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Monday, June 8, 2015

In Search of the Missing Arabian Nights Page

A fisherman sits on his carpet on a beach as he looks up at a giant genie.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

I apologise for posting so late. I normally have been posting on a Friday or Saturday, but this past Saturday I had a family event to go to and was there a little longer than I had intended.

Earlier last week, I was in bed reading a used copy of the Arabian Nights only to find out a page was missing. It was a missing leaf to be exact; the actual pages were 41 and 42, front and back. It was right in the middle of the story about the fisherman and the genie. I was really mad when I discovered this because I didn’t want to continue until I could replace the missing page. Even though the Arabian Nights is a compilation of stories, they are told within one overarching story. The book begins with the Princess Scheherazade’s tale that she tells to the king in order to hold off her execution. Even though she is the chief story teller in the book, within her stories are other stories told by the characters. So they are stories within stories, like boxes within boxes and the Asian figures that come inside each other where each is smaller than the one encasing it.

Well anyway, I was originally going to just skip around to the different stories in the book, and begin just reading the ones I’m most familiar with such as the Aladdin and Sinbad tales. I’ve seen Disney’s Aladdin (which I’m sure is nowhere as good as the original Arabic story). I grew up watching the old Sinbad movies that the late Ray Harryhausen did the special effects for, particularly the stop-and-go creature animation.  But after I read the opening and the initial tale and saw how it and the other stories were interconnected under Scheherazade’s telling of them, I decided to read the book straight through. So I wasn’t going to go on to the next story without finishing the one I had been reading and to do that I needed to get a hold of a copy of the missing page.

The next morning I did a search for a free ebook copy of Arabian Nights on Project Gutenberg’swebsite. The version I found that came closest to my version was a 19th century copy of the Richard Burton translation, which the Signet copy I have is based on.

Well I printed a copy of the missing passages from Project Gutenberg’s website, and had to read/skim carefully for them since the website’s edition was the original Burton translation and so the dialect of English that was used is much different than today’s. In fact, the style he translated it into was closer to Elizabethan English and so was already archaic for his time. Therefore the translation was somewhat more dense as beautiful as it was, phonetically speaking. But I printed out the passages on one sheet and because the text was too difficult to shrink to fit the Signet’s paperback edition’s page size, I folded the sheet in half and inserted it into the book (for my own use, of course). Pretty crude, I know.

So that evening I continued where I left off of my reading and it was a bit awkward because of the differences in the styles of English but still interesting and gave me the gist, if nothing more, of that segment of the story. So it allowed me to continue on to the rest of the book without missing out on anything (except maybe one of the beautifully inked or etched illustrations that are found throughout the book).

But that’s what is so great about Project Gutenberg: it makes available free copies of the literary classics. You can go there anytime and download a copy of a classic. Project Gutenberg offers classic books in almost any genre you can think of, including sci fi, fantasy and horror. I strongly suggest you check it out.

I believe Arabian Nights was on last summer’s reading list for me, but as I do with so many reading lists I didn’t get around to reading it until this summer (more like late spring). So I’ll have the entire summer to read it.

I’ll try to have another summer reading list here in the next week or two. But I said I would write a review of a Philip K. Dick short story last week and so I’ll probably have that here for you first.

Until next time . . . 

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