Monday, March 14, 2016

Tales of the Marvellous and News of the Strange

This is a fabulous birthday present from D, the only one who dares to buy me books. It's a beautifully bound hard cover of 'Tales of the Marvelous and News of the Strange'.

This is the first English translation of 18 stories from the Arab Medieval world. It might pre-date it. The translators and researchers don't know for sure. Published by Penguin, it's translated by Malcolm C Lyons, and includes a well-written introduction by Middle East historian Robert Irwin(Reviews here, here, here and here.)

Six of the stories are familiar since 'Arabian Nights' included them. But these tenth century stories apparently pre-date 'Arabian Nights'. The rest are new-to-me. In the same spirit of reading fantasy, suspend all disbelief and embrace the world of jinns and monsters, wizards and the occult, princes and ermm weak or devious females. Some of the stories are a little incoherent. But having gone through researchers and translation, this is about as coherent as it gets in English.

A word of caution, these tales, typical of the medieval world both Arab and European, speak of misogyny, rape and centers on the male. Robert Irwin's introduction is worth a thorough read for an overview of the Middle Ages, how the tales have been translated, and how our contemporary view of that world incite different reactions compared to those of a listener or a reader who lived in the Medieval times.

Died laughing so hard at Tale Five 'The Story of the Forty Girls and What Happened to Them with the Prince.' My gawwd. Effectively, as a male, the Prince was supreme. He was banished by his father because of a wrong interpretation of the latter's dream. Wandered into the dessert, into a strange castle with 40 virgins, a sorceress-Princess who was the mistress of the castle. And of course he impregnated ALL OF THEM. He had 40 sons. Yes, no daughters mentioned. There was also an imprisoned sister-Princess Shah Zanan in the shape of a magnificent steed (Arabian horse). Then he was taken to meet their youngest sister-Princess Badr al-Zaman and married her. He later then all married Princess Shah Zanan. Of course it was a happy ending when the misunderstanding with his father was resolved and he "continued to lead the best, most pleasant and untroubled of lives until his death."

Tale Three was kinda scary. It told of 'The Story of the Six Men: The Hunchbacked, the One-Eyed, the Blind, the Crippled, the Man Whose Lips Had Been Cut Off and the Seller of Glassware.' The King mentioned in this tale who had asked for the six storytellers was all right, and rewarded them for their stories, one more incredible than the last. On the run and on the road, the six "were united by the ties of misfortune." What's scary is the fate that befell all these six men, perhaps through no fault of their own except naiveté and blind trust in the good nature of humans. That resulted in their misfortune in losing an eye, becoming crippled and getting cheated of their treasures.

They say — and God knows better — that there was in the past a king who ruled every region whether on land or in the sea and who commanded the obedience of all their citizens. He was a man of intelligence and understanding, piety, modesty and chastity; he was just in the treatment of his subjects, behaving well and acting as an excellence administrator. He was very fond of stories, studying books and histories, and anyone who had something remarkable to pass on in the way of news, proverbs or tales would tell it to him. 
The king was astonished by all these tales and by the lack of intelligence shown by the last of them, the glass-seller, in what he did to his glass. He ordered all of them to be rewarded and given fine clothes. This is the story of their dealings with the king. 

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