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The Arabian Nights [Norton Critical Edition]…
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The Arabian Nights [Norton Critical Edition]

by Daniel Heller-Roazen (Editor), Muhsin Mahdi (Editor)

Other authors: Al Mas’ūdi (Contributor), Jorge Luis Borges (Contributor), Jerome W. Clinton (Contributor), Francesco Gabrieli (Contributor), Mia Irene Gerhardt (Contributor)12 more, Heinz Grotzfeld (Contributor), Husain Haddawy (Translator), Andras Hamori (Contributor), Josef Horovitz (Contributor), Taha Husayn (Contributor), Ibn Ishāq Al-Nadīm (Contributor), Abdelfattah Kilito (Contributor), David Pinault (Contributor), Edgar Allan Poe (Contributor), Marcel Proust (Contributor), Tzvetan Todorov (Contributor), Hugo von Hofmannsthal (Contributor)

Series: Norton Critical Editions

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I've recently read several interesting short story collections from antiquity, namely The Canterbury Tales, Arabian Nights, and Ovid's Metamorphoses. Each of them has inspired enough academic articles to fill a library, so I'm not going to delve into their historical import or the ways each has influenced future literature, but I think its valuable to consider how they compare to each other in approach and how I saw them as stories.

First, The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer's unfinished collection provides a great window into what life was like in the middle ages, more specifically England in the 1300s. By providing a diverse cast of story tellers as the vehicles for the stories themselves Chaucer is able to explore many professions and various points on the social hierarchy, satirizing and criticizing all the flaws he saw in his society. To an extent these are interesting, but social satire does not always age well. While it certainly gives you a sense of how England looked through Chaucer's eyes (a den of corruption and hypocrisy for the most part, especially when discussing the religious institutions), it can be hit or miss as to whether the critique has aged well. Critique on chivalry in The Knight's Tale? I'm in. Critique of alchemists wherein pages and pages of ingredients are listed? Yawn. Additionally, the majority of the tales aren't that deep, with many being raunchy stories of pure entertainment and others being morality tales with blatantly obvious messages (pride is bad and fortune is fickle, we get it). The message of one tale was flat out stated to be "beware of treachery." Was there someone at the time arguing that treachery wasn't that big a deal and we should just ignore it?

In reverse chronological order the next up is Arabian Nights. This collection is amorphous enough that many tales pop up in one edition and not another, which in my opinion weakens the arguments I see about the collection having a set of coherent themes or messages. The sole theme that I found to be consistent was the power of storytelling- it appears in the frame narrative, of course, but also the stories themselves often showcase the ability of stories to trick the powerful, and oftentimes stories lead to sub-stories and so on, like nesting dolls. Toward the end of the collection the descriptions began to get to me: if I never see someone described as being "as beautiful as the moon" with "lips like coral" and other features like various gems I'll be a happy reader. The Norton Critical addition showed its worth by providing many additional pieces inspired by the Arabian Nights, as well as critical analyses of the text (some of which I found less than convincing, but always interesting). More so than the other two collections Arabian Nights just struck me as a bunch of stories, many of which of course were intended to edify, but mostly its purpose was to entertain. It more or less accomplished this.

The earliest, and also the best, of the three collections was Ovid's Metamorphoses. Chaucer references the classic explicitly several times in his work, and it's no wonder: Ovid is the master that Chaucer tried and failed to match. What put this collection above the others for me was that Ovid not only had a consistent theme to the stories (transformations, as the title would suggest), but also stories flow from one to the next, mostly with an organic feeling that makes the work take on a grander scale. Ovid's not just telling stories, he's tracing the history of the world, explaining how the world became populated with the birds and plants and animals that fill it, and connecting the past all up to what was then the present day. It also serves as the source for much of what we know of Greek/Roman mythology, as Ovid was also setting down an account of the actions and behavior of the gods. Framing narratives can be used to great effect, just look at If On a Winter's Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino for a phenomenal example, but Canterbury Tales creates such a framing narrative only to leave it incomplete, and Arabian Nights slowly siphons away the importance of the frame narrative until it is forgotten entirely. In comparison, Ovid's Metamorphoses connection of his tales makes his work stand on a grander scale, and makes it feel like a more coherent whole. A note on translations, I found Charles Martin's work to be very strong in general, although he makes a few bizarre choices. Translating a singing contest into a rap battle was a clear mistake. Overall, though, I feel confident recommending him so long as you want a more modern take on the text.

All three collections have stood the test of time, and each is an essential read to understand the ages and cultures they arose out of. Between the three of them, though, Ovid's Metamorphoses is the most worthy of your time in my opinion. ( )
  BayardUS | Dec 10, 2014 |
Note that this review is written specifically of the Norton Critical Edition, ISBN 978-0-393-92808-2.

I can't remember ever rating a Norton Critical Edition of any book this low, and I'm very much a reader of NCEs. It consists of somewhere more than two hundred "nights" of roughly 26 stories (but that story count could vary and perhaps be a bit higher, depending on how you define a "story" given the embedding of narratives in the "1001 Nights"). Additionally, the text includes the separate Story of Sindbad the Sailor (which, like Ali Baba and Aladdin, is not actually a part of "1001 Nights" tales narrated by Shahrazad).

