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Stranger Magic: Charmed States & The Arabian Nights Hardcover – International Edition, December 1, 2011
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Stranger Magic is a large volume, and it can sometimes be difficult not to get disoriented . . . However, one of the merits of the book is that it teaches us why getting lost now and again can be salutary . . . Stranger Magic reveals that the fate of the human spirit hangs not by a single thread, but by an extravagant skein of fancy. —George Prochnik --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Marina Warner's essays and lectures reveal a consistently honest and agile mind preoccupied with the powerful controlling fictions of our lives."
"She is a terrific writer and an original scholar."
—Victoria Glendinning, Daily Telegraph
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Warner's enthusiasm for tracing the cultural effects produced by stories steeped in magic and fantasy on societies facing rapidly modernization is catching and she leads the reader down some fascinating paths as she links the spells cast in the Nights to the talismanic properties of modern currency exchange and the fascination with genies on flying carpets to the technological interventions leading to the rise of flying machines at the turn of the 20th century.
The study's strength, as well as its weakness, is its wide, expansive scope. Warner ranges over a wide variety of material and figures, from Voltaire to Anna May Wong. I sometimes found the jumps too dizzying and disorienting and would have preferred a more slow-paced tour through her large collection of source texts. But Warner does have a tale-weaver's charisma and one is compelled to stay on the journey despite its excessively rapid twists and turns. Warner, I suspect, would say that the scattered manner in which she has organised this thematic study is rather part of the point.
What this book most sorely lacks is a good copy-editor. The study is marred with moments of some severely undisciplined sentences. The worst passages are in her recapitulations of some of the stories from the Nights that preface the different segments of her study, each devoted to a particular, loosely-defined theme.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in revisiting the influence of the "Orient" to European modernity. Warner's examples, ranging from Goethe to Charlotte Perkins Gilman, provide useful starting points for reconsidering appropriations of the orient to a west increasingly defining its modernity as a process of demystification and disillusionment. Perhaps a clearer prose style would have allowed this study to capture more of the narrative magic contained in the tales comprising The Arabian Nights.