Saturday, August 29, 2009

Lyons review/press release? from WSJ

This is a strange and vague article (or press release?) about the Nights from the Wall Street Journal of all places. I'm not sure of the point of it but it does mention the recent English edition from Malcolm Lyons.

As a side note, the author says that Edward Said spends little time on the Nights in Orientalism which is quite a false claim, Said spends most of the first part of his book focusing on Galland, Lane and Burton.

This author also calls Burton's edition "practically unreadable"! (this is what I've heard about it from just about everyone who mentions the Nights and knows about Burton, I suspect that it's one of those tall tales that make their way around and also suspect that many of the people saying this about Burton's edition haven't actually tried to read it)...

He also says: ""The Arabian Nights" has long had a bad reputation among Arab intellectuals for its vulgarity, perceived shallowness and general lack of moral uplift." This is fairly false as well, though it seemed like a true statement in the 10th century, but scholars all over the Middle East are re-interested in the Nights:

entire article:

excerpts of the article:


It surprises us to learn that Charles Dickens made more allusions to "The Arabian Nights" than any other work of literature—but it shouldn't. Shahrazad, the narrator of "The Arabian Nights' Entertainment," or "Tales of 1001 Nights," has ­inspired great storytellers for centuries. As a treasure-house of characters and stories, the "Nights" is an essential point of reference for popular entertainments ranging from British pantomime to Romantic ballet and opera to Hollywood spectacle.

The key to its lasting popularity and influence is that it's all about the story. The anonymous bards whose tales are collected in the book's thousands of pages espoused no ideology and preached no religious message. Princes play the villain as often as they are praised. The book's pedigree is cosmopolitan, with tales drawn from India and Persia as well as Arabic sources; scholars believe the Aladdin story is actually ­European in ­origin.


Reading "The Arabian Nights" is like visiting a medieval lending library. Stories are embedded within stories like Russian dolls, encompassing ­every narrative genre from ­instructive fable to swashbuckling adventure to diaphanously veiled pornography. It wasn't translated into a modern European language until Antoine Galland's French version began to appear in 1704, and then took all Europe by storm. "Read Sinbad and you will be sick of Aeneas," wrote Horace Walpole, ­18th-century England's whimsical tale-spinner and author of the first Gothic novel. (Walpole coined the word "serendipity" from Serendib, the old name for Sri Lanka, to capture the aura of enchantment of the ­island—which he read about in the sixth voyage of Sinbad.)

Until recently, the standard English version was Sir Richard Burton's practically unreadable translation of 1885. Thus in the 20th century "The Arabian Nights" became best-known in simplified adventure stories for children. Adults imbibed Shahrazad's tales in a stream of popular adaptations in every conceivable medium and genre.

To restore this classic page-turner to the world's reading list, last year Penguin in London published a captivating new translation by Malcolm Lyons in a magnificent three-volume set. Penguin USA is planning to bring out a one-volume paperback abridgment of the Lyons ­translation.

For all its bizarre monsters and miraculous goings-on, the world of "The Arabian Nights" is instantly recognizable as our own. At the conclusion of each of his perilous voyages, Sinbad rejoices at his return to ­Baghdad, where he eats home cooking and drinks good wine with his boon companions. The perspective is populist and secular: The protagonists of most of the tales aren't great princes but wily merchants and clever young laborers. Religion plays a smaller role in "The Arabian Nights" than it does in medieval Christian epics; its characters rarely pray except when in a jam. Women ­frequently play the hero, rescuing their hapless aristocratic masters with cunning stratagems.

"The Arabian Nights" has long had a bad reputation among Arab intellectuals for its vulgarity, perceived shallowness and general lack of moral uplift. Yet the tales capture an essential quality of the Arab soul: passionate self-romancing. Edward Said's influential book "Orientalism" (1978) warns modern readers to be skeptical of falsely ­romantic views of the East propagated by Western writers and painters. He scarcely mentions "The Arabian Nights," possibly because it undermines his basic premise; but no Western view of the East, however fanciful, could possibly exceed it for perfumed glamour. The most seductive quality of the stories is Shahrazad's serene conviction that her audience will follow her anywhere. And we do.

—Mr. James is the author of "The Snake Charmer" ­(Hyperion 2008).

