East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Marina Warner’s Stranger Magic

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strangermagicsbookscanWell, this is the week dedicated to the Arabian Nights, or so it seems.
So why not go on and talk about another good book I will be quite happy to find the time and re-read, not just because it will be fun research for the Mana Bros Alam al Mithral project, but most of all because it is one of the ten best literary essays I ever read. And I kid you not.
The book is Marina Warner’s Stranger Magic and I have bored to death all my friends, trying to push it on them, and now I guess it’s your turn.

marina-warnerMarina Warner is a cultural historian, a fiction author and a mythographer, blessed with a cosmopolitan education, a wonderful wit and an incredibly wide and deep culture, and as far as I am concerned she is up there in my personal pantheon of influential writers.
Stranger Magic came out in 2011 through Chatto & Windos, as a costly hardback I bought with the money from my Geology research scholarship, because you know me, I’m a sucker for the Arabian Nights. So sue me.
And Stranger Magic is the most fascinating examination of the Arabian Nights – the story structures, the metaphors, the storytelling.
But also the magical thinking behind the stories, the historical and the imaginary, the ins and outs of this wonderful text that is generally known as the Arabian Nights.
To carry out her in-depth analysis, Warner offers us a retelling of some classical tales from the Arabian Nights, basically opening up the stories and showing us their workings, the secret mechanisms, the hidden meanings, the lost references.
And then on, through film adaptations, the Arabian fantasy aesthetic, opera and music, art… following all of the leads in this volume would require ages and vast resources, and what a pleasure it would be!
If the Arabian Nights is a book that contains a world, then Stranger Magic is its perfect companion. It can be read as a learned essay, as a diversion, as a retelling of classics or as a literary handbook. It is all this and much more.
And I’m a happy hack, because I’m going to read it again.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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