The Arabian Nights

Book Review – The Arabian Nights Volume II Published by Signet Classics

I recently experienced the pleasure of reading Signet Classics’ sequel to the popular Arabian Nights saga. Once again Jack Zipes modernized Sir Richard Francis Burton’s translation of the tales. The first installment included the more popular stories; such as “Sinbad the Seaman and Sinbad the Landsman”, “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” and “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp”. Volume II exposed Western audiences to some less familiar yarns. The pieces in this collection weren’t as ribald as the ones in the first offering, either. It still made for an entertaining read.

This is a great book for those who like the “story-within-a-story” format. The “The Craft and Malice of Women” served as the highlight of this approach. This series included 26 separate stories on the same subject. I suspect those reading have already guessed the content of that theme. While lengthy, that string kept me interested in discovering the outcome. “The Ten Viziers” series went on a bit long for my taste. It engage for a while, though.

For those (like me) with shorter attention spans, this volume also included much briefer tales in the form of fables. I’m familiar with Aesop’s contributions to the genre. I enjoyed the opportunity to read ones from a different culture. The moral on leadership in “The Crows and the Hawk” struck me as very contemporary and universal.

These stories contained some memorable lines. My favorite included:

“Indeed, it is the custom of envy to fall upon the fortunate.” (Page 289)

“Whoever prefers haste will live to regret it.” (Page 383)

“He who speaks of things that do not concern him will hear things that do not please him.” (Page 57)

I also discovered outstanding alliteration in the following expression: “Sullied by the soils of sex.” (Page 287)

The similarities with Greek myths surprised me. Several tales contained the moral: those who attempt to escape their fate end up creating it. In the interest of not divulging spoilers, I won’t provide the titles. I’ll let first time readers share the same surprise I experienced.

Of all the tales in this collection, I enjoyed “The Story of King Ibrahim and His Son” the most. I found the conflict exceptionally well crafted. The king heard a prophesy that at the age of seven his son would be killed by a lion. However, if his son survived the attack, he would end up killing the king. What a basis for a story!

I’m glad Signet Classics opted to produce a second volume of tales from the Arabian Nights. Even though the characters and tales wouldn’t be familiar to most readers, it’s well worth taking the time to embark on this literary journey. And you can leave your magic carpet at home.