The One Thousand and One Nights, or at least one of the stories from this wonderful collection, is quite well known around the world, but its origins not so much. Very basically, it is a collation of stories as told by Scheherazade, an Arabic Queen. Legend has it that the King of the time, Shahryar, discovered that his first wife had been unfaithful to him, and so he (very logically) resolved to marry a virgin and behead the previous day’s wife every day, so nothing of the sort would ever happen again.
Scheherazade was the 1001st woman to enter the lion’s den, and she came armed with a head full of tales. Each night she would tell the king a story, stopping at around dawn. The king, entranced by each story, would keep her alive each night in order to hear the end, which she provided – as well as a taste of a new tale.
It’s one of those stories that will stand the test of time, one of those stories where it doesn’t matter if it actually happened or not. Stories can often be more powerful than the truth, or “real history”, whatever that may be.
I was first introduced to the story of Scheherazade when I was in QYO2. I don’t know if it was Sergei’s unique manner (those of you who know what I’m talking about, insert a chuckle here), or if it was just the story itself – but the simplicity inherent in the tale made me fall in love with it even more. Turns out my good mate Rimsky-Korsakov had written a set of pieces based on this story. It’s still one of my favourites, and I may be a little biased because of the cello parts in it – but it’s beautiful nonetheless.
Rushdie’s new novel, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, is (in my opinion), a brilliant re-writing and re-thinking of the story of Scheherazade. Like all of his novels, there’s an element of magic infused into every page, contrasted with the horrors and realities of life. I didn’t even know the phrase “magical realism” existed before I first laid my eyes on The House of the Spirits, but now it’s probably my favourite genre.
I have always loved fairytales, but I think I developed a real interest and fascination with them at about the same time I started reading Austen and the Brontes. It was at this time that I realised that fairytales weren’t all they were cracked up to be when you’re younger. Like any other story, they’re full of good people and bad people – and sometimes evil – whether it be that tiny bit that’s inside you, or from other people – truly does prevail. It’s not to say that the world is an awful place (though that could be debatable, considering recent events), it’s just to say that it is often simply unfair. And when anything like that happens to you, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep going.
Life, like all fairytales, is a giant adventure, and there’s always more to see, more to learn. You don’t want to miss out on what it has to offer. There’s a tiny difference between reading to escape and reading to confront uncomfortable situations, and I think some fairytales (traditional, fractured, or otherwise), offer rare opportunities for these two worlds to combine, just for a little while.
No matter who you are, where you come from, or how old you are, the words once upon a time are, and will always be magical. It’s almost like the Disney animation tinkles over your head and you’re instantly transported into a different world. What I find even more incredible is that some authors and some novels can do that without even mentioning those five words. I’ve read a book and a half since I finished Rushdie’s novel, and I can still see the colours of his uniquely magical world swirling around in my head.
I think that’s the beauty of fairytales, of stories. You can really never get too old for them, and they will never get old for you. Sure, some may date more readily than others, but at the end of the day, they will always find a willing eye or ear. I could go on to say that’s why I think literary criticism is important, but there’ll be plenty of time for me to ramble on about that. So for now, just sit down and read a story.
Go on, I dare you.