The Stories contained in Arabian Nights have been handed down from generation to generation and are just as compelling today as they were when first told. This collection, specially selected and edited by Andrew Lang is a wonderful anthology, and will delight readers young and old.
Original publication date
The famous opening remains in place with the tale of Scheherazade beguiling her Sultan with stories to prevent his murdering of a new wife each morning. From here the collection rapidly fragments into new stories sometimes intertwinned as characters in one story narrate their adventures in the form of a new story. Once this loop fails to close, utterly abandoning the reader. Scheherazade is quickly forgotten and never reappears. Indeed only Sinbad lasts fro more than a tale or two, and he is limited to his famous seven exploits.
The stories themselves are all very similar. A Prince or princess or merchant suffers a hardship, bemoans their fate, meets a magical being, and regains a rich life full of treasure. Strangely teh singular form of genii is given as genius throughout which is a bit confusing. Likewise the difference between the various sorts of beings and human castes is never explained, but expected to be known to the reader. Kings seem to be a kind on minor noble much below the tank of Sultan or Caliph which seems odd to western traditions.
Notably different from western Fairy Tales in setting, if not in morals, it makes interesting reading to start with, but quickly becomes overly similar. I'm glad not all 1001 nights are reproduced here.
I enjoyed the stories for the Middle Eastern atmosphere and flavor but over time found the stories, even though richly told with diverse characters and situations, started to have a 'same old, same old' feel to them. Even today, these are great stories of morals, values and beliefs gone astray and the result of that straying from the set path. I found it amusing how the great Caliph can borrow a peasant's clothes and in the blink of an eye, even his own grand vizir can no longer recognize him - those must be magic clothes! - and how some of the characters are transformed into persons of brilliant beauty because they took a bath.... removing a month of grime probably would have that effect, although there is no indication that routine bathing was not an established habit. The violence was slightly perturbing. It is amazing how what we might today consider lesser transgressions of mischief brought about the quick execution of the miscreants and just how gullible some of the well-to-do Sultans, Princes, etc were in the stories. The Arabian Nights Entertainments is a good title for the collection. For the most part, the stories were very entertaining. I particularly liked how the stories have a nice gender balance and the women weren't just shadow figures in the stories. Some were smarter than the men and saved the day (so to speak) while others were powerful magicians (both good and evil).
While we think that most fables and fairy tales are stories for adults to read to their children, I was intrigued to learn that these Arabian Nights tales were created for and told to an adult audience by people whose profession at the time was to amuse men and women by telling tales. I can see how an adult would view these stories differently than a child would, and gain deeper meaning from them. If you have never read the stories of the Arabian Nights before, Lang's smaller collection may be a good place to start before attempting to tackle one of the larger, more complete collections of stories such as Richard Burton's English version or Antoine Galland's French version.
However, this translation is suitable for children while Burton's translation is not. Although Andrew Lang's language can seem somewhat archaic at times, it is nowhere near as archaic as Burton's.