Somaliland coins feature Richard F. Burton

The breakaway sort of country of Somaliland (northern part of Somalia, which, as I was told by a taxi driver from the region, enjoys a more relative amount of peace and prosperity than Somalia) has pictures of Richard F. Burton on two of their coins currently in use as currency.

One is the 5 shilling coin and the same picture is also on the 2,000 shilling coin.

More on Somaliland coins:

Royal Shakespeare Company’s Arabian Nights

The Royal Shakespeare Company will be putting on their version of the Arabian Nights this winter (Dec-Jan). Starring as Scheherazade is Ayesha Dharker, a film actress from the UK known for her roles in The Terrorist (1999), Star Wars II, and the TV mini-series of the Arabian Nights (2000).

more info about her at the link and in the excerpt of the article below:

from Indian Express

Alaka Sahani
Posted: Friday , Aug 28, 2009 at 0106 hrs

Ayesha Dharker’s recent Mumbai visit, though hectic, was an opportunity to chill out before she gets busy with her next big role — the lead in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s new production, Arabian Nights.

The actor, fresh out of her role as Tara in the long-running soap Coronation Street, stars as Scheherazade in Arabian Nights, which will be staged at the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon from December 15, 2009 to January 30, 2010. “The way this all came together is like a story from the Arabian Nights,” says Dharker, who was in Mumbai recently.

This project is the realisation of Dharker’s very personal dream. “I have always wanted to work with the RSC and have waited for the right opportunity to come along. I have also been drawn to the stories of Arabian Nights and have made a great effort to find different translations over the years,” says the actress.

Dharker plays a character called Scheherazade who is the storyteller for the “thousand and one nights”. For the play is based on the original stories from Arabian Nights, she will rehearse in London till November, before moving to Stratford. However, Dharker feels as if she has been preparing for this role for a very long time. “Sometimes a dream role can come along and really take your breath away because you realise that you have been imagining yourself in a story and it seems to materialise around you,” she says.

The regularity with which this London-based actor bags major international projects shows how roles are no longer stereotypical for Indian actors abroad. “They being typecast may have been the case a few years ago, things are very different now. Producers, directors and writers are very interested in making their cast as vibrant as possible. Were this not true, I would not have been offered roles like Joan of Arc, roles in Doctor Who, and on Coronation Street as a regular character,” she says.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mark Twain's Huckleberry FInn

(from chap xxiii) - among many Twain references to the Nights:

'My, you ought to seen old Henry the Eight when he was in bloom. He was a blossom. He used to marry a new wife every day, and chop off her head next morning. And he would do it just as indifferent as if he was ordering up eggs. 'Fetch up Nell Gwynn,' he says. They fetch her up. Next morning, 'Chop off her head!' And they chop it off. 'Fetch up Jane Shore,' he says; and up she comes. Next morning, 'Chop off her head' - and they chop it off. 'Ring up Fair Rosamun.' Fair Rosamun answers the bell. Next morning, 'Chop off her head.' And he made every one of them tell him a tale every night; and he kept that up till he had hogged a thousand and one tales that way, and then he put them all in a book, and called it Domesday Book - which was a good name and stated the case. You don't know kings, Jim, but I know them; and this old rip of ourn is one of the cleanest I've struck in history. Well, Henry he takes a notion he wants to get up some trouble with this country. How does he go at it - give notice? - give the country a show? No. All of a sudden he heaves all the tea in Boston Harbor overboard, and whacks out a declaration of independence, and dares them to come on. That was his style - he never give anybody a chance. He had suspicions of his father, the Duke of Wellington. Well, what did he do? - ask him to show up? No - drownded him in a butt of mamsey, like a cat. Spose people left money laying around where he was - what did he do? He collared it. Spose he contracted to do a thing; and you paid him, and didn't set down there and see that he done it - what did he do? He always done the other thing. Spose he opened his mouth - what then? If he didn't shut it up powerful quick, he'd lose a lie, every time. That's the kind of a bug Henry was....

All I say is, kings is kings, and you got to make allowances. Take them all around, they're a mighty ornery lot. It's the way they're raised.'

Monday, August 24, 2009

New Nights Book Scheduled for Release by Penguin

I'm happy to announce the scheduled release of Oriental Dreams: How the Arabian Nights Came to the World by Paul Nurse by Penguin Books Canada in September of 2010.

