Tales incomparably imaginative, wildly entertaining and fun!
I think these stories are best described as literary grunge. In nearly every aspect of their subjects and telling they defy the established order. Historically, the Arabic canon denounced The Tales because of their vulgar components. Neatly wrapped in Shahrazad’s mission to save the virgin girls of Shahriyar’s kingdom, these stories profess powerful jinnees, laymen rising to power which would humble royalty, men becoming beasts and seafaring adventure all under the sovereign eyes of Allah. Yet Shahrazad herself embodies the rise against power.
Instead of wielding a sword, the weapon of choice is storytelling. The antagonist: the cock-wounded king Shahriyar who, at a word, rains death on those he wishes. Who can defend against such an unchecked power? The protagonist: a woman named Shahrazad. Of course, many have bemoaned the sexist implication, if not the outright encouragement of the heathenish practices of sexism within the stories. Yet culturally, let us consider the woman’s plight of the time, not her inherent value, but her lot. None were lowlier. Yet this David courageously meets this Goliath in battle. And with stories?!?!? But of course, the greatest literature of any culture is cultivated under tyrannical regimes and oppressive social circumstances as if they were bloating remainders in a long division equation the establishment attempts to arithmetically weed out; adding power and determination at every squeeze. Yet in this case, the literary weapon is propped in defense rather than aggression. Nevertheless, it proves an unforgiving weapon.
The stories themselves will likely remain absent from my young children’s bedtime routines since fallic dismemberment and wild romp-fests wouldn’t suit the occasion. What would suit people of all ages and persuasions is the overarching theme of Fate, under the strict sovereignty of God/Allah, which guides nearly all of these characters (perhaps with the exception of the ass ripper) and the perspective they hold of that sovereignty. Rarely does a character curse Allah for misfortunes incurred and rather lays blame at his own feet. Nearly always do they bless Allah for their deliverance and eventual fortune. Because Alexandre Dumas alluded to this compilation dozens of times in The Count of Monte Cristo, I am inclined to collaborate the two depictions of justice. Characters of benign heart, who albeit stumble in action from time to time, eventually meet their fortunes after suffering dire misfortune while those employing malice, who may be “correct” about things, suffer greatly after being held high in social and economic regard. They invest faith in Allah’s timing for retribution without claiming merit for it. Dumas’ credo of “Wait and hope!” thematically pervades these tales as it does in Shahrazad’s predicament.
Nevertheless, The Tales are lavish and entertaining full of wonder and laughter; vulgarity and dread. Everything one would hope for in great literature!