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The Arabian Nights (Barnes & Noble Classics) Paperback – February 1, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

From Muhsin Al-Musawi’s Introduction to The Arabian Nights

Dress and other types of codes that signify profession are reflected in the Arabian Nights. The entertaining cycle of the barber and his brothers (part four) is informative about social manners and practices. It takes us away from the supernatural and from courtly life and involves us in the domains of professionals and functionaries. Even merchants—despite their enormous presence in the tales and the appreciation of their vocation in Islam—were not routinely accepted in upper-class or courtly society. They had to pass through a number of trials— including, at times, mutilation—to prove their merit, refinement, and readiness to suffer for love. Between the marketplace and the sovereign’s courtiers and entourage, there is usually a physical distance, as well as social, moral, and psychological distances. Only when a maid or lady decides to come to the market, upon hearing of a charming young merchant who can make a good companion or husband, is a rite of passage possible, but never without some sacrifice on the male’s part.
There are different transgressions, however, that can upset the whole order. Storytellers take their revenge upon upper-class society in various ways. Imagining the wealthy households and buildings based on the little glimpses they get from their fellow scribes who have access to these wealthy districts, storytellers write about the sumptuousness of the lives of the wealthy and the expenditures they lavish on lovers from lower stations. They also depict women from these households who cannot control their sensual appetites. Their revenge takes place whenever they depict a black slave as a companion to a queen: In the frame story this is exactly what sours the sultan’s worldview and attitude to womankind, and what brings on his melancholy and morbidity, and in “The History of the Young King of the Black Isles,” the queen prefers a crippled black slave who lives among rubbish mounds to the king and his palace. Yet the tales—composite in nature, of different origins and formations—are not of one piece in the ways they exact revenge for racism or social inequality. In many narratives, there is an underlying preference for whiteness that runs counter to Islamic preaching as religion; the Prophet’s last speech specifies that there is no merit for any in Islam other than piety. The young merchant from Baghdad speaks of the barber as follows, however: “Although he was born in a country where the complexion of the people is white, he looks like an Ethiopian; but his mind is of a dye deeper and more horrible than his visage.” In the end, the stories’ many redactors are of so many conflicting views and attitudes that there is no uniform treatment of race, religion, and gender. Villainy, cruelty, and selfishness, as well as licentiousness, can be social aspects among all races. The same is true of other behavioral patterns, as is apparent in the barber’s brothers’ narrative cycle. he same cycle shows a tendency among governors to banish unwanted citizens or travelers as if to sustain an idealistic vision of their urban life. Yet, these seeming whims and idiosyncrasies on part of governors and citizens are, after all, the whims of the storyteller who would like to move to another story and to another character of more adventures and troubles.
In a word, the Arabian Nights is meant to entertain, to be enjoyed as good reading; but for people who are interested in other issues, there are many details and views that invite discussion. Indeed, the tales’ reading history in Europe tells us much about the unique interests and concerns of each age. Perhaps it is the kind of book that operates as a mirror where people are pleased to see reflections of their own thoughts.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Barnes & Noble Classics; Ill edition (February 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1593082819
  • ISBN-13: 978-1593082819
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,304,203 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Ana Mardoll TOP 1000 REVIEWER on April 6, 2012
Format: Paperback
The Arabian Nights / 978-1593082819

I'm a bit of an "Thousand Nights" enthusiast -- I enjoy the stories immensely and I have four separate translations in my personal library. Several friends have asked me to discuss the differences between the editions, so I thought I'd present a four-way comparison and then talk about which version is best for which audience.

For the purposes of the four-way comparison, I will draw text from the opening tale of the two kingly brothers in order to highlight how each popular version handles "adult" content and racial content.

