If you’re like me, you grew up hearing references to the Tales of the Arabian Nights. You may have even heard versions of the tale of Scheherezade, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and, of course, Aladdin. Numerous versions exist, the most famous (in English, anyway) perhaps being Sir Richard Burton’s, although the stories, loosely collected, have been passed around for centuries, sometimes known to Westerners as the Tales of the 1,001 Nights–although there’s no known version with one-thousand and one nights, or even one-thousand and one tales. Scholar and translator Jack Zipes collected several of the tales into a handy little paperback volume of just under six-hundred pages titled simply Arabian Nights: The Marvels And Wonders of the Thousand And One Nights. That was quite a feat: at least one 1885 edition of Burton’s translation runs to ten thick volumes. In addition to cutting some tales, Zipes also simplified Burton’s ornate Victorian speech and eliminated his distracting footnotes. The tales are framed by the story of King Shahryar who discovers that his wives are unfaithful (and oh, how unfaithful they are!), and decides to marry a different woman each night and murder her in the morning. The clever Scheherezade decides, in an attempt to stop the slaughter, to put herself up for sacrifice, tricking the king by telling tales that she cuts short just before dawn every day. The book includes a lot of the standard favorites: “The Fisherman and the Jinnee”, “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp”, and the voyages of Sinbad. “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” is a favorite of mine, mainly because it’s Ali Baba’s maid who saves the day, although she never gets any credit.
The first edition put together by Zipes, published in 1991, is, unfortunately, out of print now. It’s been republished in an expanded two-volume version, but the earlier single volume was handy because it was a single paperback. Still, once you start reading the tales they quickly become addictive. You just might find yourself reading them for one-thousand and one nights.