The Arabian Nights – Book Review

arabianThank heavens I’m finished reading The Arabian Nights! Although I can appreciate the magical and fantastical elements that have made these tales so popular since the 9th century, I just groaned through the whole thing. Guess it would be helpful to mention that I’m a little impatient with fairy and folk tales having read Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Japanese Fairy Tales earlier this year. I just find them dry as toast!

The Arabian Nights begins with the famous tale of Scheherazade, the wife of a king who delays her own execution by telling the king a fascinating story every night, but ending with a cliff hanger so he will keep her around for another day and another story. The stories that make up the collection include Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor.

The stories in the Arabian Nights are believed to originate from Arabic, Persian, Indian, Egyptian and Mesopotamian folklore and literature, dating back to the 8th or 9th century. The collection was translated over the centuries in Persian and Arabic, but not introduced to a Western audience until the 19th century when it was translated in French by Antoine Galland. My collection is edited by Andrew Lang who was a Scottish journalist, poet, critic, historian and collector of fairy tales and folklore.

From my Classics Club Spin Result Post for The Arabian Nights.

I admit I started reading the book with very low expectations I would enjoy it. When I began reading about Scheherazade, I questioned for a moment whether I was being too harsh because her character was brave and clever, and I actually admired her spunk. However, she quickly disappears never to be heard from again as we get deeper and deeper into the tales. I guess we can assume Scheherazade lived until she ran out of ideas one thousand and one nights later?

The Arabian Nights are tales within tales. The end of one tale would begin another tale. Everyone had to share their story! It was very confusing to remember whose story I was reading as similar characters (royalty, caliphs, grand-vizars) were usually involved in similar situations (someone who is poor gets rich, someone who is mean or greedy gets karmic payback, someone wears a disguise, someone gets turned into a animal, etc.). Some of the tales are very long-winded containing two or three mini-stories.

My main beef with these tales is that I find them boring. But I realize The Arabian Nights comes from an oral tradition and is not meant to: (1) provide any kind of sophisticated plot or character development; (2) be read/heard one after the other, and cause confusion or sound the same; and (3) was merely a simple way for nomadic cultures to entertain and promote positive values.

So sorry The Arabian Nights. It’s not you, it’s me.

Best tale:  The Story of Two Sisters Who Were Jealous of Their Younger Sister. I actually enjoyed this tale because the main female character was intelligent and successfully completed a quest that her two brothers failed.

Worst tale:  Not sure because I still can’t tell them apart.


6 comments on “The Arabian Nights – Book Review

  1. Sam @ Tiny Library
    October 3, 2013

    Which translation did you read? I read the Richard Burton one and simply loved it, but then I was in the mood for it plus I’ve loved some of the more famous tales since a child. I think you really have to be in the mood for stories like this.


    • ebookclassics
      October 4, 2013

      The version I read was translated by Andrew Lang. The stories were good, but I just wasn’t into them. I did love Aladdin and stories like that when I was a kid. Maybe I’m just too old and grumpy now!


  2. Ekaterina
    October 4, 2013

    Well, if it makes you feel a bit better, Shahryār spared Scheherazade’s life in the end 🙂 On the last night she brought him the three sons she had already had from him (I’m wondering she wasn’t taking nights off for giving birth! :)) and begged for mercy. And he stopped hating and killing women and she became his wife.

    Congrats on finishing it! I also found it difficult to track which stories were told by whom, especially if I stopped reading in the middle of one. But I guess I had much more distractions than Shahryār did! 🙂


    • ebookclassics
      October 5, 2013

      Wow, three sons! She should’ve been sitting very pretty after that. I do feel better knowing what happened to Scheherazade because she was so interesting. I wonder why my version of the stories didn’t include what happened to her.


  3. DoingDewey
    October 6, 2013

    I read this before I started blogging, which means my memory of it is slightly faded, but I’m pretty sure I also liked Scheherazade and was disappointed that she wasn’t a larger part of the book. Great review 🙂


    • ebookclassics
      October 7, 2013

      Thanks so much! I don’t know for sure, but I’m sure someone must have written an entire book about her story. She’s too interesting as a character.


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