The Tales of The Arabian Nights: A Visualisation

To help plan my recaps, I created a list of every story in The Arabian Nights. This is derived from the indices at the back of the three volumes of the Penguin Classics editions.  I thought I may as well post on the site, and it is pasted below.

I used the same list to create a rudimentary visualisation of the stories: their relative sizes, and how they nest within one another.

First, I created a spreadsheet (Arabian_Nights_Contents.csv, 18KB) which lists the stories by ‘level’ (i.e. whether they are told directly by Shahrazad, or one of the characters within one of her stories). The sheet also lists the number of Nights that a story spans, and also the number of pages the story covers in the Penguin Classics edition.

(Given more time, I might have also listed the number of bytes that each story consumes when rendered the HTML format found on the Project Gutenberg editions).

I used this data to generate a simple webpage. My version presents separate columns for each of the three Penguin Classics volumes, but could just as easily have been a single long list.

1001recaps.org/visualization.html

As you will see, the aesthetics of my visualisation leaves a lot to be desired. I cannot help but wonder what someone with more design and artistic flair could do with the same data.

Continue reading “The Tales of The Arabian Nights: A Visualisation”

Night 930 to 946: The Disruptors

930—940 Abu Qir and Abu Sir • 940—946 ‘Abd Allah of the land and ‘Abd Allah of the sea


I had planned to recap four stories, all the way to Night 963, and I have actually read that far. But I wrote a fair amount on the first two stories, so I will post a recap of the second two (the tale of Ibrahim and Jamila; and the tale of Abu’l-Hasan al-Khurasani) later in the week.

We’re getting close to the end now. Back in Volumes I and II, and even in the early part of Volume III (before the long tale of Hasan of Basra) the nights seemed endless. A permanent fixture in my world. Now we’re on Night nine-hundred-and-something, the world becomes uncertain again. The book is contained, finite, mortal, and it is coming to a close.

Anyone who loves books or box-sets knows this feeling. ‘Bereavement’ is too strong a word, but it’s on that emotional spectrum. Re-reads and re-watches can never recreate the experience of the new. Prepare for the inevitable withdrawal, as “I am reading” becomes “I have read.” The last page of this book will be particularly jarring, because the book has dominated my reading, and my conversational repertoire, for months now. What will I talk about? Continue reading “Night 930 to 946: The Disruptors”

The Arabian Nights and The Work of Julia Donaldson

Charlie Cook's Favourite Book

Earlier:

Shrinas’s son does this through a fairly simple trick, convincing the foreign king’s messenger that Wird Khan’s power is far greater than in reality – a classic military tactic. The modern literary parallel that springs immediately to my mind is the Mouse in The Gruffalo…

Throughout my reading of The Arabian Nights, I have often thought of the work of the British children’s author Julia Donaldson. Her books all seem to have “some element of surprise, shock, astonishment,” that ‘Borgesian quirkiness,’ that also imbues most of Shahrazad’s tales. Such a sensibility is not unique to Julia Donaldson, of course… but it is a trait that seems particularly strong in her œuvre. Indeed, the commonality even extends to many of the extremely short phonics books that she has written for children learning to read. Continue reading “The Arabian Nights and The Work of Julia Donaldson”

894 to 930: The Divine Right of Kings To Shirk Responsibility

shahrazad

896—899 The young man of Baghdad and his slave girl 899—930 King Jali ad and his son, Wird Khan • 900—901 The story of the cat and the mouse • 902 The story of the ascetic and his butter jar • 903 The story of the fish and the crab • 903 The story of the crow and the snake • 904 The story of the wild ass and the jackal • 905 The story of the unrighteous king and the pilgrim prince • 906 The story of the crows • 907 The story of the snake charmer • 907 The story of the spider and the wind • 909—910 The story of the two kings • 910 The story of the blind man and the cripple • 918 The story of the foolish fisherman • 919 The story of the boy and the thieves • 919 The story of the merchant and his wife • 920 The story of the merchant and the thieves • 921 The story of the jackals and the wolf • 921—922 The story of the shepherd and the thief • 924 The story of the partridge and the tortoises


Many weeks ago, when discussing The Arabian Nights foray into fables that begin on Night 145, I mentioned the widely accepted theory that the text has many authors. I suggested that there might be a ‘Monarchical author’ who wrote about kings (“where magic is all but absent”) and an ‘Allegorical author’ who produces the short morality tales about animals.

If that is the case, then the story of ‘King Jali ad and his son, Wird Khan’ is a collaborative effort, a tale produced by a supergroup of different writers. The narrative begins as a conventional tale about a king longing for a son, but it is one interspersed with shorter fables. Continue reading “894 to 930: The Divine Right of Kings To Shirk Responsibility”

Nights 863 to 894: Miriam Takes Charge

863—894 Nur al-Din and Miriam the sash-maker


This story begins with a description of a fabulous walled garden and with it, a fascinating inversion of The Arabian Nights usual metaphors. All over the text, the beauty found in nature is Shahrazad’s favoured comparison when she needs to describe the beauty of individuals. So a hero’s physique might be described as being like a ban tree, or like a gazelle. On many occasions, a woman’s breasts are compared to luscious fruits.

But in the description of the garden, which begins on Night 864, Shahrazad flips those metaphors one hundred and eighty degrees, and the fruits, flowers and roses are described with reference to beautiful people and their body parts, rather than the other way around. Continue reading “Nights 863 to 894: Miriam Takes Charge”

Nights 831 to 863: Dark Games

831—845 Khalifa the fisherman • 845—863 Masrur and Zain al-Mawasif


It’s funny how a long run on One Type Of Thing puts you in the mood for something else. When Shahrazad has presented us with a long chain of very short stories, I’ve yearned for a longer narrative; and when we have been given a more substantial tale, I have found myself wanting something shorter.

The two stories in this sequence hit the sweet spot. At 14 and 18 Nights respectively, they’re enough to establish a character or two and a particular mood, but not so long as to outstay their welcome. And after a run of earnest ‘love’ stories, full of heroes who take themselves very seriously, the comedy of Khalifa the fisherman is a very welcome change of tone. Continue reading “Nights 831 to 863: Dark Games”