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The stories of Arabian Nights (1001 Nights)

The Wolf and Seven Kids can be used an example of a relationship between legends and first fairy tales.

Virginia Frances Sterrett: 1001 Nights

Virginia Frances Sterrett: 1001 Nights

The 1001 Arabian Nights of Stories with Scheherazade

Can one night or even 1001 nights change the world? Collection of tales and stories known as The Arabian Nights can!

World is full of great books but only few made such an impact as Tales of Arabian Nights. This fascinating stories are probably the most influential art work of non-Western origin in the West.

Thanks to many literary, music, movie, theater and other adaptations the characters from Arabian Nights as Scheherazade, Aladdin, Ali Baba, Sinbad and others are now part of global culture and their astonishing fairy tales still inspire millions of creative minds all over the world.

(Image credit: Virginia Frances Sterrett, all used images in this lens are Public Domain, for more info read the part with resources at the end of page.)

Test your knowledge about 1001 Arabian Nights

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. When the first version arrived in Europe?
    • In 15th century
    • In 17th century
    • In 18th century
  2. How many tales are in 1001 Nights?
    • 1001
    • 70
    • Depends on the version
  3. What makes Arabian Nights so popular?
    • Attractive settings
    • Imaginative plots
    • Well-crafted fabulation
    • All these and more

Answer Key

  1. In 18th century
  2. Depends on the version
  3. All these and more

1001 Nights - Arabian Nights Summary

This title serves as a frame to many stories, told with one simple goal: to survive one more day. Simple, yet effective plot, which was already used in Europe (think Boccaccio, Straparola, Basile, ...) is only one of many narrative tricks by which is 1001 Nights, in Anglo-American world more known as Arabian Nights distinguished from many other collections. For further explanation we have to introduce two main persons who's relation connects hundreds of interesting characters and their fates. Let's start with Shahryar!

Shahryar - (also Shahriar or Shahriyar)

Walter Paget: The Story of the Fisherman

Walter Paget: The Story of the Fisherman

Word 'shahryar' comes from Persia and means 'high king' or 'ruler'. So if we say king Shahryar we are actually doing needless repetition. Shahryar was powerful king who's brother (he was a king too) accidentally learned about unfaithfulness of his wife. When they together found out Shahryar's wife is no better, they decided to leave the town until they discover somebody who is even more miserable than they.

This happened surprisingly fast and Shahryar concludes all women are the same. He decides to make some shocking changes. He ordered his wife's execution and remarried. After wedding night he ordered to kill his new wife too so she could not have a chance to become unfaithful. He repeats this cruel practice, somehow similar to the one known from the tale about the Bluebeard until he marries Scheherazade.

Translations of 1001 Nights - Fairy tales for intellectuals?

Scene from Sinbad the Sailor, by Rene Bull

Scene from Sinbad the Sailor, by Rene Bull

1001 Nights by Antoine Galland is still the 'standard' version of Arabian Nights in many countries but we should know it is heavily revisited. Galland deleted or at least softened all the 'adult' scenes in the collection where women's infidelity and cruel punishments were main motifs. He also deleted all the poetry which was in his opinion considered as an unnecessary ornament by Western but was mandatory in Arabic narrative tradition.

Galland's edition is without doubt still the most influential for understanding the Orient in Western countries. Its exotic scenery and magic made huge impact on many authors (to name just few: H. C. Andersen, Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson and Edgar Allan Poe) but to be fair we must note at least one more 'classic' translation: by Sir Richard Burton.

Best translation of 1001 Nights in English for grown ups!

Jean-Charles Mardrus (1868-1949, his real name was Joseph Charles Mardrus) and Edward Powys Mathers (1892-1939) are authors of probably best available translation of Arabian Nights in English today. First Mardrus translated it to French and than Mathers to English.

Walter Paget: Sharyar and Scheherazade

Walter Paget: Sharyar and Scheherazade


(also Sherezade, Sherazad, Shahrzad or Sharazad)

Scheherazade (in Persian this can be translated as: 'of noble lineage' and in some interpretations 'born by lion') was the older daughter of Shahryar's vizier.

After series of cruel murders she was the one who demands from her father to stop king's insanity. She wasn't only beautiful but also very smart. In Shahryar's bedroom she started to tell a story but didn't finish it.

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Shahryar decides to postopone her execution to find out how the Scheherazade's tale finishes. But when she concludes the story she skillfully starts new one and in the next morning Shahryar still wants to know what happens next!

This game of telling a fable after fable, tale after tale lasts for one thousand nights and on the one thousand and first night Scheherazade introduced three sons she born in the mean time to her husband. Different versions of Arabian Nights offer different endings but in all we have a happy ending. Scheherazade stayes alive and Shahryar becomes wise ruler and good father and husband.

