The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade
Who wrote it?
Edgar Allan Poe. Those of you who know me, will know I have an affection for Poe that borders on obsession. Not only did I find his ‘Philosophy on Composition’ invaluable when I was writing the thesis for my PhD; and I suspect I was strongly influenced by his poem ‘The Raven’ when I wrote my own novel Raven and Skull; but I just admire Poe and the tremendous amount he managed to achieve in such a short and troubled life. Poe is rightly regarded as the master of the horror story, the author of the prototypical amateur detective story, and a man whose life was as tragic and mysterious as the darkest of his narratives.
What’s it about?
‘The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade’ is a satirical variation of the Arabian Nights (also known as The Thousand-and-One Nights). In the Arabian Nights, the heroine Scheherazade is married to a jealous king who—as he had done for his previous wives—sentences her to death the day after the wedding. The night they get married she tells a story, and the king postpones her death until the next day so that she can finish the story. She avoids death by telling cliff-hanger stories for the next 1,001 nights.
In Poe’s version, the narrator has discovered the long-lost Oriental text called Tellmenow Isitsoornot, which contains the “real” story of Scheherazade. We learn that on the 1,002nd night, Scheherazade tells the story of Sinbad, whose adventures are just as fantastic as those told in the more popular version, but which in fact describe nineteenth century inventions and natural phenomena.
Why is it worth reading?
It’s Edgar Allan Poe. Most of Poe’s writing is essential reading for people who own eyes. This story is worth dipping into because Poe is being uncharacteristically whimsical. Keep in mind that we associate Poe’s writing with dark and bloody horror, such as ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, or ‘The Masque of the Red Death’, or even his epic poem, ‘The Raven’. We all associate Poe’s name with murder mysteries such as ‘Murders in the Rue Morgue’, and ‘The Mystery of Marie Roget’. We don’t automatically associate his writing with humour and that’s a huge oversight on our part.
What’s so special about it?
This is from halfway through the story. Poe has thoughtfully included footnotes which elaborate on some of the points to show how Scheherazade’s narrative can be interpreted.
“Fal lal!” said the king.
“‘One of this nation of mighty conjurors created a man out of brass and wood, and leather, and endowed him with such ingenuity that he would have beaten at chess, all the race of mankind with the exception of the great Caliph, Haroun Alraschid. Another of these magi constructed (of like material) a creature that put to shame even the genius of him who made it; for so great were its reasoning powers that, in a second, it performed calculations of so vast an extent that they would have required the united labor of fifty thousand fleshy men for a year. But a still more wonderful conjuror fashioned for himself a mighty thing that was neither man nor beast, but which had brains of lead, intermixed with a black matter like pitch, and fingers that it employed with such incredible speed and dexterity that it would have had no trouble in writing out twenty thousand copies of the Koran in an hour; and this with so exquisite a precision, that in all the copies there should not be found one to vary from another by the breadth of the finest hair. This thing was of prodigious strength, so that it erected or overthrew the mightiest empires at a breath; but its powers were exercised equally for evil and for good.'”
“Ridiculous!” said the king.
It’s an entertaining story and show’s a lighter side of Poe that most readers have missed. This is a link to the story online, if you want to read it straight away: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Works_of_the_Late_Edgar_Allan_Poe/Volume_1/The_Thousand-and-Second_Tale_of_Scheherazade#cite_note-21
If you want to buy your own copy, this is the Amazon Link to a book where you’ll find it: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1435154460/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_U_8OyyDb57FW8YQ
And, if you have dreams to write to this standard, please take a look at my book, How To Write Short Stories and Get Them Published: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1472143787/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_U_fpDlDbM5CS66H