The Thousand and One Nights
Translated by Edward William Lane, rev. by Stanley Lane-Poole.
Harvard Classics: P.F. Collier & Sons.
The basis of the story is a newly-wed queen must tell her king a wonderful story each night or he will kill her. This becomes quite complex, as the characters in her stories tell stories in which people tell stories, etc., so that one winds up with an intriguing hierarchy of tales. The importance of the story is paramount – which makes sense not only in the framework of the story itself, but also when the stories were written (13th century) – a largely pre-literate time when oral story-telling was an art.
The tales are pure fantasy, often involving great wealth, fair damsels (always compared to the full moon), strange creatures including the Jinn, and always a Sultan or two. God is repeatedly praised and invoked, and the characters verbally exhibit a fatalism and resignment to God’s will; yet, their actions frequently reveal a strong desire to change their rueful destiny.
One note of interest is the differences between these versions of Aladdin and Ali-Baba and the modern understanding of them.