Books: Marina Warner’s “Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights” – Critical Mass Blog


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The National Book Critics Circle, founded at the Algonquin Round Table in 1974, honors outstanding writing and fosters a national conversation about reading, criticism and literature.


[2012, Criticism] Here’s a maddeningly looping tall tale about the enchantment of story telling that has cast a spell over readers and writers for centuries: A sultan, incensed to murderous rage by an act of cuckoldry, orders a new bride to be presented to him each night and summarily beheaded the following morning. The daughter of the vizier, knowing what awaits her should she fail, hatches a plan with her sister. She will accompany her into the sultan’s bedroom, and begin to tell him a tale. When the morning breaks, when “the time for speaking is over,” the sultan finds himself so charmed by the story she tells and so eager to hear how it turns out that the execution is stayed for one more evening, and one more, and one more. The storyteller, Scheherazade, wagers with her neck that literature can stave off death, and against the longest of odds, the marvelously recursive Alf Layla wa-Layla, or The Thousand and One Nights, or the Arabian Nights, is both the proof and the payoff of her long-shot gamble.

VanessaVaile‘s insight:

Telling stories, Shahrazad, Alf Leila wa-Layla, Borges, oral tradition, the palimpsest (and maze) of stories told/retold, and more…add this one to the reading list…


Citing Borges (as the author does) on The Arabian Nights: ‘I think the reader should enrich what he is reading. He should misunderstand the text; he should change it into something else." I’d add, be aware of and acknowledge the change: do not erase the originals or silence their tellers, rendering them invisible.

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