Welcome! Please, take a seat as I take you on a journey through the sands of time. The One Thousand and One Nights is a collection of stories known around the world. In America, what is most known about it are two stories: Aladdin and Sinbad.
Surprisingly, these are two add-ons that may or may not have been originally part of the collection of tales. So I know what you may be wondering, if they weren’t part of the One Thousand and One Nights than what were? The collection follows one main story. The story of a cruel king and a young woman named Shahrazad. King Shahrayar, who was cheated on by his first wife, was taking a new bride everyday only to kill her the next day. Shahrazad, daughter of the royal vizier, volunteers (in the Arabic version) to be the king’s next bride. She planned to stop the king and save the women of the kingdom by telling the king a story every night that ended on a cliff hanger, promising to continue the next night. This goes on for one thousand and one nights before the king sets her free (in the Arabic version). The stories she tells have other stories embedded within them, many of which teach mercy and the consequences of cruelty like the Fisherman and the Genie. The Fisherman and the Genie is a story about a fisherman, who was down on his luck, that comes across as bottle containing a powerful genie. Once released, the genie tells the fisherman that he will kill him and he got to choose how. The fisherman tricks him back into the bottle then tells him a story about mercy. The genie tricks the fisherman into letting him out but instead of harming him the genie gives him magic fish so that the fisherman would live comfortably. The genie does this because he learned from the story that the fisherman told. Meta, right? Others tales with the collection are purely for raunchy entertainment like The Woman with Two Coyntes. So, if that’s the main story then how do we have Aladdin, you ask?
Don’t let the title “Arabian Nights” fool you.
These tales come from many parts of the world like Asia, Africa, and what was known as the Persian Empire. The tales found from the original manuscript summed to about two hundred and eighty stories which prompted others to add on, passing it around like year book hoping it to reach one thousand and one. The act of adding more stories only magnifies the concept of Shahrazad’s plan, changing someone’s life through continual story telling. It also enhances the mysticism of the tales because no one knows exactly where the story first began. Was it in the Persian Empire or was it India? Who can say? Since no one knows for sure is it even appropriate to refer to it as the Arabian Nights anymore? Personally, I don’t think so because it is understating the worldliness that is the One Thousand and One Nights. The mystery only intensifies the allure of this enticing collection.
Why is this collection so beloved that it has circulated since 879 CE? I think it’s because it has something for everyone. It’s the whole package with its drama, comedy, setting, and tone. It’s an old text but it’s still accessible today like an old pair of fuzzy socks on a cold day or an umbrella, no matter who you are or where, if it’s raining it’s got you covered.
The story is based in fantasy so it doesn’t feel out of place for someone in any time period. And it was something that was shared orally. You can almost image someone travelling, passing the time by telling the various stories within the One Thousand and One Nights, and because there are so many you never run out or get bored.
Even now we are still being influenced and inspired by these stories. There are copious cartoons, novels, graphic novels, and movies that reference or expand upon the One Thousand and One Nights in some way trying to make the old into new. While the origins of these stories may be lost to time, the tales remain ever timeless.
Image sources in chronological order
Gify. Aladdin. Disney. Accessed October 2nd 2019.
TMZ. “Sinbad”. TMZ Exclusive. Accessed October 2nd 2019.
Portsmouthnh. Arabian Nights. Accessed October 2nd 2019.
Pinterest. “Autumn”. Accessed October 2nd 2019.