Book 6 of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die is 1001 Nights. I am very familiar with this text, owning two different copies and having used it extensively in my composition course themed around fairy tales and folk lore, where I ask students to compare different versions and to speculate on cultural influences on the translations / differences.
This book has been translated with several titles
- One Thousand and One Nights
- Arabian Nights
- 1001 Arabian Nights
- The Arabian Night’s Entertainment
- A Thousand Nights and a Night
This collection of tales is mainly of Middle Eastern and South Asian origin and appears to have been recorded during the “Islamic Golden Age” (900 – 1600 CE). The stories are episodic and held together, or framed, with the story of Shahryar (“King” in Persian, I believe) who has his unfaithful wife executed. After a series of virgin brides are executed by Shahryar, Scheherazade volunteers to marry the ruler. On their wedding night, she begins to tell the king a story, but she doesn’t give him the conclusion. Thus, he is forced to keep her alive to hear the ending. Each night Scheherazade begins a new tale, and each night the King must postpone the execution to hear the ending on the morrow (and so it goes for 1001 nights). As the 1001Books writes, “the storytelling that Sheherazade invents, in order to stay alive, is a kind of storytelling that is not able to end, that never reaches a climax. . . The stories are inhabited by a kind of insatiable desire, an open unfinishedness that keeps us reading and panting, eager for more” (28).
Most English Translations include the following stories (see Wikipedia and Bartleby for similar lists)
- The Story of the Merchant and the Jinni
- The Story of the First Sheykh and the Gazelle
- The Story of the Second Sheykh and the Two Black Hounds
- The Story of the Third Sheykh and the Mule
- The Story of the Fisherman
- The Story of King Yunan and the Sage Duban
- The Story of the Husband and the Parrot
- The Story of the Envious Wezir and the Prince and the Ghuleh
- The Story of the Young King of the Black Islands
- The Story of the Porter and the Ladies of Baghdad, and of the Three Royal Mendicants, Etc.
- The Story of the First Royal Mendicant
- The Story of the Second Royal Mendicant
- The Story of the Envier and the Envied
- The Story of the Third Royal Mendicant
- The Story of the First of the Three Ladies of Baghdad
- The Story of the Second of the Three Ladies of Baghdad
- The Story of the Humpback
- The Story Told by the Christian Broker
- The Story Told by the Sultan’s Steward
- The Story Told by the Jewish Physician
- The Story Told by the Tailor
- The Barber’s Story of Himself
- The Barber’s Story of His First Brother
- The Barber’s Story of His Second Brother
- The Barber’s Story of His Third Brother
- The Barber’s Story of His Fourth Brother
- The Barber’s Fifth Brother
- The Barber’s Story of His Sixth Brother
- The Story of Nur-Ed-din and Enis-El-Jelis
- The Story of Es-Sindibad of the Sea and Es-Sindibad of the Land
- The First Voyage of Es-Sindibad of the Sea
- The Second Voyage of Es-Sindibad of the Sea
- The Third Voyage of Es-Sindibad of the Sea
- The Fourth Voyage of Es-Sindibad of the Sea
- The Fifth Voyage of Es-Sindibad of the Sea
- The Sixth Voyage of Es-Sindibad of the Sea
- The Seventh Voyage of Es-Sindibad of the Sea
- The Story of the City of Brass
- The Story of Jullanar of the Sea
- The Story of Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp
- The Story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves
All of the stories (and several included in other versions) are available online in several places. Many web sites are devoted to the 1001 Nights.
- 1001 Nights: http://www.al-hakawati.net/english/Stories_Tales/lailaindex.asp
- Journal of the Nights Blog: http://journalofthenights.blogspot.com/
- Arabian Tales: http://www.arabiantales.org/
- Tales from 1001 Nights: http://www.mythfolklore.net/1001nights/index.htm
One of the more interesting things to me is that Aladdin and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, the two most popular or well-known stories—with my students at least, appear to have not been part of the original tales. These stories were added by Antoine Galland, in his French translation (1710). His diary entry of March 25, 1709 notes hearing this story from “Hanna,” an Arabian storyteller. Supposedly, these tales were middle eastern folk tales, and John Payne (1901) notes that the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris contained two Arabic manuscripts with these tales dating from the 1700s.
This book was included in the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die because the tales “are some of the most powerful, resonant works of fiction in the history of storytelling” (28). To have a kind of cultural literacy, and to understand the many remakes and re-tells (tales) of the stories, you must know the originals.
Check them out, & happy reading.