Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On the Roots of Arabian Fantasy - Howard Andrew Jones

"The original story cycle has its origins in Persian times, but inspiration probably goes back even further. One of the characteristic features of the 1001 Nights is the puzzle-box story, where a framing device is used to connect stories. Characters within one of those stories may tell a tale within a tale, and sometimes, a tale within a tale within a tale. But puzzle box stories didn't originate with the 1001 Nights. The concept was likely transmitted from other storytelling traditions, possibly a millennium or more before the first version of the Arabian Nights - possibly before even the fables of Aesop (who himself might be a fable, but I digress). The most famous and influential of these story cycles seems to originate in ancient India, and is known as the Panchatantra. Storytellers knew a good thing when they heard it, and many stories and concepts in the Panchatantra made their way to the Middle-East, where the cycle became better known by the name of two of the principal characters, Kalila and Dimna. A recent English translation by Ramsay Wood (Kalila and Dimna, Saqi Books) of the first two books of the Panchatantra is a delightful read, full of wondrous animal fables that comment upon the nature of man and society, the attainment of wisdom, the beauty of friendship, and the trials of life. The men and creatures of Kalila and Dimna tell tales within tales within tales, just as poor, clever Scheherezade does in the 1001 Nights."

3.5 out of 5