-- The Tale of King Shahryar and of his Brother, King Shahzaman --
Now there were in the King's palace certain windows that looked on to the garden, and, as King Shahzaman leaned there and looked out, the door of the palace opened and twenty women slaves with twenty men slaves came from it; and the wife of the King, his brother, was among them and walked there in all her bright beauty. When they came to the pool of a fountain they all undressed and mingled one with another. Suddenly, on the King's wife crying: 'O Masud! Ya Masud!', a gigantic negro ran towards her, embraced her, and, turning her upon her back, enjoyed her. At this signal, all the other men slaves did the same with the women and they continued thus a long while, not ceasing their kisses and embraces and goings in and the like until the approach of dawn.
-- Madrus & Mathers edition

-- The Tale of King Shahriar and of his Brother, King Shahzenan --
One day, Shahriar had started on a great hunting match, about two days' journey from his capital; but Shahzenan, pleading ill health, was left behind. He shut himself up in his apartment, and sat down at a window that looked into the garden.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Neil Scott Mcnutt on December 24, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This version of "The Arabian Nights" is a compilation of ten of the most popular of the stories contained in the original"Tales of a Thousand and One Nights". The original contains two hundred and sixty-four stories. A lovely touch to the Barnes and Noble edition is that they include eight illustrations by Maxfield Parrish. While these stories have been the subject of movies for children, the vocabulary is not exactly for children in the language in the book. The original stories were translated from Arabic into French by M. Galland, a Professor of Arabic in Paris, and then from French into English in several editions. The first manuscript is from 1450 or earlier and the French translation in 1704 became instantly popular. The flights of fantasy are absolutely spectacular and cannot be reproduced in movies as well as the words can do in the readers own brain. Castles, jewels, strange beasts, cannibals, powerful kings and queens and lovely men and women fill the stories that take place in China, India, Persia, Arabia, and on various islands nearby. The Barnes and Noble edition from 1993 contains the following tales: The Talking Bird, The Fisherman and the Genie, The Young King of the Black Isles, Gulnare of the Sea, Aladdin, Prince Agib, The City of Brass, Ali Baba, Codadad, and Sinbad. They are wild exotic stories, that are fun for adults to read also.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Leeper on July 9, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I purchased this book wanting an inexpensive edition of the Arabian Nights. When I saw this edition was illustrated by Maxfield Parrish, I knew this would be a good one. Unfortunately, I can't shake the feeling that I am missing something in this edition.
I know that this is not the full collection of tales. I was disappointed that the editors didn't give us much of the framework that the original was set. There are only ten stories here, and they are not really linked together at all. It is more like reading an anthology than reading a coherent piece of literary work.
I also felt that something was missing in the translations. Although Allah is mentioned, they typically refer to God. Whether this is what the originals stated or if this is how it was translated by western scholars, I don't know.
When I saw this was illustrated by Parrish, I had images of his work throughout the book. Unfortunately, they are grouped together in a couple places with a small quote from the story they represent. Some of the pictures seem like they were created for something else, but looked close enough to work. Although the art is good, it doesn't fit into the book very well.
The flights of fancy are fun and this would be appropriate for children. I don't think adult readers would want this one.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 30, 1998
Format: Hardcover
First published in 1909, this version of these magical tales suffers a bit from the moralism and prudery of the times. For example, in place of the original theme that Fate that can topple the mighty and favor the lowly -- the so-called Arabic fatalism in which all things are the will of Allah -- the Wiggins' have put stern lessons about the perils of dissipation and lack of constant virtue. Of course the sex is totally missing, which may be quite appropriate for an edition intended for children.
Otherwise, I would have to say that almost all the magic, wonder, and adventure that are associated with the 1,001 Nights are to be found herein. The Maxfield Parish paintings are wonderful.
One of the most dissapointing elements is the decision to not include the "frame story" about Sheherizade telling these tales over the fabled 1,001 nights. Also much reduced is the constant use of tales-within-tales, a hallmark of the Arabian Nights collection. Both these changes tend to simplify the book, perhaps in a way that will make it more accessible and less confusing to young readers. But, then, this is hardly the book for young readers who do not like a challenge, especially since the tales are complex and the turn of the century diction relies upon a lot of outdated words and word usage.
Personaly, this edition is most fascinating as a glimpse into our own culture's past -- to see how we viewed the exoticism of the East during an era of our own relative innocence.
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