An Oriental Frame Tale

In 1704, Great Britain was introduced to a series of stories written years before: The Arabian Nights (the 1001 Nights). No one knows who authored the tales. But Richard F. Burton was the man who was primarily responsible for introducing them to the English public. I came across these stories in my first creative writing class in tenth grade, though I never finished them. But in the summer of 2010, I did. I could definitely use a reread, especially when it comes to the tales of Sinbad and Judar. Yet I enjoyed most of the stories, especially “The Fisherman and the Jinnee,” which inspired one of my short stories “The Wrath of Kabal.” The stories constitute a frame tale, which by definition is when there are many short stories that interlope together in one book, one leading to another (“stories within stories”). I personally believe the book is an instance of metafiction as well, which is a narrative that comments on storytelling itself. I have a general theory of this book and the novel: the book shows us how, formulaically speaking, a group of short stories can be the framework of a novel. If beginning writers start off with short stories, then they will have decent practice before tackling a novel. You could treat each chapter, in a sense, like a short story, and then get an idea as to how a novel is structured. If you read Agatha Christie’s short story collections and compare them with the Poirot novel The Big Four or read Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, you might see what I mean.

King Shahryar, enraged at his wife’s adultery, goes on a killing spree: he executes every woman in his path, believing them all to be conniving and wicked. One night, he tells his new victim, Scheherazade, that he will soon kill her too. But the beautiful lady begs a chance to tell him stories to appease his wrath, which she most certianly does. The king is so pleased by her storytelling, he recants from his fury and marries her. His faith in the goodness of woman is restored. Feminists may enjoy using this collection of stories as an argument for early pro-female storytelling. Afterall, in ancient cultures, women were not always seen as second rate citizens.

When Scheherazade tells one story, a character in that story tells another, thus creating a long chain of tales. There are many different subjects the stories treat: greed, betrayal, love, sexuality, honor, wisdom, etc. Some are about jinnees, spirits who either fulfil their master’s wishes or violently slaughter people with long swords. Others are about  masculine adventures that involve women of high honor and integrity. Many of the stories have a religious base in Islam, constituting morality from the Koran. They can be seen, in one way, as a case of Islamic folklore. As far as setting goes, the tales occur in parts of the Middle East, China and Africa. They are “oriental” stories in that they tell of a deeply interesting subject to westerners in the 1700’s: the East, its culture and customs. There are instances of animal fables, where creatures such as donkies speak. Sinbad can be compared to the British Robinson Crusoe, for he, too, struggles with keeping his adventerous spirit in check and ends up sailing to dangerous places, unintentionally. There is also the popular tale of Aladdin and his lamp, similar and not so similar, to the Disney rendition. All these examples are just a part of what you’ll come across.

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