I've been lucky enough to see parts of a draft of the book and can say that a book of this scope and caliber has been a long time coming and will be a major part of Nights scholarship as well as an interesting read for the general public. The book will be largely a historical overview of the various manifestations and histories of the Arabian Nights with a comprehensive and coherent style accessible to both lay readers and experienced scholars alike.

I look forward to reading it in its entirety and wish the author and Penguin all the best of luck on it.

- M

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Alia Yunis - The Night Counter

Alia Yunis retells the 1001 Nights frame story in The Night Counter, her first novel, and from the review it seems she got into the psychology of Scheherazade's tales and their therapeutic benefits.

Here is the author's website:

and a good review from the Star Tribune online:

here is the review, for the full page visit the link above:

1,001 nights with modern family twist

By KATHRYN KYSAR, Special to the Star Tribune

Last update: August 8, 2009 - 10:15 PM

Had your fill of trashy novels, plot-driven candies hastily devoured at the cabin or beach? "The Night Counter," Alia Yunis' first novel, mixes equal parts of magical realism, social commentary, family drama and lighthearted humor to create a delicious and intriguing indulgence worth savoring.

The story's central character is Fatima Abdullah, an 85-year-old Lebanese immigrant who raised 10 children in Detroit before she left her stoic husband to live with her gay actor grandson in Los Angeles. Yunis adds a dash of magic: Scheherazade, the mythical storyteller, appears to Fatima, requiring a story from her for 1,001 nights, after which Fatima will die. Then Yunis thickens the plot: Having run out of childhood reminiscences with nine nights to go, Fatima prepares for her impending death.

As she agonizes over which children should receive her treasures, she finally shares with the immortal Scheherazade the stories of her complex children, who include an alcoholic Harvard cabdriver who marries on first dates, a Texan housewife struggling to erase her ethnicity and an Internet matchmaker unlucky at love. By day, Scheherazade flies (on her magic carpet, of course) to observe the offspring, weaving Fatima's laments into a complete and compelling tale.

But the book is far more than a fantastic family story. Yunis masterfully adds not only classical literature references, most prominently "The Arabian Nights," but she also delivers a searing yet humorous commentary about the difficulties confronting Arab-Americans living in the post-9/11 United States. She presents the reader with a catalog of clich├ęs -- such as faux-Middle Eastern belly dancers in Vegas and a hippie fortuneteller with a fake crystal ball -- and challenges her readers to rethink these stereotypes as the characters' personal crises mirror larger geo-political events.

The book and Yunis both have Minnesota origins: The novel began as a short story that was published in Mizna, a local literary magazine that focuses on writing by Arab-Americans, and Yunis spent part of her childhood in the Twin Cities. The narrative, which travels around the United States, includes a comical stop at the University of Minnesota.

After stirring in two bumbling FBI agents to bring the conflict to a boil, Yunis ultimately takes the reader on a behind-the-scenes-tour of Arab America while teaching that family obligations can sometimes blossom into meaningful love. Heartwarming, silly and sometimes scathingly accurate, the novel is a perfect choice for book clubs. Read with a side of Fatima's hummus; the recipe is available on the author's blog,

Kathryn Kysar is a poet, anthologist and professor who lives in St. Paul.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Sinbad Radio Show

Here is an old radio show archived online with Basil Rathbone as Sinbad. The Internet Archive is really amazing, I hope it turns people away from cable TV and this stuff becomes popular again.

Here is the recording:

Here is the website with the full playlist:

Monday, August 3, 2009


"SHERRI ZAHAD AND HER ARABIAN KNIGHTS" was a short run comedy play by the Laboratory Theater in Brooklyn, NY in 2008.

from their website: "In Laboratory Theater’s SHERRI ZAHAD AND HER ARABIAN KNIGHTS, a fictional performance troupe – perhaps from the Middle East, perhaps from Las Vegas – attempts to rehearse a ballet based on tales from Sir Richard F. Burton’s translation of The Arabian Nights, but ends up falling prey to the forgotten ghosts from these ancient stories."

more here:

video of the play:

Sherri Zahad and Her Arabian Knights from Laboratory Theater on Vimeo.