Djin by Louis Rhead

Djin by Louis Rhead

As we can conclude this frame story, full of passion, blood and fear is aiming at adult audience, although today the tales of the Arabian Nights are mostly considered as fairy tales.

This transformation happened to many tales and fairy tales, but Arabian Nights retained special status. They are still interesting to adults who can easily identify with many intriguing characters in this collection.

Best translation of Arabian Nights in English for children!

The edition of 1001 Nights edited by Professor Muhsin al-Musawi is much more appropriate for children.

Another scene from Sinbad the Sailor by Walter Paget

Another scene from Sinbad the Sailor by Walter Paget

The history of Arabian Nights

We can't understand the huge potential of this collection without exploring some background. Arabian Nights was introduced to the Western audience in the form of book in the time when fairy tales were favorite pass time of nobility in French and other European courts.

The man behind the Arabian Nights as we know them today is Antoine Galland (1646-1715). He was archaeologist and orientalist.

He was also personal friend of Charles Perrault, who is often credited as the father of modern fairy tale. Galland spent many years in Middle East and encountered the manuscript The Tale of Sindbad the Sailor in today's Istanbul.

He decided to translate it to French and published it in 1701. After huge success of the book he decided to translate all the stories from old Syrian manuscript of unknown author (probably dozens of authors and even more 'editors') with hundreds of novels, fables and tales as the Thousand and One Nights in twelve volumes altogether.

He published them between 1704 and 1717 with last volume being published after his death.

Illustration by Rene Bull

Illustration by Rene Bull

Richard Burton and The Arabian Nights

Tales for adults

Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890) was British explorer, soldier, spy and translator among who's achievements is visiting Mecca in disguise (this holy city is still prohibited for non-Muslims). He also visited Great Lakes of Africa as first European (together with John Hanning Speke).

Sir Richard Burton is credited for many translations and Kama Sutra, the ancient manual of love, is probably most known of all. But Arabian Nights Entertainment (he changed the title to emphasize the origin and goal of the tales) comes close second.

Barton's translation is not the same as Galland's. If Galland erased the scenes he considered inappropriate, it looks Burton made his version mainly because of these scenes. He even added long footnotes for many of erotic scenes to explain all the details to his readers. And one more thing: by today's standard this version of Arabian Nights is considered racists.

Barton's Arabian Nights wasn't first translation in English (first appeared in black market soon after Galland's book and without Galland's knowledge) but it was most comprehensive and is still major work by which the standards for all next translations in English were set.

Arabian Nights and Andrew Lang - Fairy tales for children

Scene from Aladdin, by Rene Bull

Scene from Aladdin, by Rene Bull

Andrew Lang made huge work with collecting and editing fairy tales from all over the world. Arabian Nights Entertainment was only one of his many works but unfortunatelly it wasn't his best. He was of course aiming at children, so his version is censored but this was done without second thoughts and many of the stories have lost their charm and even internal logic because of his heavy cuts.

Let me give you only one example. We have already mentioned the motiff of infidelity. In Galland's edition this act would be described as betrayal of trust and revenge, in Burton's we would see all the juicy and bloody details, but in Lang we would learn only she was talking with a stranger and her husband killed them both for that!

If we can accuse Burton and Lang to exaggarate each on one field, Galland's version has another problem. Remember? It is written in French!

Why is book of 1001 Arabian Nights so important?

The Fisherman and Genie, by Louis Rhead

The Fisherman and Genie, by Louis Rhead

Tales of Arabian Nights are not just another book. They are not only a work of art. They are not only an ornamental description of 1001 nights of stories. Arabian Nights stories are one of the magic doors to some kind of parallel universe where everything is possible yet human nature is still the same aas always: selfish or generous, smart and stupid, rich and poor, the unforgettable exotic characters in which we can always find ourselves.

I guess sometimes the best way to find oneself is - to loose oneself for some time. Why not in a great book like 1001 Nights (as we say in our country)? So I highly recommend the Arabian Nights collection!

My resources and further readings

Your turn!

Scene from The Enchanted Horse, Walter Paget

Scene from The Enchanted Horse, Walter Paget

What do you think about Arabian Nights Stories? - Are they more appropriate for adults or for kids?

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on October 05, 2015:

That was my intention. Thanks for stopping by:)

DebMartin on September 17, 2015:

You've inspired me to re-read. Thanks!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on July 28, 2014:

@VioletteRose LM: You are right, stories are so different, there is almost no way to like them all the same, but some of them really became huge hits.

VioletteRose LM on July 28, 2014:

I have read few stories in the children's version of Arabian nights and my mother used to tell me the story of Ali baba when I was a child. I love the story of Ali baba and 40 thieves and I also like the story of Aladdin and Sinbad. I am not a big fan of the Arabian nights stories collection, but some of the stories like those mentioned above are really good.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on April 25, 2014:

@aaxiaa lm: Thanks:)

aaxiaa lm on April 25, 2014:

Depends, there's a great variety of stories. Great lens!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on January 21, 2014:

@WriterJanis2: Nice to hear that!

