Convinced by the treachery of his brother’s wife and his own that all women are unfaithful, Shahriar, the emperor of Persia and India, vows that he will marry a new wife every day and have her executed the next morning. Only Scheherazade, wise as well as beautiful, has the courage to try to save the young women of Persia. On the night of her marriage to Shahriar, she begins to tell him a tale that fascinates him so much that he stays her death for one night so that he can learn the end of the story. Eventually, Scheherazade tells him stories for one thousand and one nights. Then, convinced of her worth and goodness, he lets her live and makes her his consort.
One tale Scheherazade tells is “The History of the Fisherman and the Genie”: A poor fisherman draws from the sea in his nets a strange box with a seal on top. When he pries off the top, a huge genie appears and threatens him with death, offering the poor man no more than his choice in the manner of his death. The fisherman begs for his life because he did the genie a favor by releasing him, but the genie declares that he vowed death to the man who opened the box. Finally, the fisherman exclaims that he cannot believe anything as huge and as terrible as the genie could ever have been in a space so small. Dissolving into a cloud of smoke, the genie shrinks until he can slip back into the box, whereupon the fisherman clamps on the lid. Throwing the box back into the sea, he warns all other fishermen to beware if it should ever fall into their nets.
Another story is “The History of the Young King of the Black Isles”: A fisherman catches four beautiful fish, one white, one red, one blue, and one yellow. They are so choice that he takes them to the sultan’s palace. While the fish are being cooked, a beautiful girl suddenly appears and talks to the fish, after which they are too charred to take to the sultan. When the same thing happens two days in a row, the sultan is called. After asking where the fish came from, he decides to visit the lake. Nearby, he finds a beautiful, apparently deserted palace. As he walks through the beautiful halls, he finds one in which a king is sitting on a throne. The king apologizes for not rising, explaining that his lower half is marble.
He is the king of the Black Isles. When he learned that his queen was unfaithful to him, he nearly killed her black lover. In revenge, the queen cast a spell over her husband, making him half marble. She whipped him daily and then had him dressed in coarse goat’s hair over which his royal robes were placed. At the same time, while tending her lover, who remained barely alive, she changed her husband’s town and all its inhabitants into the lake full of fish.
The king tells the sultan where the queen’s lover is kept. There the sultan goes, kills the lover, and puts himself in the black man’s place. The queen, overjoyed to hear speaking the one she kept from death for so long, hastens to do all the voice commands. She restores the king to his human form and the lake to its previous state as a populous town. The four colors of fish indicate the four different religions of the inhabitants.
When the queen returns to the sultan, whom she mistakes for her lover, he kills her for her treachery. He takes the king of the Black Isles home with him and rewards the fisherman who led him to the magic lake.
Shahriar is vastly entertained by “The History of Sindbad the Sailor”: A poor porter in Baghdad, resting before the house of Sindbad, bewails the fact that his lot is harder than that of Sindbad. Sindbad overhears him and invite the porter to dine with him. During the meal, he tells of the hardships he suffered to make his fortune.
On his first voyage to India by way of the Persian Gulf, Sindbad’s ship is becalmed near a small green island. The sailors climb onto the island, only to find that it is really a sea monster, which heaves itself up and swims away. Sindbad is the only man who does not get back to...
(The entire section is 3,355 words.)