Yeah, Boromir knows what he's talking about :) I've read a full academical edition of One Thousand and One Nights, which is 3624 pages long, around 600 of them comprising the commentary section. The photo below shows how the edition I read looks like in print:
See, it's much more than one book! :) Luckily, it has been scanned and made into an ebook, otherwise I wouldn't be able to get hold of it. Anyway, I'm so proud of myself, that I simply had to boast! Applause, please! :) I started last spring, so it took me a year and a half to finish this, as reading it non-stop is not something you'd want to do. So I read a tale or two each time I finished a book, which made the Nights rather entertaining instead of boring. I have no idea how to write a proper review for such a giant as One Thousand and One Nights, so I'll just write some random thoughts about it in no particular order.
1) Contrary to what many people (probably after reading some adapted edition) think, these tales are NOT for children. There's a lot of sex descriptions (including some really perverse things), cheesy and weird euphemisms, rudeness and violence, Muslim propaganda and war scenes. These are tales for adults, and adults who are not easily shocked.
2) Ali-Baba and Aladdin tales are NOT in the collection. They are "orphan" tales and made it to the book somewhere on the long way from Asia to Europe the text has travelled. Sindbad however IS in the collection, and his journeys are as numerous and adventurous as I had imagined them.
3) Tales is the most important thing in the world of One Thousand and One Nights. By telling a suitable story you can convince somebody of something, save somebody's life, pay for something and bring the bounty of the Sultan on you and your family. There are tales inside tales inside tales in this collection, and it's easy to get lost in all this complexity.
4) There's a lot of poetry in the stories, sometimes even too much. Some stories even look like they were devised only as a frame for poetry. The verses are difficult to understand and relate to, probably because we now read them from a page and not hear a harem beauty singing them while accompanying herself on a lute.
5) The ideal of a man in the book is very feminine. They cry and faint all the time, get compared with a moon, have soft skin and thin waist, use perfume, etc. One of the favourite plot devices in the stories is dressing a man as a woman or a woman as a man, and nobody notices!
6) There are different types of the stories. First, I would distinguish shortish fables. They are usually a night long and feature animals. Sounds familiar, right? I usually fail to get the moral though, because they thought so differently. Second type is the stories about lower people who make their way to fortune through guile and Allah's favour. The third one is heroic stories, featuring princes and kings, that usually tell either of vast conquests and political issues or are moralistic and show how a ruler can and can't behave. Although there are a lot of repetitive elements in the collection, each story a bit different, so it's difficult to have a definitive classification.
7) Religion is very important in the book. It is a reason for conflict and friendship, luck and misery... well, for everything. The characters believe that Allah governs their lives and display the most unbearable fatalism I've ever seen in literature :) It seems that at that time Islam was competing with idolatry and Christianity, so violence against the representatives of both is very frequent.
Well, these are some general thoughts about this huge story collection. Of course, there's much more to say, but this post is already too big and I'm afraid not very exciting for those who haven't read the tales or are not going to read them someday :) Was reading them worth it? Well, yes. This is the kind of book which has influenced TONS of media around the world, and getting to know the primary source is always interesting. But I can't help wishing it was shorter and less repetitive. So if you are not like me and reading an adapted and shortened version doesn't drive you crazy, this may actually be a good thing to do :)
|By my favourite Bilibin|