The Arabian Nights : A Companion, Paperback
5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


"The Arabian Nights" has become a synonym for the fabulous and the exotic.

Every child is familiar with the stories of Aladdin, Sinbad the Sailor and Ali Baba.

Yet very few people, even specialists in oriential literature, have a clear idea of when the book was written or what exactly it is.

Far from being a batch of stories for children, "The Arabian Nights" contains hundreds of narratives of all kinds - fables, epics, erotica, debates, fairy tales, political allegories, mystical anecdotes and comedies.

It is a labyrinth of stories within stories. Widely held in contempt in the Middle East for its frivolity and occasional obscenity, the work has nevertheless had a major influence on European and American culture, to the extent that the story collection must be considered as a key work in Western literature.

A full understanding of the writings of Voltaire, Dickens, Melville, Proust and Borges, or indeed of the origins of science fiction, is impossible without some familiarity with the stories of the "Nights".

This companion aims to guide the reader into this labyrinth of storytelling. It traces the development of the stories from prehistoric India and Pharaonic Egypt to modern times, and explores the history of translation and imitation.

Above all, it uses the stories as a guide to the social history and counter-culture of the medieval Near East and the world of the storyteller, the snake charmer, the burglar, the sorcerer, the drug-addict, the treasure hunter and the adulterer.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 360 pages, chronology, notes, index
  • Publisher: I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Literary theory
  • ISBN: 9781860649837



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Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

Review by

Very well written introduction to a world that most of us know very little about. Straightforward chapters on history of the text and dueling translations worth the price of admission by themselves. And who can pass up a book that brings us the word 'urinomancy'? A model of cultural commentary.

Review by

Irwin provides some history for the tales in 1001 Nights as well as a good description of the (presumed) context in which they were told and retold, and the history and context are greatly enriching my reading of the recent (2010) Penguin Classics edition of the "complete" Calcutta II collection of stories. He tells also the history of the Nights as a western literary phenomenon, presenting the collection as a very influential precursor of entire genres of Western literature -- science fiction, sword-and-sorcery, fantasy, magic realism -- and does the whole thing with humor, humility, and general good nature.This is exactly what a "Companion" should be and when I finished it I went back to the start and began again.

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