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Tales from the Arabian Nights -- Sir Richard Burton Print
Written by Mike Noel   
Monday, 21 December 2009
Most people have heard of Aladdin and His Magic Lamp or Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. These are just two of the tales from the 1001 Arabian Nights. This collection, translated into English by Sir Richard Burton in the 19th century, provides an excellent spectrum of the these Arabian Tales. It is not easy reading to the modern American reader. The language and structure is obscure (by today's pitiful standards) so it takes work to read. However, it is worth the effort.
The stories provide abundant detail about the middle eastern culture, philosophy, and religion. A reader cannot escape the constant references to Allah and Islam. It is also impossible to not detect a very different view on the issues of life and death when compared to western culture.
While reading this I was struck with the absurd mythological aspects of the stories. Many of the stories contain overt religious messages but they are wrapped in incredible and unbelievable contexts. This made me rethink much about western culture and our myths, stories, and religious beliefs. Are the religious stories that we know and believe just as absurd to an outsider? Somehow I don't think so but then maybe that is just because I'm on "this side" of the perspective. It is almost as if the Arabian Nights stories combine highly fantastical stories, like our Little Red Riding Hood, or Hansel and Gretle, and combine them with deeply religious lessons.
It is said that this book is great literature. I tend to agree. The view it provides of middle eastern culture (at least the middle eastern folk tales of a couple thousand years ago) is something that the average westerner will never get elsewhere. This alone makes it valuable. After reading this book, I myself have a different (hopefully better) understanding of that part of the world. I wouldn't pretend to think that everyone there still thinks the way that the people in the stories thought, but I do suspect that the countless generations of these stories being passed along has helped to shape and form the attitudes and thoughts there.
A final note. I would not recommend this book for children. Many of the situations are simply too adult for them.
Last Updated ( Monday, 21 December 2009 )
 

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