WriterJanis2 on January 18, 2014:

You have been pinned.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on November 17, 2013:

@WriterJanis2: You are always welcome!

WriterJanis2 on November 16, 2013:

I just had to come back again.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on October 30, 2013:

@tonyleather: Thank you very much!

tonyleather on October 28, 2013:

What a wonderful and informative lens about an iconic book!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on June 18, 2013:

@WriterJanis2: Thanks!

WriterJanis2 on June 17, 2013:

Pinning this.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on June 15, 2013:

@anonymous: Glad to hear that. Thanks!

anonymous on June 15, 2013:

Excellent Lens ! Thank You for Sharing - Best Wishes :)

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on March 15, 2013:

@jayavi: Thank you.

jayavi on March 15, 2013:

Thanks for sharing another important lens. Enjoyed well. Nicely arrange

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on March 10, 2013:

@Felicitas: Yep, I think there is always some kind of censorship involved, even versions for kids are not always suitable for all children.

Felicitas on March 08, 2013:

It probably depends on which version you read. For children, I think they are a great way to inspire the imagination, as long as they're not too explicit.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on February 27, 2013:

@InfoCoop: It is always right time for reading, we are just short of time:)

InfoCoop on February 27, 2013:

I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed these. It may be time for another read.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on February 27, 2013:

@emilysmaids: Yes, this can be pretty surprising. And the adult versions are actually 'originals'!

emilysmaids on February 27, 2013:

@TolovajWordsmith: Very true! I got a watered down version as a kid and was shocked when I read the more grown up versions as a teenager. These are some of my favorite stories, great lens!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on February 26, 2013:

@kabbalah lm: Well, I have seen several versions which are definitely not G-rated...

kabbalah lm on February 25, 2013:

I think Arabian nights is appropriate for everyone

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on February 24, 2013:

@askformore lm: My pleasure!

askformore lm on February 24, 2013:

Than you for a great lens. In particular, thanks for the fantastic illustrations!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on February 13, 2013:

@Andrea RM: Yes, they can be really beautiful... Lucky you!

Andrea RM on February 12, 2013:

Great lens! I have a luxury illustrated edition of the Arabian Nights and it's absolutely gorgeous. :)

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on February 11, 2013:

@takkhisa: This one is real classic!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on February 11, 2013:

@anonymous: Thanks!

Takkhis on February 10, 2013:

They are fantastic! I like some Arabian fairy tales, especially enjoy Ali Baba and 40 thieves!

anonymous on February 10, 2013:

They are a treasure trove of knowledge IMO. This is a very nice highlights on the Arabian night-time tales!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on January 13, 2013:

@shahedashaikh: 1001 Nights certainly offer at least 1001 versions:)

shahedashaikh on January 12, 2013:

I love the book and do possess it all the tales are enchanting,thanks for the info on how the book and many of its versions came

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on January 01, 2013:

@anonymous: Thanks for your kind words.

anonymous on December 31, 2012:

This is very good information, I like it, thank you for sharing. :)

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on December 13, 2012:

@anonymous: Thanks!

anonymous on December 12, 2012:

Amazing stories. Timeless actually. Excellent research on a fascinating collection of stories.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on November 22, 2012:

@KandH: I m with you on this one:)

KandH on November 22, 2012:

They are great stories for boys and girls of ANY age - definitely considered cool stories when I was a kid.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on November 14, 2012:

@Michey LM: They are still beautiful:)

Michey LM on November 14, 2012:

They are beautiful for kids, they was for me... long time ago!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on October 23, 2012:

@siobhanryan: Thanks, I appreciate it!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on October 16, 2012:

@Pat Goltz: Well, although the title said Arabian Nights, many of the stories have nothing to do with people from Arabia. Many came from India, Persia, China etc., so I think it should be viewed as a collection of stories from some distant times, not places (and I think women in Europe around 16 th century didn't have much better positions in society than Women in Asia or Africa). If I remember correctly in many cases they had even less rights!

siobhanryan on October 15, 2012:

Another outstanding article from you-I actually got excited when I saw you had a new lens posted-as always Blessed

Pat Goltz on October 15, 2012:

I didn't read any erotic versions, so I can't really comment on that. The version I did read seems entirely suitable for children. Now, thinking back on it, I try to decide whether this group of stories will lend any insights into the Arabian people. I probably won't decide that anytime soon. The story of Scheherazade herself was a graphic lesson to me about the value of women in that culture, which is to say, nil.

BestRatedStuff on October 15, 2012:

Enjoyed reading them.

supersiva on October 13, 2012:

I enjoyed reading from childhood till date. It is always interesting to read at all ages.

WriterJanis2 on October 12, 2012:

I love them.

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