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The Financial Express

Richard Burton’s Arabian Nights: An effort to represent a particular era


Richard Burton’s Arabian Nights: An effort to represent a particular era

Growing up, most of the people around the world got familiar with the Arabian Folktales in some form or other.

Ali Baba and Forty Thieves, Aladdin and his Magic Lamp are some of the stories that will always be present in the collective memory of most of the people around the world.

The first proper rendition of The Arabian Nights in English was done by Sir Richard Burton who happened to be a prominent British explorer and Arabist. The book contains a huge collection of folk tales that originated during the Islamic Golden Age.

The book was first published in the year 1885 and the linguistic nature of the book is very much representative of that age.

Hence, for the modern readers, it might come as a huge shock as the mannerisms and insights of the book are very archaic in nature. But if one delves deeply, this would come off as a minor inconvenience.

The stories in the book are fascinating and full of mystic and magical beings with a moral undertone.

The values and morals that are being propagated by the book are very much representative of the age and readers should keep the fact in mind, because from the standards of morality of the 21st century, a lot of things in the book might appear to be misogynistic, illiberal and tyrannical.

There are quite a few poems put here and there among the stories which add to the literary and poetic content of the book and can be described as quite enjoyable. The lead protagonists of most of the stories are often found to be uttering poems when any danger or difficulty arrives on their way.

The Arabian Nights is a relic of two centuries ago and it represents a mythical and magical landscape of Arabia during the times of Caliph Harun Ar Rashid and the stories are being presented from the perspective of a colonial Englishman.

Hence, relating the stories and the perspectives mentioned in the book with the modern world is not a very good idea and one can only enjoy the essence of the stories if he/she regards the perspectives of the writers and the age in which these stories were written.

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