Wednesday 15 February 2012

One Thousand and One Nights

(January 2012)

Framing stories then. Wheels within wheels. Matryoshka dolls, one inside the other inside the other. This is the granddaddy of them all. Grandmother perhaps would be better, with Geoff’s merry pilgrims acting as paterfamilias, ‘cos this is all about the ladies.

My question though is this: did everyone in 12th Century West Asia have ADHD? Would it hurt so much to finish the story you’re telling before launching off on another one? There’s only so much nesting one person can take. At one point we get a queen telling a story about a vizier telling a story about cook telling a story about a bridegroom telling a story about ragout in order to explain why he won’t eat it in order to plead for his life to a king in order plead for the life of his slave to a caliph in order to gain a stay of execution for one more night from her husband. I make that four levels of narration before we even get down to the actual author.

It’s noticeable that a large number of these stories are told to appease capricious kings, caliphs, viziers and the like. Tell me an amusing story and I’ll spare your life. What barbarism. Also perhaps not so different from a modern day courtroom.

It’s all about the story. It’s always about the story.


  1. Didn't one of them stay alive by never ending her story which infatuated him? If I'm not making sense just ignore me.....what was her name:(

  2. Nope, you are making sense. I think in some older versions the first/base narrator (Scheherazade, Wikipedia tells me her name was, it's slightly different here) does eventually convince her husband/king not to kill her. That's left a bit more open here, but most of them do end fairly happily.

  3. "The finely calibrated inoffensiveness is kind of offensive." I love the Net, but only so much. And I'd rather have to fight off a flock of angry geese as part of my daily routine than listen to bloody peacocks night after night. Really. bad. I meant this one.

  4. "I'd rather have to fight off a flock of angry geese as part of my daily routine"

    That's a euphemism for something, isn't it?

  5. No... this comes from experience. Peafowl need a lot of open space and can be really loud. Annoyingly so. Though geese can be territorial, aggressive, and make lawns amazingly slippery, I'd rather deal with them.