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Review of The Arabian Nights

I recently finished reading an e-book version of this classic—the first book I finished on my new Kindle. The reading experience was great, I really felt taken away by the fantasy of the writing. It was easy to read on the Kindle, the e-ink does not strain my eyes like a regular computer screen, and I could keep track of how far I was in the book by the percentage marking at the bottom of each page.

This classic contains a wonderfully delightful collection of fantastic stories from the Middle East. Most people know the basic idea of the collection, that a Sultan’s wife betrayed him, and so each day he marries a new woman and has her put to death before she too can betray him. The grand-vizir’s daughter, Scheherazade, tries to stop the killing by having herself promised to marry the Sultan, and telling him a story each night that is so spellbinding he will let her live another day so he can hear the end of it. Scheherazade proceeds to tell the stories, one more enrapturing and interesting than the last.

Throughout the stories, we hear elaborate and captivating fantasies. There are the seven voyages of Sindbad the Sailor, who goes to sea and encounters an island that turns out to be the back of a whale, a gigantic mythical bird called a roc that carries Sindbad away from an island he was stranded on, a valley strewn with diamonds, and an island where the inhabitants bury the living with the dead. With each voyage, it appears the dangers and trials could grow no worse, and Sindbad returns home where if he was sensible he would stay. But then he grows weary of an idle life and longs to go out on the sea again. Sure enough, he faces further disasters that make for captivating storytelling.

The collection contains stories with interesting morals, as when a dervish tells a man if he rubs an ointment in his left eye he will see all the treasures hidden in the earth, but if he rubs it in his right eye he will go blind. After having it rubbed in his left eye and seeing the treasures, he thinks if the ointment is rubbed in his right eye he will learn of how to obtain the treasures for himself. When he insists the dervish rub it in his right eye, he goes blind, and the dervish comments that the blindness of his heart has brought the physical blindness of his body.

There are also stories of genies who come out of lamps or vessels, the most famous being of course Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp. There are stories about magicians who can cause the earth to tremble and open up by throwing powder on a fire, women who know magic and turn men into dogs and women into horses to seek revenge, and enchanted horses who can gallop rapidly into the sky and come back down in foreign kingdoms. There are stories about princes and princesses who meet through magical processes and fall in love, risking high adventures for one another.

Overall, the stories captivate current readers just as much as they were said to captivate the Sultan to whom Scheherazade originally told them. Each one is so enticing, readers want to hear the end of them, and then to hear another one even more interesting than the last. By the end, readers will only feel sorry that there are not more of these awe-inspiring and fascinating stories to read.

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