1001 Nights

Few regions are as renowned for their fantastic stories and epic poetry as Arabia, the area of Northern Africa and the Middle East. Probably the most famous collection of stories are the volumes of 1001 Nights (titled Arabian Nights in the first English publication). The many tales held within the collection all stem from one main frame story. It begins with a Sultan, Shahryar, who learns his wife is cheating on him. Outraged and heartbroken, he executes her, and remarries a young virgin. However, in his bitterness and grief, he decides that all women are the same, and the morning after consummating the marriage, executes his new wife before she can become unfaithful to him. This happens multiple times, with Shahryar executing each of his brides, until there are no more suitable virgins left for him to marry. Instead, the daughter of the Sultan’s vizier, who was not a virgin, offers to marry him. Her father reluctantly agrees, and the daughter, Scheherazade, goes to bed with Shahryar.  What her new husband did not know, was that Scheherazade was a fantastic storyteller, and on the first night she spun Shahryar the most captivating tale he’d ever heard. But Scheherazade, who was clever, never finished the story that night. Instead she told Shahryar that she was tired, and promised to finish it the following night. Shahryar, who was too curious to go without hearing the end of the story, decided to post-pone his wife’s execution until the next day. That night, Scheherazade finished the story as promised, but then began another, leaving it similarly incomplete at night’s end and promising to finish it the next evening. And so it went, with Scheherazade beginning, but never finishing, a new story each night, for 1001 nights. These are the tales that now make up the pages of this great work.

Three of the most famous of these stories are Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor, and Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp. In the first, Ali Baba discovers a cave kept by forty thieves filled with treasure, whose entrance only opens with the words, “Open Sesame.”  He manages to get into the cave and take much of the treasure for his poor family, but soon his richer brother grows jealous and goes back to the cave to steal some for himself. But by the time he goes to leave with his prize, he’s forgotten the password and gets stuck inside the cave, where he is discovered and killed by the bandits. Ali Baba eventually goes back and removes his brother’s body from the cave, which alerts the thieves to there being another person aware of their secret. Thus the search for Ali Baba begins, with each attempt made by the thieves to find and kill him being thwarted by Ali Baba’s clever slave, Morgiana–one of the toughest women you’ll ever read about.

Sinbad is a sailor who consistently runs into trouble on his voyages, but always manages to return to Baghdad with more treasure than ever before. Some examples of the challenges he must face include landing on what his crew thinks is an island, but is actually a giant fish which then drags their ship underwater; or when Sinbad is enslaved by the Old Man of the Sea, who forces Sinbad to swim with him on his back until the sailor manages to get him drunk and hit him in the head with a rock.

Most famous perhaps is the story of Aladdin, the inspiration for the Disney movie.  It’s a story of an impoverished boy who is tricked into entering a dangerous cave by a malicious sorcerer. Aladdin ends up being trapped in the cave with the oil lamp he was sent to find. As he rubs his hands for warmth around the lamp, a powerful genie appears. With the help of the genie, Aladdin escapes the cave, marries the emperor’s daughter and creates his own, beautiful palace. Although the sorcerer eventually tricks the princess into giving the lamp to him, Aladdin is able to stop him by summoning a lesser genie from the ring the sorcerer had once given to him for protection. The lamp is returned to him, and Aladdin and his family are able to live happily ever after.

As always, I’m over my word count. Again, hope you enjoyed, and please comment your requests!

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