Jeff Stephens Dr. Swenson English 2111 11-22-11 The Thousand and One Nights: Abridged, Restructured, but Ever Lasting You may have read the story many times; you may have even watched the live-action movie or animated film, but only a few have been able to discern the unique traits inherent in The Thousand and One Nights. Willis G. Regier, a writer for World Literature Today, wrote that “the Nights has been read, admired, studied, illustrated, adapted for the stage, and Disneyfied” (321).
The traits that I would like you to remember are how I used interruption to structure the story and how I implemented love within the stories to help me win back King Shahrayar’s trust and pacify his fear of psychosexual replacement. While telling the king stories of grandeur and impossibility, I snuck in little snippets of truth and morality. Richard Burton, once said, “Without the nights, no Arabian nights,” by which he meant that in dividing the story into separate evenings it was given structure and without that structure The Arabian Nights would be no more than a collection of short stories (qtd. n Van Leeuwen 183). Burton could not have been any more correct. However, I would also like to point out that without the nights themselves, my own story would have ended long before the king changed his mind in the case of my death sentence. Structure in a story like The Arabian Nights is like the branches of a tree that bears fruit; not every branch will produce the fruit, but all the branches will have leaves to help collect the energy to make the fruit.
In the same way that a tree bears its fruit, my mini-stories bear the fruit of change within King Shahrayar’s heart. Through my stories, I was able to help the king reclaim some of the hope, understanding, and even love that he had once lost because of his unfaithful wife. I also showed him that women could yet be good and kind, faithful and true, and be intelligent without the wickedness which so many other storytellers have been unwilling to show over the centuries.
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Van Leeuwen wrote an excellent article that mentions how odd it must seem in my breaking up the stories with the nights, but he also says that by breaking them up I multiplied the dimensions and meanings within the stories themselves and gave a kind of fluidity to the whole thing. I like Van Leeuwen’s interpretation of my actions. He describes the most basic interruption as the break between the fantasy world of the stories that I tell and the world of the frame story in which I, myself, take part. Incidentally, he did his homework on the subject.
During that time it was quite usual for my people to use frame stories in order to create a more profound and comprehensive anthology. In using these frame stories, rather than teaching a lesson directly to the listener, we can teach vicariously through the understanding of the frame story’s characters’ understandings. When I decided to try and save the rest of the kingdom’s women from our vengeful king I knew that a direct approach would never work, so I had to drop him coy little hints in the form of fairytales, bedtime stories, and religious parables and sayings.
Although a king be a foolish man, it doesn’t make him less of a king, it just means he is less of a man. So, using the art of interruptive story telling has been around for a very long time, even long before my own time, but Van Leeuwen has a much better grasp on the many useful techniques that using frame stories and interruptive techniques can yield as well as how they help to structure a story by allowing intervals between different perspectives.
Van Leeuwen also describes how the stories that I told King Shahrayar could be directly related to the frame story in which he experiences so many wrongs on behalf of women. My poor husband was practically raped by a woman being held captive by a demon, he was cheated on in his own home by his wife and a common servant, and he watched as his brother suffered the same disgrace in multiplicity. Van Leeuwen says, “As a mechanism for the generation of meanings, the juxtaposition of viewpoints enhances the cycle’s character as an initiation into new forms of knowledge” (185).
Throughout the stories there are always several characters that give an account from their own perspective about what has happened in the past in order to help the reader’s and the protagonist’s understanding of the problem and how to remedy the situation properly. When I told the story about the fisherman and the demon, for instance, the demon was fixated on killing the fisherman because no one else had come to release him in hundreds of years. However, the way the fisherman saw it, the demon owed him a reward for being the one to release him after so much time.
Allowing both parties to speak their thoughts about the situation in conversation made it much easier to discern a mediation point. In other words, knowing both sides of the story helped to rectify the situation amicably for both parties in the end. I was trying the show the king that jumping to conclusions is never a good way to solve a problem. His ex-wife’s betrayal leads him to pronounce vows with a new woman each day and then break those vows by killing them the next so that they would not have a chance to betray him first.
