East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Back to the Arabian Nights


I have often mentioned my passion for the Arabian Nights, or if you prefer the 1001 Nights, the collection of Oriental fantasies that fascinated me as a kid, and has been one of the fixed points in my interest for the fantastic. This blog, too, owes a little to my interest in the Nights.

Now, for a number of reasons, I am going back to the stories, and I am also reading or re-reading non fiction on the subject. Looks like, yet again, I am about to turn a hobby into something more defined and structured.

And I thought, why not share a few resources with you guys?

First of all, after only twenty five years, I went and got me a copy of Robert Irwin’s The Arabian Nights: A Companion, described as a map to lead the reader into the labyrinth that is the Nights, but without showing a way out. The book was revolutionary when it came out in 1994, and today some of the ideas in here have become common wisdom, but it’s quite a fascinating reading.

I have often mentioned Marina Warner’s A Stranger Magic as my favorite essay on the Arabian Nights, and it is the book I have re-read more often on the subject. It complements ideally Irwin’s Companion, and explores narrative themes and structures of the original Nights. I can’t recommend this book enough.

Andre Clot’s Harun Al-Rashid and the World of the 1001 Nights comes as a close second in my all-time favorite essays connected with the Nights – a learned overview of the golden age of Baghdad and the elements that from history filtered into the narrative.

I was never a big fan of the GURPS roleplaying system, but their sourcebooks were wonderful, and Phil Masters’ GURPS Arabian Nights is a perfect balance of erudition and gaming information – so much so, that it’s a pleasure to read even if you are not going to play an Arabian Nights game.

And Masters did it again with the thin but meaty Sinbad the Sailor, a nice little booklet published by Osprey in their Legends line. It does focus on my favorite stories from the Arabian Nights – stories that are in all likelihood apocryphal. But who cares?

And to finish, I’ve been once again through Tim Severin’s The Sindbad Voyage, an adventurous recreation in the modern day of what might have been the true route of Sinbad’s adventures. To ground the stuff I am reading in reality.

I’m also juggling two versions of the Nights – the Mahdi philological translation of the original texts, and the highly idiosyncratic, but beautiful, edition by the Everyman Library.

And to finish, I’m taking a course on Coursera about The Cosmopolitan Medieval Arabic World, and I’ve just finished watching a nice BBC4 documentary – hosted by Richard E. Grant – about The Secrets of the Arabian Nights. You can find a copy on Youtube.

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.

2 thoughts on “Back to the Arabian Nights

  1. I agree about Gurps. A great source of fascination, collected and never played. I bet I will regret it until the end of my days, even if I really don’t mean to do do it until I live. It’s the wicked magic of Gurps, I guess.


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