Freshman year: How NOT to Deal with a Breakup, by King Shahryar

Step 1: Acknowledge the existence of this thing called ‘rebound’ and don’t give in to it.
Step 2: If you have completely disregarded Step 1, then in the name of sanity please don’t murder your rebound wives after being married to them for twenty-four hours. It makes everything just super awkward between you and your subjects.
Step 3: Maybe wait a year or two before becoming emotionally entangled again, and when you do, pick a nice girl who’s great at telling stories.

Mom had the whole lot of us read Geraldine McCaughrean’s retelling of the One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, and to summarize it is essentially, stripped down to its most basic form, a series of stories held together by an incredibly dysfunctional frame narrative.  McCaughrean is an excellent writer, and she gets right into the excitement and drama of the story of Scheherazade right away. The first few pages basically go like this:

Page 1: King Shahryar and King Shahzaman! So happy! #blessed! have lovely wives!
Page 2: But wait!! Infidelity?!?! wives are unfaithful?!?! with stable boys?!?! and cooks?!?! KILL THEM.
Page 3: King Shahryar and King Shahzaman are so sad and angry!!! #mysogynybros4life!!! #womenrsofickle!!!
Page 4: But wait there’s no woman in Shahryar’s bed and he’s also afraid of the dark this is a BIG PROBLEM how’s he going to fix this when he hates women?
Page 5: “Oh hey what if I marry a new girl every day and then kill her the next morning? Then the inherent fickleness of women’s characters won’t have a chance to make itself known! Problem solved!!!! No issues with this solution at all!!!!!”

Yep. The story of Scheherazade, folks. Like a lot of medieval literature that was popular in the nineteenth century *COUGHTHECANTERBURYTALESCOUGH*, it’s lovely stuff just full of gender equality and mutual respect and understanding between haha yeah no that almost never happens in medieval literature.

From there everything goes fine and dandy for Shahryar and Shahzaman for a while. They are the kings of their respective lands, after all, so no one’s going to tell them they can’t be responsible for the rapid fire marriage and execution of hundreds of girls because doing so would probably get them added to the list of People Executed Recently.

But then it gets personal when Shahryar’s Wazir runs out of girls for the king to marry.  He freaks out and dumps his worries on his daughter Scheherazade who by the way somehow has no idea that any of this had been going on…?

Well, okay then. Not sure how the daily disappearance of a girl over a period of roughly three years would go unnoticed, especially by the Wazir’s daughter, but okay.

Anyway, Scheherazade is just a bit of an optimist, so she decides that she will be the next girl to marry Shahryar, and in the ~24 hours she’s married to him, she will convince him to never kill a wife again and to leave this cycle of perpetual rebound that he’s stuck in. How? No clue, but she’s pretty confident.  From there it’s the basic story of Scheherazade:

Shahryar: Okay let’s go to bed. Good night Westley, sleep well, I’ll definitely kill you in the morning.
Scheherazade: My name’s not Westley…
Shahryar: Well, forgive me if my hundreds of wives start to blur together after a while; I can’t remember all of your names. I don’t even want to. Cuz women are awful. And fickle, too. [McCaughrean uses the word fickle a lot. Don’t know why exactly, but it’s a cool word so okay]
Scheherazade: Sure, okay. Fair enough. How ’bout a story before bed? I’ve got this great one about this thing.
Shahryar: Yeah okay sounds great.
*Entire night passes*
Scheherazade: …and THEN oh wait look at that it’s morning and I haven’t finished the story what a crazy random happenstance.
Shahryar: …A cliffhanger? Seriously? You are literally the worst. Fine. You die tomorrow.
*rinse and repeat for 2.74 years.*

By the time Scheherazade has finally convinced Shahryar that killing her really isn’t in his best interest or hers, Shahryar has fallen in love with her and they have a kid. Yeah. During this whole thing she gets pregnant, has a baby and still has to literally stay up all night saving her life by telling a story Shahryar has never heard before literally every night.  But after a thousand nights and slightly less than a thousand stories, he is madly in love with her and has finally left rebound and routine executions behind. Shahryar’s brother King Shahzaman falls madly in love with and marries Scheherazade’s sister Dunyazade, and they all live happily ever after.

The Arabian Nights is an interesting example of frame narratives, and the stories are all pretty neat, though I must confess to not remembering a whole lot besides the stories of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” “Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp,” a story about cucumbers, and something about a guy being lifted out of a canyon by a giant bird. I really enjoyed them at the time, though.

Overall, Geraldine McCaughrean’s Thousand and One Arabian Nights was an excellent story, and she’s a wonderful writer. I read her Peter Pan book years ago, and I can’t really remember much except being totally freaked out by the whole coat imbuing Peter Pan with malevolence and evilness thing, but I remember loving it. On the other hand, the Arabian Nights leaves just a tiny little bit to be desired as an example of functional relationships and getting over a bad relationship.  But hey, it’s a classic set of stories, and like heroes in fairy tales, classic stories can, to quote Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather,  “be excused for just about anything … because no one asks inconvenient questions.”

Tune in next time for nearly Charlemagne. Nearly.



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