Did Arabian Nights inspire western short story? | Daily News

Did Arabian Nights inspire western short story?

Perhaps the firm belief among the modern literary critics is that the art of the modern short story is a recent development of a short narrative genre. The art of short story writing became widely popular via newspapers and periodicals, but Professor Robert Sholes holds an alternative view.

He in the late sixties declared, in 'The Elements of Fiction' that the short story may have stemmed out of the tales from Arabian Nights. This was a work packed with fantasies much different from the usual fairytales that the English reader knew through Grimms' Tales.

Some tales of the Arabian Nights number about 300. They were translated from Arabic sources and spread towards the orient. Some others argue that the Arabian tales resemble the already extant tales of the orient such as Buddhist Jatakas, Mahabharatha and Ramayana. Arabian Nights tales may have been inspired by the later writers of the orient.

It is also believed that the Arabic traders have been orally transmitting the Arabic tales to places they frequented globally. The frame tale in the Arabian nights is fascinating. This recreates how a jealous Sultan Shahriar, persuaded of the faithlessness of women, married a new wife each evening and put her to death the following morning. His bride Shaharad won a reprieve by commencing a story or a tale and artfully sustaining his [sultan's] curiosity about the outcome of her tales within tales.

He would have felt, according to folklore, that here is a godsend storyteller. For thousand and one nights, the sultan kept reprieving her during which time she is said to have produced three male heirs. This has led the sultan to abandon his previous plans of the cruel killing. According to Scholes, the first European translation was a French work by Antoine Galland said to have been translated from 1704 to1717.

Since then the tales like Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Sindbad the Sailor, Aladdin and the Magic Lamp and many other tales had become the favourite reading pursuit. According to Scholes, the French translation may have inspired quite a number of English writers to embark on Arabian Nights creative translation projects.

The English writers like Somerset Maugham and Robert Stevenson, who came later into the literary scene, may have been inspired by the French translation. It is also believed that the Dutch writer of fame Hans Andersen too had been largely inspired by the French translation of Arabian nights. Even in the expurgated version of most Arabian Nights translations, the tales convey the spirit of the Eastern and Mohammedan life, to exotic setting and customs and the sensuality more common to the occidental writers.

Scholes underlines the links that existed between the fantasy and the reality in these tales which paved the way to the comparative studies in the fairy tales and Arabian night tales with references to the enchanting scenes of the night by journeys across the deserts, the camel trains, magic carpets, excessive merriments of love, the appearance of demons and other evil forces. They became fascinating listening in episodes for bedtime storytelling tradition which flourished both in the eastern and the western cultures.

This enlivened the minds of children though some of the child psychologists declare ill effects of such listening. As such for some time the appearance of Arabian Nights tales were curtailed in the English bookshelves. But as Scholes maintains, the effects had never been properly gauged by any child psychologist.

He too believes that the literary concepts much discussed as 'mythological interpretations', 'magic realism' and 'deconstructive methods' are more observed in Arabian Nights tales than anywhere else. Two significant traits are recorded in the history of English literature as regards the influence of Arabian Nights tales. They are the simplified books as published by Alan Lane in the series known to the whole English speaking world as AL Bright story readers.

This series triggered off with Arabian Night tales such as Aladdin and His Magic Lamp culminating in longer tales. Then came a whole horde of theatrical activities based on these tales. The BBC World Service attempted to bring these tales closer to the listener as a series of radio plays during the late 50s.

Out of the musicians most inspired by these tales comes the Russian maestro named Rimsky Korsakoff who attempted to recreate for the first time the ballet interpretation of the storyteller Shaharad as the first ever feminine creator of a chain of tales interwoven with symbolic meanings. Shaharad too became a household name in Russia. One of the new translations by Richard Burton created a stir in England. The interpretations were loosely knitted and liberties taken caused moral issues among educationists.

Burton had taken steps to perhaps demoralise some of the tales from the original work. But the strangest situation was that this particular work remained as the most discussed English translation of the Arabian Nights. The English translations based on French version of Galland were made by R Heron (1792) and W Beloe (1795) the later English translations by Henry Torrens (1838) were used for the teaching of myths and legends. 

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