Untangling The Arabian Nights
January 25, 2022
Fellow folklore enthusiasts, we have a confession.
We don’t know a ton about the folkloric masterpiece The Arabian Nights, also known as The Thousand and One Nights.
Not yet, anyway!
Sure, we know some things – we know about the awesomeness that is Scheherazade, weaver of stories and enchanter of murderous kings with bizarre ideas about women. We know that, in the 19th century, Richard Burton put out a 16-volume “translation” that was not especially accurate but that people went wild for anyway. We know Disney made Aladdin in 1992 (and filled it with some stellar songs but also some pretty racist stereotypes), that it contains one of the best and earliest examples we have of a frame story, and that the French translation was the first to use the iconic phrase “open sesame.” We even know that the ATU 410 “Sleeping Beauty”-like story, “The Ninth Captain’s Tale,” that’s sometimes included is actually Egyptian and not officially part of the Nights at all (to Brittany’s supreme disappointment.)
We’ve even met Ulrich Marzolph, one of the most prominent Nights scholars in the world (he’s super nice!)
But beyond some vague ideas about a few of the most popular stories, we’re otherwise pretty unfamiliar with the text and have never actually read it – which we consider a huge oversight on our part! Are we folk narrative scholars or what??
So, as you may have seen in our “How To Get Involved at Carterhaugh” post from two weeks ago, we’re fixing this!
On February 1st, next Tuesday, we’re going to start reading through The Arabian Nights, one story at a time, with our Patreon community. We’ll read one story every week (so it’s NOT a big time commitment!) For each story, we’ll make a post on our Patreon where we can talk about it. You can post reactions, discussion, questions, anything you like on this post. We’ll also sometimes post behind-the-scenes stuff of our own reading adventures. But there’s no video, no homework, no intense prep needed – just a fairy tale a week to savor with everyone. And we do mean everyone – this activity will be open to EVERYONE that supports us on Patreon, from the $1 tier and up.
We’re not gonna lie – this is going to take a while :P. But we also think it’s going to be a ton of fun – it’s basically a fairy-tale readalong!
You can, of course, read any version of the stories we post that you like, but we’ll be reading from THIS GLORIOUS BEAST –
This is The Annotated Arabian Nights: Tales from 1001 Nights translated by Yasmine Seale and it really is stunning. Take a look at some of the pages inside –
It’s packed with illustrations, photographs, annotations, and stories (plus a lengthy, fascinating introduction!) But honestly, the best part is the translation itself – as her publisher puts it, “Seale’s distinctly contemporary and lyrical translations break decisively with this masculine dynasty, finally stripping away the deliberate exoticism of Orientalist renderings while reclaiming the vitality and delight of the stories” – huzzah!
It’s so pretty we even made a TikTok video flipping through the pages for you!
We do want to note that this edition does NOT include every single story that’s part of The Arabian Nights – instead, it includes many of the most popular stories, some of the tales from the French translation, and a few retellings – but, as folklorists, we love the different contexts and perspectives this edition brings. Seale is working on a full translation of ALL the stories now, but, at 816 pages, we think this book is a good place to start!
We would absolutely love to have you join us for this adventure, so head on over to our Patreon by clicking here, sign up (remember, all tiers can participate!), and watch for our first story post, “The Story of King Shahriyar and His Visier’s Daughter, Shahrazad” (P. 3-19), on February 1st!