I was able to slowly give meaningful and constructive criticism of King Shahrayar’s decisions over the course of many nights and because of that criticism he changed on the inside. He became whole again, with an understanding that he had found a woman (myself) that would never betray him. Throughout my Thousand and One Nights, love is a catalyst to reveal the true nature of the person within a given character, because love defines us. Love of one’s self versus love for others, love of money versus love of one’s family, love for love’s sake versus love for the sake of sex and wiles.
Wills G. Regier pointed out that “Love is everywhere”, and I could not agree more. Within every expression of love there is a story to be told about those involved and the feeling of love in and of itself. I told King Shahrayar stories of this sort each night, some with violence and murder, some with mystery and suspense, and some with sexual escapades. OK, a lot with sexual escapades. I practically bored the man to sleep some nights! I had to improvise to continue to keep his interest in my stories, but I always tried to find ways to wrap them up with love.
My king seemed to have forgotten what love really was, so I needed to remind him of the feeling he so desperately sought even if, to begin with, it was sought unconsciously. Regier actually nailed it when he said that I gave King Shahrayar spiritual instruction a couple of times (311). I was attempting to do just that by reciting proverbs and Muhammad’s sayings. I was attempting (and apparently successfully so) to help him regain his moralistic views and understandings of the world. Love plays a large role in one’s understanding of how people view each other and how and why the react in the ways that they do.
He needed to understand that part of why he reacted to his ex-wife in such an over-the-top manner was because he loved her so much that it hurt him more deeply than anything had ever hurt him before. He needed to understand that love and the loss of love was what drove him to such drastic measures. John J. Brugaletta wrote an interesting essay about my stories regarding the different allegorical properties from which new knowledge could be gleaned when comparing the situations in the stories to situations in real life (7).
He was right, I was providing stories that the king could relate to at the time. There seemed to be some ominous trend in the women of my day to be more sexually attracted to black men. Honestly, it was probably more to do with the fact that black slaves tended to be in better physical condition than the white nobility, sitting in their lush palaces, eating meat and drinking wine all day, and going on hunts for pleasure rather than out of necessity. Some of King Shahrayar’s emotional issues undoubtedly stemmed from his seeming fear of “psychosexual” replacement by the black slaves.
Brugaletta says that “the societies in which this book took form were preoccupied with a sense of inadequacy in sexual competition with blacks” (6). One way or another, every story could be directly proportionalized with King Shahrayar’s own life-experiences. I engineered the stories to reflect King Shahrayar’s mishaps in a kind-of worse-case scenario type of schema to help him reconcile with his unhappiness and help him to understand that while his wife was at fault in cheating on him, so was he in his exacting vengeance upon all the women of his kingdom because of one woman’s infidelity.
While my king and husband listened to my stories, I was able to postpone my own demise and prevent others from falling to the same fate as my predecessors. As long as I kept the man intrigued, the king stayed his bloody hands. I showed him through my stories that he was missing out on living life and he understood that although he had become an angry, bitter tyrant, he could change his ways and become a loving husband and king again. Through my stories, he was able to trust women and believe in their goodness again. Works Cited Brugaletta, John J. The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments. " Masterplots, Fourth Edition (2010): 1-6. Literary Reference Center. Web. 22 Nov. 2011. Lawall, Sarah N. , and Maynard Mack. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. Second ed. Vol. B. New York: Norton, 2002. Print. Leeuwen, Richard Van. "The Art Of Interruption: The Thousand And One Nights And Jan Potocki. " Middle Eastern Literatures 7. 2 (2004): 183-198. Academic Search Complete. Web. 22 Nov. 2011. Regier, Wills G. "Shahrazad's New Clothes. " World Literature Today 84. 2 (2010): 30-34. Academic Search Complete. Web. 22 Nov. 2011.
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