone, then tearing his beard, rending his clothes, and crying until he is insensible.  Eventually they find the cache of Jinn bottles.

"Jullanar of the Sea" seemed to have echoes of  Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" but with a happier ending.  I don't really have much to say about it except that I fully expect to die without ever having read it again.

We end with two of the most famous stories from the series.  The first is "Ala-Ed-Din and the Wonderful Lamp."  This was, in my humble opinion, the best story in the whole series.  It differs significantly from the Western pop culture re-tellings.  There are two Moorish wizards and a Wezir as the antagonists.  The princess is named Bedr-el-Budur.  The body count is WAY higher than the Disney version.  But mainly I thought it was simply the best told story in the book.  I was riveted.

"'Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" was, likewise, a ripping yarn, albeit a short one (the shortest in the collection I believe).  I was a little surprised to find that 'Ali Baba's maidservant is the true hero of the story.  In fact, one of the wonderful surprises of the whole collection was that the role of women was not nearly as unenlightened as I might have expected. 

As a quick ending note, this particular volume of the Harvard Classics I found to be stingy with the footnotes.  However, there was an interesting suggestion at the beginning of this last story that 'Ali Baba was, in fact, a retelling of a Germanic myth.  Their evidence is in the phrase "Open, Simsim" which in Arabic would be the more familiar "sesame," but in the old German would read more like "Open, Mountain!"  Which would make more contextual sense as that is precisely what they are asking when they walk up to the rock wall and ask it to open.  

And now I have another volume of myth and folklore ahead of me!

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