Opened book with a wonderful world inside.
Blog 04.23.2020

One Thousand and One Nights: Origins Of Fantasy

(An illustration from “One Thousand and One Nights” by Sani ol-Molk)

Preface to readers: This is perfect for parents and teachers who remember these tales and the magic that was instilled in them upon hearing or reading the Arabian Nights as children. Now is a wonderful time to read to your children, depending on their tastes. For example: if they love adventure and the ocean, the story of Sinbad the Sailor would be ideal. Rediscover the magic of ancient folklore and share it with your children! The most popular tales from A Thousand and One Nights are summarized below, so share with your little readers and see what piques their interest.

(“One Thousand and One Nights” by Sani ol molk, Iran, 1849–1856)

A Thousand and One Nights: Origins

A  Thousand and One Nights or the Arabian Nights (Alf Layla wa-Layla in Arabic) is a collection of largely Middle Eastern and Indian stories, fairy tales, and folklore that stem back from the Golden Age of the Arab Empire (786 CE-809 CE). The stories compiled over centuries by scholars and authors “range from historical tales to tragic romances to comedies.”

The stories of “Aladdin, Ali Baba, and Sindbad the Sailor have almost become part of Western folklore (though these were added to the collection only in the 18th century in European adaptations).”

All of these stories are framed by the main tale of Scheherazade (which is most likely Indian in origin). As far as geography is concerned, the roots of these stories come from India, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, and possibly Greece.

Let’s explore these ancient magical stories and the varied characters many of us have come to know and love! Throughout popular culture, we’ve all heard of A Thousand and One Nights or The Arabian Nights and are enchanted by their unique, exotic beauty. This folklore is proof that a good story is one of the most enjoyable and lasting things that life has to offer.

Beloved Imagery and Fairytales from the Arabian Nights:

Sorcerers, Magic Lamps, Flying Carpets, Pirates and Sailors, Sultans, Princes, Princesses, Camels, Sand dunes and Genies…!

(“Aladdin Saluted Her with Joy,” illustration by Virginia Frances Sterrett from Arabian Nights, 1928)

  • The Story of Aladdin or The Wonderful Lamp probably did not appear in areas of the Western world until translated by Europeans in the early 1700s (by Antoine Galland in 1704 and 1717). Aladdin—a poor young street urchin—finds a magic lamp coveted by a magician. Inside the lamp is a genie who offers Aladdin wishes…and grants them! Aladdin marries a beautiful princess and they live together in a palace until the magician arrives again to claim his lamp (only, this time, he’s dressed in rags). He tries to fool Aladdin, but the genie obeys the boy’s wish to do away with the evil magician and all live happily ever after.

(“Ali Baba Presents Treasures” by Albert Robida, 1945)

  • Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves: This story was added into the text in 1840 (by Galland) and details the life of a poor woodcutter called Ali Baba. He soon finds a hideout filled with treasure chests dripping with jewels and gold coins but it’s protected by magic! By saying “open sesame,” he is able to claim the treasure for his own. Ali Baba’s brother, Cassim, finds out about the cave and, upon entering, meets a terrible fate.

(“Scheherazade and Sultan Schariar” (or “Shahryar”), 1880, by Ferdinand Keller)

  • Shahryar and Scheherazade: This tale is the framework for all of Arabian Nights. It tells the story of Scheherazade: a young, beautiful maiden who is clever enough to outwit the sultan, Shahryar, to whom she is married. In order to stay alive, she tells the king stories and, because he is so enchanted in her storytelling, he allows her to live and eventually falls in love with her.

(“Sinbad the Sailor,” 1914, by Milo Winter)

  • The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor: For all you explorers out there, this is the story for you! This tale—narrated by the protagonist, Sinbad—details a life at sea complete with shipwrecks, beasts, and the “Old Man of the Sea.”

For more from Full Cycle Publications, visit their website and don’t forget to check out the children’s book Habibi: The Hardworking Camel by T.S. Daggenhurst with illustrations by Joseph Cowman.

For more information on A Thousand and One Nights, its origins, featured stories, and characters mentioned in this blog, consult the websites below:

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