Obviously Norton could not be expected to publish the full "1001 Nights" and some selection/abridgement was needed, but just why this particular selection was made is puzzling. Why the omission of Ali Baba and Aladdin, considering that the NCE includes Sinbad, which likewise is not a part of the "1001 Nights" proper? And why the choice of the particular stories (all of which compress into the first 270 or so of the "nights" and none later)? At the very least, the editor's Preface should have explained the basis for these selections.

The Preface should also have pointed out that Sinbad, Ali Baba, and Aladdin are none of them a part of the "1001 Nights" proper, rather being separate story lines. This eventually becomes clear if a reader works her way through certain of the supplementary critical materials, but it's not something that's readily apparent, especially as one begins reading the text proper.

The supplementary materials are poorly chosen, with most of them focusing on textual criticism or story-telling style and with little if any attention to the place of "1001 Nights" in world folklore. The textual criticism also tends to be more technical than one normally associates with NCEs, and some of the essays make references to "nights" or stories without giving clear indication of just where these texts appear in the actual "1001 Nights" selections in this NCE volume. One noteworthy exception is Jerome Clinton's quite interesting essay "Madness and Cure in the 1001 Nights," which presents the Nights as a work of, shall we call it, paleofeminism (my term, not Clinton's).

Overall, this was an unusually unsatisfactory experience for a Norton Critical Edition. ( )
  CurrerBell | Dec 14, 2013 |
having been written by an unknown persian in the distant past, Sir Richard Burton, one of Britain's greatest explorers, sees a great opportunity to "translate".... under Queen Victoria's nose some of his most passionate perversions. a wide variety of tales, frequently demonizing the jinn, a series of resounding disappointments as princess jasmine is converted into the bland Badr al badur (or something), one of the few times Disney's liberties and editing have been for the best
  DanielPBryant | Jan 30, 2012 |
I know the story "araddin".
But I don' t know that this story is one of the story in a story "ARABIAN NIGHTS".
"ARABIAN NIGHTS" has a lot of funny and mysterious storys.
And I think that the woman who is a hero in this book, is very clever.
It is good idea that eke out a life to tell storys.
  sayaka.o | Jun 1, 2010 |
Showing 4 of 4
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Heller-Roazen, DanielEditorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Mahdi, MuhsinEditormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Al Mas’ūdiContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Borges, Jorge LuisContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Clinton, Jerome W.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gabrieli, FrancescoContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gerhardt, Mia IreneContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Grotzfeld, HeinzContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Haddawy, HusainTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hamori, AndrasContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Horovitz, JosefContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Husayn, TahaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ibn Ishāq Al-NadīmContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kilito, AbdelfattahContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Pinault, DavidContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Poe, Edgar AllanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Proust, MarcelContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Todorov, TzvetanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
von Hofmannsthal, HugoContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Do Not Combine: This is a "Norton Critical Edition", it is a unique work with significant added material, including essays and background materials. Do not combine with other editions of the work. Please maintain the phrase "Norton Critical Edition" in the Canonical Title and Publisher Series fields.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 039392808X, Paperback)

This Norton Critical Edition includes twenty-eight tales from The Arabian Nights translated by Husain Haddawy on the basis of the oldest existing Arabic manuscript.

Few works of literature are as familiar and beloved as The Arabian Nights. Yet few remain also as unknown. In English, The Arabian Nights is a literary work of relatively recent date—the first versions of the tales appeared in English barely two hundred years ago. The tales are accompanied by a preface, a note on the text, and explanatory annotations.

“Contexts” presents three of the oldest witnesses to The Arabian Nights in the Arabic tradition, together in English for the first time: an anonymous ninth-century fragment, Al Mas‘udi’s Muruj al-Dhahab, and Ibn al-Nadim’s The Fihrist. Also included are three related works by the nineteenth- and twentieth-century writers Edgar Allan Poe, Marcel Proust, and Taha Husayn.

“Criticism” collects eleven wide-ranging essays on The Arabian Nights’ central themes by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Josef Horovitz, Jorge Luis Borges, Francesco Gabrieli, Mia Irene Gerhardt, Tzvetan Todorov, Andras Hamori, Heinz Grotzfield, Jerome W. Clinton, Abdelfattah Kilito, and David Pinault.

A Chronology of The Arabian Nights and a Selected Bibliography are also included.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:46 -0400)

Twenty-eight tales from The Arabian Nights translated by Husain Haddawy on the basis of the oldest existing Arabic manuscript. Few works of literature are as familiar and beloved as The Arabian Nights, yet few remain also as unknown. In English, The Arabian Nights is a literary work of relatively recent date - the first versions of the tales appeared in English barely two hundred years ago. The tales are accompanied by a preface, a note on the text, and explanatory annotations.… (more)

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